Able Danger Blog

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Did Able Danger destroy our country?

Never mind the fact that we only found out about Able Danger a few months ago - four years after the program was disbanded - but is William Arkin seriously making the argument that programs like Able Danger threaten our country as much as they protect it? Is he glad that Able Danger was shut down before it could act to prevent 9/11? Voice of the Taciturn, an anonymous guest poster here at Able Danger Blog, has made a compelling case, here and elsewhere, that the opposite is true. That our intelligence agencies are so worried about the kind of infringements Arkin and others hyperventilate about that they can't even take simple, common sense steps when it comes to tracking Al Qaeda here within the United States - where we are the most open to another major attack.

If more Americans knew the full details of the Able Danger story, there is no way any serious talking heads would even try to make an argument like this. From Arkin:

We are being asked to destroy our country in order to save it....

Tonight on ABC's "Nightline" Vice President Dick Cheney will make the precise argument that the new surveillance was necessitated by the old rules.

"It's the kind of capability if we'd had before 9/11 might have led us to be able to prevent 9/11," the Vice President says.

It is a giant fishing expedition as much as it is a highly targeted campaign. The hundreds of millions of intercepts and data points are massaged by the data miners and link analyzers and churned through banks of computers and dozens of new software programs in pursuit of the holy "connecting of the dots."

They just might track a license plate to a cave in Pakistan.

It's all here in the seams, in the dots, this actionable intelligence: ghost detainees, renditions, coalitions of the willing to torture, special authorities and special operations, warrantless surveillance, corners being cut and laws being broken.

Wow, from Able Danger to Abu Ghraib in 500 words or less.

If you really want a laugh, read this New York Times editorial. It starts out reasonable enough, but then jumps over the cliff:

The mass murders of 9/11 revealed deadly gaps in United States intelligence that needed to be closed. Most of those involved failure of performance, not legal barriers. Nevertheless, Americans expected some reasonable and carefully measured trade-offs between security and civil liberties. They trusted their elected leaders to follow long-established democratic and legal principles and to make any changes in the light of day. But President Bush had other ideas. He secretly and recklessly expanded the government's powers in dangerous and unnecessary ways that eroded civil liberties and may also have violated the law.

Performance, not barriers or stove piping? Did they even read the 9/11 Report?

In Friday's Times, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau reported that sometime in 2002, President Bush signed a secret executive order scrapping a painfully reached, 25-year-old national consensus: spying on Americans by their government should generally be prohibited, and when it is allowed, it should be regulated and supervised by the courts. The laws and executive orders governing electronic eavesdropping by the intelligence agency were specifically devised to uphold the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures.

But Mr. Bush secretly decided that he was going to allow the agency to spy on American citizens without obtaining a warrant - just as he had earlier decided to scrap the Geneva Conventions, American law and Army regulations when it came to handling prisoners in the war on terror. Indeed, the same Justice Department lawyer, John Yoo, who helped write the twisted memo on legalizing torture, wrote briefs supporting the idea that the president could ignore the law once again when it came to the intelligence agency's eavesdropping on telephone calls and e-mail messages.

"The government may be justified in taking measures which in less troubled conditions could be seen as infringements of individual liberties," he wrote.

Let's be clear about this: illegal government spying on Americans is a violation of individual liberties, whether conditions are troubled or not. Nobody with a real regard for the rule of law and the Constitution would have difficulty seeing that. The law governing the National Security Agency was written after the Vietnam War because the government had made lists of people it considered national security threats and spied on them. All the same empty points about effective intelligence gathering were offered then, just as they are now, and the Congress, the courts and the American people rejected them.

Somehow, I think the American people can see the difference. Of course, if the Pentagon were not gagging all the members of the Able Danger team with first hand knowledge who could comment on this, it might be easier for people to understand.