Wednesday, June 28, 2006

'National security' or bad press?

Disclosure of the Treasury-CIA program to sift international financial communications was "disgraceful," says Bush. And Cheney and a pack of GOP attack dogs are impugning the patriotism of the New York Times for supposedly tipping off terrorists to something they could easily have guessed to be so.

Yet, it turns out that the dark national security secret wasn't all that secret. A UN report a while back spoke candidly of U.S. government efforts to catch terrorists by tracking international banking transactions. My memory refreshed, I now recall some news reports to that effect of several years back.

So why is the White House angry? Possibly in all the commotion, the State Dept. failed to warn the White House that the UN had already published the secret -- though with not as much background as provided by the recent reports. Nevertheless, the program's existence was not secret.

This false secrecy also applies in general to the NSA's warrantless wiretap program. Shortly after 9/11, a number of reports told of NSA intercepts and others described a major (presumably warrantless) electronic surveillance program code-named Echelon. However, the NSA threw cold water on this matter by making it seem that such machinery was not turned against Americans without due process of law. The press then obligingly did a brown-out.

Yet, now we know that then-NSA chief Hayden was authorizing the warrantless wiretaps, a decision later ratified by Bush.

Yet Bush was livid when this not-really secret program was disclosed? Why? Terrorists had already been forewarned.

My take is that the reason for all the national security mumbo-jumbo was simply an attempt to deter bad press while the Bushites stepped all over the Constitution.

Yes, I think Bush's rage is about control of news and not really about secrets. If the media can't be bullied into continuing with various brownouts, a lot of ugly skeletons are likely to come moseying out of a lot closets. Bush is really saying: "Know your place! Don't you know I'm in with the big movers and shakers?!"

However, Bush's bitter wrangle with some of the tougher parts of the press may backfire against the Bush faction of the GOP. For example, the disgrace of his abuse of power to nullify laws through the trick of signing statements is burgeoning into a major issue -- an issue mentioned early on by yours truly as a voice crying in the wilderness.

Sometime before 9/11, I noted Bush's use of a "de facto line item veto to guard CIA turf" and every now and then have talked about this practice online.

At least I'm no longer in the paranoid lunatic fringe on that score, anyway.


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