THE PRESIDENCY UNBOUND

You can say this for the president. The powers he seized after 9/11 have indeed apparently helped neuter al Qaeda as we once knew it. That’s a big deal and a big achievement. We haven’t been attacked since: another big deal, in my book. But the flip-side of unchecked executive power is also the chance of self-reinforcing error (WMD intelligence) and abuse of power (authorizing torture against domestic and international law). Here’s a nugget from the Risen book, as reported by Time, that gives a concrete example:

Risen devotes a chapter to Sawsan Alhaddad, an Iraqi American recruited by the CIA as part of a “Hail Mary” prewar effort to gain intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s weapons program by tapping the relatives of Iraqi scientists. Alhaddad was one of at least 30 Iraqi expatriates who risked their lives to travel to Iraq to ask their relatives about Saddam’s arsenal. According to Risen, all of them reported that Iraq had abandoned its WMD program – but the CIA never informed the White House.

The founders divided government for a good reason. It may be time to tame the prince.

REMEMBER TIA? That was John Poindexter’s much-ridiculed 2002 proposal for “Total Information Awareness” – a domestic spying program that was hooted down as way over the line in the balance between security and liberty. Turns out, in the super-secret and illegal NSA program, we got something much more invasive than even Poindexter envisioned:

Adm. John Poindexter, TIA’s creator, believed in the potential intelligence benefits of data-mining broadband communications, but he was also well aware of the potential for excess. “We need a much more systematic approach” to data-mining and privacy protection, Poindexter said at a 2002 conference in Anaheim, Calif., sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Poindexter envisioned a “privacy appliance,” a device that would strip any identifiers from the information x97 such as names or addresses x97 so that government miners could see only patterns. Then if there was reason to believe that the information belonged to a group that was planning an attack, the government could seek a warrant and disable the privacy control for that specific data. TIA funded research on a privacy appliance at the Palo Alto Research Center, a subsidiary of Xerox Corp. “The idea is that this device, cryptographically protected to prevent tampering, would ensure that no one could abuse private information without an immutable digital record of their misdeeds,” according to a 2003 government report to Congress about TIA. “The details of the operation of the appliance would be available to the public.”

No such protection exists for the NSA snooping program. Bush just decided that as a law-free commander-in-chief, he could spy on any American he wanted to. And no one laughed.

REPUBLICAN WIRE-TAPPING: More common than you’d think. Here’s a PDF report on deployment of domestic wiretapping in anti-trust enforcement by the Justice Department. The law authorizing such domestic taps was passed last year. Under the Republicans, government doesn’t just get bigger and bigger; it gets progressively more invasive. Yep: under the Republicans.

ANDERSON UNPLUGGED: He won’t dye his hair and he reads this blog. Respek.

THE NEA EXPOSED: A little glimpse into the political activities of the union dedicated to keeping American education mediocre.

– posted by Andrew.

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