December 20, 2005


Bush’s Snoopgate: The president was so desperate to kill The New York Times’ eavesdropping story, he summoned the paper’s editor and publisher to the Oval Office. But it wasn’t just out of concern about national security. (Jonathan Alter, 12/26/05, Newsweek)

No wonder Bush was so desperate that The New York Times not publish its story on the National Security Agency eavesdropping on American citizens without a warrant, in what lawyers outside the administration say is a clear violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. I learned this week that on December 6, Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the story. The Times will not comment on the meeting, but one can only imagine the president’s desperation.

The problem was not that the disclosures would compromise national security, as Bush claimed at his press conference. His comparison to the damaging pre-9/11 revelation of Osama bin Laden’s use of a satellite phone, which caused bin Laden to change tactics, is fallacious; any Americans with ties to Muslim extremists—in fact, all American Muslims, period—have long since suspected that the U.S. government might be listening in to their conversations.

Isn't the real problem that the Americal Left both didn't think we were listening to those with ties to extremists and thinks it not a normal and predictable thing to do in wartime?

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 20, 2005 5:41 PM

Surely Alter's drivel is the most embarrassing thing yet written on the subject.

I really hope that the Dems follow his advice and go after Bush on this. I'm smelling 70 Senate seats and a vastly increased house majority next year.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at December 20, 2005 6:20 PM

Has everyone read the posts and comments at The Volokh Conspiracy. The learned lawyers over there don't see things quite as cut and dry.

Posted by: erp at December 20, 2005 7:09 PM

OJ has identified the real problem. The fact that Bush did not want them to print the story is interpreted purely as a political consideration. The idea that the commander in chief wants to keep secrets in wartime regarding surveillance does not occur to them. The president futiley appealed to Sulzburger and Keller's patriotism and found that they had none.

A secondary issue is how technologically stupid these people are. It looks like we are not dealing with true 'wire taps' but instead with some sort of gross collection and automated processing of traffic data at various network nodes. This distinction appears to be lost on Alter and his media peers, based on how he dismisses Bush's apt analogy about sources and methods.

Binny surely feared that we were monitoring his phone calls as does Al Queda. Now they know for sure and will adjust their behavior.

Posted by: JAB at December 20, 2005 7:34 PM


Yes, what I've read indicates that the law in this area is quite murky because it is poorly written and vague in many ways. But that still means that President Bush's view is plausible, quite a bit different than the "blatantly illegal" claims we see bandied about by Old Media.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at December 20, 2005 9:54 PM

For decades, the Soviets had 3-5 million civil servants on staff whose only task it was to listen in on telephone calls made by their own citizens.

You do remember that big column in the NY Slimes that edxposed this to the public, don't you? I think it was written by some guy called Durante, or something.

Posted by: obc at December 20, 2005 10:01 PM

Fortunately the court precedents are much more intelligent than the Volokh Conspiracy on this. They recognize that the Constitution doesn't forbid warrantless searches and seizures, only unreasonable ones. Bush authorized only reasonable surveillance, so he authorized only Constitutional acts.

Warrants exist only to immunize executive branch officers from liability -- warrantless searches could leave the executive officer liable to punishment if the search/seizure is later found to be unreasonable (and therefore unlawful). I don't think Bush fears suits from Al Qaeda.

Posted by: pj at December 20, 2005 10:21 PM

Nor does he fear impeachment on grounds of national security.

That would be bad, bad, politics for the Democrats.

Posted by: Mikey at December 20, 2005 10:41 PM

Yet another reason why the two looming stories that the media refuses to face are Able Danger and the Barrett report. In the first, it appears that effective steps towards developing pointers from open source intelligence suddenly began to embarrass Pentagon officials who were eager to ingratiate themselves with the Gorelicks of the Clinton administration; with the second, it appears that the media doesn't care about the the use of the IRS as a blunt weapon against 'enemies' of Bill Clinton.

It appears the left has forgotten their rage at Richard Nixon for his abuses of the IRS.

But, I suppose Clinton's abuses must be angelic; you know, "I was trying as hard as I could to serve, and I was using every tool at my disposal to make life better for all Americans". If only George Bush would say something so, so, so nuanced.

Posted by: ratbert at December 20, 2005 10:42 PM

Supposedly Hugh Hewitt had Alter on his radio program today and made an absolute fool out of him. Transcript isn't up at Radioblogger yet. Should be a fun read tho.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at December 21, 2005 12:14 AM

Bombs have been going off all over Europe, yet we are unscathed. So now the party of folk-enemies and culture-traitors wants to attack the way we've been doing it.

When are they going to stop taking their orders from Karl Rove?

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 21, 2005 7:28 AM

"Please don't try to impeach me for spying on terrorists, Mr. Alter. Oh my, that's the last thing I want." :George W. Bush.

The legality is besides the point. Presidential "crimes" and impeachment are political mainly, not legal.

Posted by: Bob at December 21, 2005 10:29 AM

Bush Spied!
And so no Americans died.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at December 21, 2005 1:19 PM


Try the corollary:

Bush spied! Some of Al Qaeda died!

And the Democrats just can't stand it.

Posted by: ratbert at December 23, 2005 12:13 AM