OSAMA, PHONE HOME

I listened to the president’s press conference this morning, and I’ll confess I’m still perplexed at precisely why the New York Times needed to hold its story about the NSA’s warrantless eavesdropping program (other than to provide a marketing tie-in for James Risen’s forthcoming book, after the G.I. Bush with kung-fu grip and detatchable Carnivore terminal fell through), or how its publication constituted a dire threat to national security. Bush suggested that the revalation was “helping the enemy,” but the analogy he offered in support of that contention seemed distinctly disanalogous.

Bush’s point of comparison was the disclosure that the U.S. had been tracking Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone—which was, self-evidently, news to him, since he subsequently stopped using it. But even those of us who, as of a few years ago, thought FISA had something to do with erectile dysfunction medicine are well aware that the government seeks to eavesdrop on suspected terrorists’ conversations—and that it can do so without a warrant for up to three days before applying for a retroactive secret warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. So it’s a bit hard to understand the claim, unless we make use of Bush’s idiosyncratic definition of “helping the enemy” as “causing people to question me.”

—posted by Julian

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