Controversy has recently ignited over President Bush’s authorization of the National Security Agency to conduct wiretaps of suspected terrorist communications without a warrant. It is difficult to define a terrorist in strict terms. However, the ability to monitor foreign communications and act without the threat of losing a warrant or being stalled by endless red tape is important to national security. Bush’s authorization to the NSA is not unprecedented and is completely within his constitutional authority.
Foreign intelligence is critical when dealing with an enemy like al Qaeda – or any terrorist faction for that matter. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Steyn writes: “It’s very hard to fight a terrorist war without intelligence. By definition, you can only win battles against terrorists preemptively – that’s to say, you find out what they’re planning to do next Thursday and you stop it cold on Wednesday. Capturing them on Friday while you’re still pulling your dead from the rubble is poor consolation.”
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requires federal agents to act as lawyers with a burden of proof. Instead of allowing them to concentrate on their job, which is focusing on intelligence, agents must chronicle their every action just to maintain surveillance.
The paranoia of “eroding” civil liberties may be more important that preventing another terrorist attack, but I doubt the families and friends of those lost in the World Trade Centers would agree. But even the argument that the administration is eroding civil liberties has its flaws – similar wiretaps without warrants have been carried out by each administration going back to Jimmy Carter. It’s amazing each family doesn’t have a telescreen where they’re forced to swear their allegiance to Big Brother! President Clinton personally signed executive orders authorizing warrantless searches of American citizens for the purposes of domestic spying – Bush’s actions are neither unprecedented nor unconstitutional.
Wiretaps are only being placed on foreign-to-domestic communications that show a sign of terrorist activity. Paranoia over the government listening to the Sunday conversation with Grandma is ridiculous – unless, of course, Grandma’s calling from Iraq and is part of al Qaeda. An encompassing definition of a terrorist is someone who will use violent actions to achieve a political result. According to a 2002 interpretation by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, if a conversation detailing this type of action is discovered, the President is authorized to order a wiretap without a warrant.
If warrantless wiretaps on suspected terrorists can be equated to eroding civil liberties, I must ask: Could you wake up in the morning and feel comfortable with the idea that innocent American citizens died in a preventable terrorist attack, but the civil liberties of the terrorist were protected? If you answer yes, I suggest talking to the American Civil Liberties Union about employment.
Will Kerridge is an Engineering junior and a member of the Daily’s Editorial Board.
“In Dissent” opinions do not reflect the views of the Daily’s editorial board. They are solely the views of the author.