Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Why did they do it?
Perhaps the weirdest aspect of Bush's illegal NSA spying on American citizens is that he didn't have to do it. The laws on the books allow him to do legally everything he has done illegally. Specifically, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) created a secret court that just to issue wiretap warrants. Over the last 25 years the FISA court has agreed to over 15,000 warrant requests and refused five. If time is of the essence--the mythical ticking bomb scenario--FISA allows the government to start the wiretaps and ask for permission up to three days after the fact. Bush's excuses about time and flexibility just don't cut it.

The NSA director when the surveillance began has offered a completely laughable explanation.
Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who was NSA director when the surveillance began and now serves as Bush's deputy director of national intelligence, said the secret- court process was intended for long-term surveillance of agents of an enemy power, not the current hunt for elusive terrorist cells.

"The whole key here is agility," he said at a White House briefing before Bush's news conference. According to Hayden, most warrantless surveillance conducted under Bush's authorization lasts just days or weeks, and requires only the approval of a shift supervisor.

Comic pause before the big punchline.
Hayden said getting retroactive court approval is inefficient because it "involves marshaling arguments" and "looping paperwork around."

That's right, actually thinking of good reasons to spy on people and filling out the paperwork is hard. Can't you hear Bush's voice during the presidential debates last year? "Obeying the law is hard work."

Laziness is actually more convincing that anything that Bush or Gonzales have offered up, and it's more honorable than Lott and Cornyn's "we're too scared to obey the law" defense, but I still don't think that it's the real reason.

Look at the problem: Bush had a law on that allowed him to do legally everything he has done illegally; if there was a gap in the law, he had a tame congress that would have given him anything he wanted. I think his problem is not legal or tactical, it's psychological.

Think of what we know about Bush's bubble-boy personality. Bush likes to be in charge; he likes to give orders and see people scurry about, carrying out his will. He doesn't respond well to being told "no." He doesn't share power or cooperate with others. By not using the legal means open to him, he cut the other branches of the government out of the loop. By keeping it all in the executive branch, he doesn't have to ask for cooperation or help; he can give an order and watch it obeyed.

And just in case you're inclined to ask: do I really think he's that petty? Yes. Yes, I do.

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