The Bush administration is continuing its assault on Americans' privacy and freedom in the name of the war on terrorism.
First, in 2002, according to extensive reporting in The New York Times on Friday, it secretly authorized the National Security Agency to intercept and keep records of Americans' international phone and e-mail messages without benefit of a previously required court order. Second, it has permitted the Department of Defense to get away with not destroying after three months, as required, records of American Iraq war protesters in the Pentagon's Threat and Local Observation Notice, or TALON, database.
Both practices mean that a government agency is maintaining information on Americans, reminiscent of the Johnson and Nixon administrations' approach to Vietnam War protesters. The existence of those records should be seen against a background of the Bush administration's response to criticism of the Iraq war by retired Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson. His wife's career at the CIA was ended in revenge for an article he wrote unmasking a dodgy piece of intelligence that President Bush had used in a State of the Union message to seek to support his decision to go to war.
It appears that the phone and e-mail messages of thousands of Americans and foreigners resident in America have been or are being monitored and recorded by the NSA. Such action is not supposed to be taken without an application to and an order approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Mr. Bush issued an executive order in 2002, months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack, removing -- secretly -- that legal safeguard of Americans' privacy and civil rights.
The Pentagon's action as part of TALON will be put forward as an oversight, but the idea of the Department of Defense maintaining files on American war protesters, perhaps with easy cross-reference to the NSA's records based on the results of their monitoring of phone calls and e-mails of potentially those same protesters, makes possible a very serious violation of Americans' civil rights.
Without a serious leap of imagination, particularly with the list of those under surveillance not available to anyone outside the NSA and the Pentagon, it is also possible to project that political critics of the Bush administration could end up among those being tracked. The Nixon administration, a previous Republican administration beleaguered by war critics, maintained "enemies lists."
The White House needs to tell the Pentagon promptly to destroy the records of protesters as required, within three months. It also needs promptly to tell the NSA to return to following the rules, to get the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before monitoring Americans' communications. The idea that all of this is being done to us in the name of national security doesn't wash; that is the language of a police state. Those are the unacceptable actions of a police state.
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