Dialing and the Democrats
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
No sooner had the man who ran the National Security Agency for years been nominated to head the CIA than USA Today rushed out details of our efforts to use technical means to find terrorists using the phones. And no sooner had USA Today disclosed details of an apparent attempt by the National Security Agency to defend Americans from terrorists than the Democratic Party and its leading politicians and interest groups went on the attack. Not against the terrorists but against President Bush. “This is another example of the Bush Administration misleading the American people,” said a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, Stacie Paxton.
Senator Kennedy of Massachusetts called the program “abusive” and said “Today’s shocking disclosures make it more important than ever for the Republican Congress to end its complicity in the White House cover up of its massive domestic surveillance program. When three major telephone companies are supplying the administration with records of all Americans regardless of any hint of wrongdoing, Congress can’t look the other way.” Rep. Harold Ford Jr., a Democrat of Tennessee, went on Fox News Channel to call the news “disturbing.” Senator Clinton pronounced herself “deeply disturbed.”
Mrs. Clinton might want to have a talk with her husband. It was President Clinton who signed into law the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994, after it was passed in both the House and Senate by a voice vote. That law is an act “to make clear a telecommunications carrier’s duty to cooperate in the interception of communications for law enforcement purposes, and for other purposes.” The act made clear that a court order isn’t the only lawful way of obtaining call information, saying, “A telecommunications carrier shall ensure that any interception of communications or access to call-identifying information effected within its switching premises can be activated only in accordance with a court order or other lawful authorization.”
The law that President Clinton signed into law and that was approved by voice votes in 1994 by a Democrat-majority House and a Democrat-majority Senate not only made clear the phone companies’ “duty” to cooperate, it authorized $500 million in taxpayer funds to reimburse the phone companies for equipment “enabling the government, pursuant to a court order or other lawful authorization, to access call-identifying information that is reasonably available to the carrier.” Again, the law, by referring to “other lawful authorization,” states clearly that a court order isn’t the only form of lawful authorization possible.
President Bush struck exactly the right notes yesterday. “So far we’ve been very successful in preventing another attack on our soil,” Mr. Bush said. “As a general matter, every time sensitive intelligence is leaked, it hurts our ability to defeat this enemy. Our most important job is to protect the American people from another attack, and we will do so within the laws of our country.” If he seemed calm about the latest disclosures, we can’t help wondering whether it’s because he recognizes that when Americans go to sleep at night, they’re less worried about the “danger” that the government is looking for terrorists than they are about the danger that terrorists are looking for them.
This is the issue that the Democrats of the Howard-Dean-John-Kerry era just don’t seem to prepared to credit. The Democrats who controlled the White House and both houses of Congress in 1994 showed signs of understanding the national security issues at stake here when they passed the law. Their understanding seems to have eroded since then. It can’t be that they feel America faces less of a threat – if anything, the attacks of September 11, 2001, make the case for such programs even stronger. What’s changed isn’t the enemy threat but the party that now controls the White House. Which explains why Mrs. Clinton is “deeply disturbed” about activities legal under a law her husband signed.