Spying or protecting republic?
The issue of executive power has been around for years. Those with more than a casual acquaintanceship with history understand that every wartime president has entered into a tug-of-war with Congress over constitutional matters, including Abraham Lincoln who suspended Habeas Corpus during the Civil War. Congressional oversight is paramount in our system of democracy, but the issue over the FISA Court isn’t about Nixon spying on his political enemies-this is about a president trying to prevent another terror attack on the United States. Headlines referring to “domestic spying” are patently disingenuous. The president hasn’t authorized the NSA to monitor calls between Cousin Bob in Dubuque and Aunt Toodie in Indianapolis. He’s asked the NSA to monitor communications to and from potential terrorists outside of the United States.A review of just two (of many) relevant statutes reveal that both sides of this issue have arguable positions: “The president shall ensure that the congressional intelligence committees are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States …” 50 U.S.C. 413(a) (1). But 50 U.S.C. 413b(c) (2) states the president may, if he concludes that “it is essential … to meet extraordinary circumstances affecting vital interests of the United States,” limit notification to those committees. So which is applicable?The Internet spawned concepts in law that weren’t contemplated prior to the Information Age. So, too, today’s ultra-secret electronic surveillance technologies are not necessarily congruent with acts and statutes dating back to 1947. Nevertheless, it’s believed here that unless the president had reason to believe our intelligence-gathering methods would be compromised – a most valid concern, considering The New York Times has known about this matter for a year – he should have asked Congress to modify existing law if for no other reason than to avoid this fight. But perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of this unnecessary brouhaha is that it is attenuating our nation’s ability to collect information about our enemies at a time when intelligence gathering should be the number one priority of the administration, Congress and the American people.Intelligence gathering and analysis has always been a sketchy business. The intelligence community failed to anticipate 9/11 just as the CIA’s predecessor, the OSS, failed to anticipate the attack on Pearl Harbor. But how many Americans are aware of just how many other failures there have been during the past 65 years? In December 1944, our intelligence services failed to detect the equivalent of 29 Nazi divisions massed outside the Ardennes in Belgium, which led to 81,000 American casualties, including 23,500 captured and 19,000 killed during Battle of the Bulge. In the Pacific Theater of that war, we were unaware that the Japanese were using biological warfare agents against the Chinese, and that its ultra-secret Unit 731 was planning to use these agents on the continental U.S. Fortunately, the war ended before the Japanese developed effective delivery vehicles.At the beginning of the Cold War we didn’t know the Soviets had retro-engineered three Army-Air Corps B-29 Flying Fortresses that landed in Siberia after bombing Japan in 1945, and built an entire fleet of strategic bombers from that design.In October 1950 our intelligence services failed to warn President Truman of the 300,000-man Chinese army garrisoned north of the Yalu River that would later attack allied forces during the Korean War. The CIA was again caught unaware when the Soviets successfully built and tested a hydrogen bomb in 1953. Then less than 10 years later, Russian nukes and the missiles to deliver them were discovered in Cuba after they became operational (a fact not fully understood until after the Cuban Missile Crisis). And of course, anyone familiar with the Vietnam War recalls our shock when the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive in 1968.While all of these instances were serious, none compare to today’s threat from Muslim extremists because Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders are targeting civilians: “We have not yet reached parity with them (the Americans) we have the right to kill four million of them, two million of them children (and), it is our right to fight them with chemical and biological weapons. …”The 9/11 Commission told us that “cuts in national security expenditures at the end of the Cold War led to budget cuts in the national foreign intelligence program from fiscal years 1990 to 1996 and essentially flat budget years 1996 to 2000. These cuts compounded the difficulties of the intelligence agencies.”Select Committee oversight is necessary, and the issue must be addressed within the clear construct of the law. But the focus in Washington should be on doing whatever necessary to increase the effectiveness of our intelligence resources, including the addition of more field agents, analysts and linguists, especially those with a background in Middle Eastern studies, instead of the sensationalized and misleading criticisms currently in vogue from the left.My hope is that it doesn’t take an event more devastating than 9/11 for some in Congress and the media to stop playing partisan politics and acknowledge this matter for what it really is – a response to an enemy whose strategic imperative is to murder Americans-including our children. Surely both sides of the issue can come to a common understanding of how to protect the republic without compromising secret processes.Butch Mazzuca, a local Realtor and ski instructor, writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com Vail, Colorado