Connecting the dots

By John Bambenek

The National Security Agency data-mining controversy provided a valuable opportunity to have an intelligent discussion on separation of powers and presidential authority during a time of war. Instead, that opportunity has been squandered by far-left demagogues who would rather use this as another partisan witch-hunt to try to catapult a wildly unpopular, untrustworthy, incompetent, and idealess party into power.

First, some facts. This has been called domestic wiretapping and that characterization is inaccurate. What was monitored was international phone calls and e-mails that involved suspected members of terrorist groups or other problem regions.

For instance, the NSA paid particular attention to communications to and from Afghanistan in the days after Sept. 11. No serious media account of this indicated that calls from people in United States to people in United States were implicated. However, some communications where only one party was in the United States may have been monitored.

Second, precedent and case law supports the inherent right of the president to order this kind of monitoring. Ordering warrantless searches and seizures for reasons of national security has been done, and upheld, by previous administrations.

There are also two major cases that support these actions: In Re Sealed Case and Campbell v. Clinton. Critics may argue that these cases were wrongly decided, as critics argue that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided. However, the right of women to kill their babies for reasons of convenience is still, as they say, “the law of the land.” The left’s noble defense of the “constitutional” rights of al-Qaida to plot to kill Americans in privacy is novel and interesting, but unconvincing.

Third, data-mining is greatly different than wiretapping. Wiretapping brings images of people in unmarked vans listening to every word you say.

Data-mining is the monitoring of calls for particular subjects and then flagging them for later analysis. Odds are if you talked to your friend in Afghanistan about your child’s soccer practice your call would not be flagged. Not unless you were talking about loading the soccer ball with explosives.

The real issue is what kind of oversight a program like this should have.

While the President did continue to review this policy and brief members of Congress about it, oversight should have played a bigger role.

That is not to say the entire policy should be vetted in public for obvious national security reasons, but Congress has the ability to stop this program using their “power of the purse,” much like how they budgeted the “Total Information Awareness” program out of existence.

They should have the information needed to ensure a valuable program like this can continue to exist yet still have assurance of appropriate safeguards.

Our Founders rightly learned the lessons from the failed Articles of Confederation and vested the President with full authority to protect the United States against foreign threats. While there can and still should be intelligent discussion on how best to ensure the President doesn’t overreach, that discussion must not translate into a system of national defense by committee which would only ensure more dead Americans.

John Bambenek is a graduate student and academic professional at the University. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at [email protected]