Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Warrantless Intercepts Debate: Doing Everything Possible

Writing in Townhall today, Michael Barone has a very succinct analysis of the controversy involving the NSA's warrantless communication intercepts since 9/11.

Let's put the issue very simply. The president has the power as commander in chief under the Constitution to intercept and monitor the communications of America's enemies. Indeed, it would be a very weird interpretation of the Constitution to say that the commander in chief could order U.S. forces to kill America's enemies but not to wiretap -- or, more likely these days, electronically intercept -- their communications.
The Constitution, Justice Robert Jackson famously wrote, should not be interpreted in a way that makes it "a suicide pact." The notion that terrorists' privacy must be respected when they place a cell-phone call to someone in the United States is in the nature of a suicide pact. The Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures in the United States should not be stretched into a ban on interceptions of communications from America's enemies abroad.
Sooner or later, common sense has to dictate some of this discussion. We already have a large chunk of our populace that has forgotten much about 9/11. This is understandable in that most people never knew anyone killed in the attack, have never seen ground zero, and have lives that are more or less returned to normal--that is to a pre-9/11 world. However, politicians are PAID to live in today's world. Today's world is one where we are at risk of attack, and we are at risk of attacks that would make 9/11 pale in comparison.

If we ever suffer another attack of 9/11's magnitude we will see the stamping of feet and the pointing of fingers like never before. These stampings and pointings will be directed at a White House that didn't do everything possible to stop the attack. The question is, what is everything?

For a country that can debate the meaning of "is", how will it ever be possible to arrive at an appropriate definition of "everything?" How will we, within the framework of our constitution, existing law and political partisanship, ever determine what means are necessary to protect our citizenry?

I'm afraid that these debates will become much easier as more skyscrapers fall to Earth. Common sense is sometimes purchased at great cost.

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