Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Beyond debate - FISA Court ruling

Before citizens become outraged about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court's recent refusal to release classified documents - let's take a deep breath and resist the media frenzy. The fact that this is about classified information should be a sufficient indicator. There are good reasons why certain national security-related information is not available to the general public, let alone potential adversaries.

The government is charged with the safety of our citizens and a potential compromise of "sources and methods" must always be a serious consideration when safeguarding intelligence information. Without these safeguards effective intelligence operations are impossible and endanger national security. Forcing the FISA court to reveal its deliberations over the intercept of terrorist communications would enable any adversary to determine how to circumvent U.S. intelligence collection. And if that is too esoteric - let's remember that preserving valuable intelligence resources funded by taxpayers is just as important. Granted, the U.S. intelligence budget, estimated near $40 billion, may not be the most significant portion of the national budget, but it is definitely relevant to the average taxpayer.

Regardless of occasional past transgressions, the U.S. intelligence community does classify sensitive information responsibly. More importantly, all of this is overseen by the two congressional watch dogs: the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI). Since these committees consist of our elected representatives, citizens' concerns should be adequately addressed. After all, that is what representative government is all about.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978, has not released classified information in the past, nor should it now - for whatever reason. Neither is the ACLU in any way entitled to classified information, however much it considers itself a self-appointed citizen watchdog. Use of classified national security and intelligence information for political gains has never been legal or even acceptable and is not so now, despite intensified attempts in recent years.

"Beyond debate!" said U.S. District Judge John Bates. I could not agree more.