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Richard Falkenrath, the former deputy Homeland Security advisor to the President and now a fellow at the center-left Brookings Institute, writes a passionate defense of the NSA phone-call database in today's Washington Post. He also pushes back against the notion that the involvement of General Michael Hayden in the two controversial NSA surveillance programs disqualify him to lead the CIA. In fact, as Falkenrath explains, it underscores his potential value at Langley:
The potential value of such anonymized domestic telephone records is best understood through a hypothetical example. Suppose a telephone associated with Mohamed Atta had called a domestic telephone number A. And then suppose that A had called domestic telephone number B. And then suppose that B had called C. And then suppose that domestic telephone number C had called a telephone number associated with Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The most effective way to recognize such patterns is the computerized analysis of billions of phone records. The large-scale analysis of anonymized data can pinpoint individuals -- at home or abroad -- who warrant more intrusive investigative or intelligence techniques, subject to all safeguards normally associated with those techniques.
Clearly, there is a compelling national interest in understanding and penetrating such terrorist networks. If the people associated with domestic telephone numbers A, B and C are inside the United States and had facilitated the Sept. 11 attacks, perhaps they are facilitating a terrorist plot now. The American people rightly expect their government to detect and prevent such plots. ...
Bureaucrats excel at finding reasons not to do something. They are most often guilty of sins of omission, not commission. A timid, ordinary executive might have concluded that it was too risky to ask U.S. telecommunications companies to provide anonymized call records voluntarily to an agency such as the NSA, dealing with foreign intelligence. If the USA Today story is correct, it appears that Mike Hayden is no timid, ordinary executive. Indeed, it appears that he is exactly the sort of man that we should have at the helm of the CIA while we are at war.
The 9/11 Commission report is chock-full of examples of bureaucrats finding excuses for inaction, and they correctly conclude that bureaucratic inertia and outright fear comprised the major component of our pre-9/11 failure. For some reason, of course, they then prescribed the hair of the dog as an antidote, but they were correct in that the lack of action and leadership in the intelligence bureaucracy had made our early-warning systems inefficient and unreactive.
We know that Hayden does not have those problems. He has shown bold leadership at NSA, an agency with no resources in human intelligence and field operations, transforming it into the most innovative and aggressive defenders of the nation. Given his lengthy experience in military intelligence, there is no reason to worry that Hayden cannot take that same bold leadership and aggressive nature to Langley and help transform a sick entity back into a world-class operation. We need someone with this type of leadership as the CIA director, especially now.
I have been pleasantly surprised at the reaction to Hayden's appointment, at least up until now. I expected a much tougher political battle based on his stewardship of the NSA terrorist surveillance program, but except for Russ Feingold and Arlen Specter, it hadn't materialized, at least not until this latest revelation. Even then, with initial public-opinion polls showing overwhelming support for the datamining effort at NSA, the initial outrage will undoubtedly dissipate. We already may see this with the endorsement of Chuck Hagel and Susan Collins, two GOP Senators that have rarely seen eye to eye with the Bush administration on war policy:
"I support him," Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), an intelligence committee member, said after meeting with the nominee. In a later interview Hagel added, "There's no question that General Hayden is going to have to fully and clearly explain these programs and precisely his role" in them.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who also met with Hayden, called him "highly qualified" to head the CIA.
The Washington Post followed ABC's lead in polling on the NSA datamining effort and found the American electorate comfortable with the project:
The Post's poll found that 63 percent of Americans said they considered the NSA program to be an acceptable way to investigate terrorism; 35 percent said the program was unacceptable. A slightly larger majority -- 66 percent -- said they would not be bothered if the NSA collected records of personal calls they had made, the poll found.
According to the poll, 65 percent of those interviewed said it was more important to investigate potential terrorist threats "even if it intrudes on privacy." Three in 10, or 31 percent, said it was more important for the federal government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats.
If those numbers look familiar, they should; they're close to the approval ratings for the NSA terrorist surveillance program. In this case, the American electorate has advanced beyond the political class in their understanding of the sacrifices needed to defeat this enemy during wartime. It will come as no surprise if the man who quarterbacked both efforts winds up with the same level of support for his appointment to the CIA. If Russ Feingold and Ron Wyden want to turn the confirmation hearing into an inquisition on these two points, they risk even further erosion of Democratic standing on national security.Sphere It View blog reactions
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