SnoopGate: Incompetence as an Excuse for Violating the Constitution

The need for speed is one of the specious arguments put forth by President Bush for the end-run around the FISA Courts. Never mind the fact that the FISA Courts act quickly and have approved over 99% of the requests made over the years. Never mind the fact that the government can wiretap even before getting a warrant. So I was wondering what the rightwing would come up as their latest in lame excuses for the excesses of this White House – and it seems Byron York exceeded expectations:

At his news conference this morning, the president explained that he believed the U.S. government had to “be able to act fast” to intercept the “international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda.” “Al Qaeda was not a conventional enemy,” Bush said. “This new threat required us to think and act differently.” But there’s more to the story than that. In 2002, when the president made his decision, there was widespread, bipartisan frustration with the slowness and inefficiency of the bureaucracy involved in seeking warrants from the special intelligence court, known as the FISA court. Even later, after the provisions of the Patriot Act had had time to take effect, there were still problems with the FISA court – problems examined by members of the September 11 Commission – and questions about whether the court can deal effectively with the fastest-changing cases in the war on terror. People familiar with the process say the problem is not so much with the court itself as with the process required to bring a case before the court. “It takes days, sometimes weeks, to get the application for FISA together,” says one source. “It’s not so much that the court doesn’t grant them quickly, it’s that it takes a long time to get to the court. Even after the Patriot Act, it’s still a very cumbersome process.

At first, I thought this was a slap in the face of our government officials – saying they were so incompetent that we had to throw out the Constitution because they could not get their bureaucratic act together. I was wondering if Mr. York would provide a single example of his thesis – when he did:

Lawmakers of both parties recognized the problem in the months after the September 11 terrorist attacks. They pointed to the case of Coleen Rowley, the FBI agent who ran up against a number roadblocks in her effort to secure a FISA warrant in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, the al Qaeda operative who had taken flight training in preparation for the hijackings.

This is the same example provided by William Kristol and Gary Schmitt, but notice this is a pre-9/11 example. Let us recall that the bulldog of the Clinton era, Richard Clarke, was hounding Condi Rice at the NSA to break down the bureaucratic barriers and to “shake the trees” but Dr. Rice simply ignored Mr. Clarke. So the York-Kristol-Schmitt thesis seems to be that her incompetence granted her boss the right to violate the Constitution and our liberties.

But as I think about it – suppose that we had an effective NSA today (after all, Dr. Rice was moved out of NSA over to head the State Department) that wanted to spy on some anti-war protestor. I bet that the Administration would find it difficult to write their request for a warrant – especially if that individual was last found protesting a war over 30 year ago.

Update: A FISA judge resigns in protest. Also, a few AB readers reminded me that NSA in the alphabet soup of D.C. talk refers to the National Security Agency and not the former National Security Advisor who to this date has not learned how to tell the truth:

United States secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, has denied US president George W Bush ordered illegal domestic spying. However, she would not comment on reports that US phones and e-mails are monitored without court approval.

Update II: AB reader Lena keeps pointing to the Chicago Tribune op-ed from John Schmidt. Thinkprogress provides the rebuttal. Which brings up an important point – the rightwing apologists for Bush are parading a host of former Clinton officials as some sort of justification for Bush’s illegal activity. Even if someone from the Clinton White House said this illegal act was OK by them, I don’t care. But as Thinkprogress also points out in other posts – the apologists are not being honest in many respects.