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Disclaimer: The author of this site maintained the campaign weblog of John Kline's opponent in the 2006 election, which made Congressman Kline a bit testy.

As with all blogs, review the facts carefully and draw your own conclusions.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Two Approaches to Fighting Terrorism

[Disclaimer: This post was first published on Coleen Rowley's campaign weblog.]

For nearly five years, George Bush and the Republican Congress have been telling us that only they can keep America safe, because only they have the will protect us from the terrorists. The arrest of 24 suspected terrorists in Great Britain on Thursday shows how the George Bush/John Kline approach is exactly wrong.

Let's start with an observation in today's New York Times editorial:

The most frightening thing about the foiled plot to use liquid explosives to blow up airplanes over the Atlantic is that both the government and the aviation industry have been aware of the liquid bomb threat for years but have done little to prepare for it.

This is a small detail which got lost in the initial media frenzy surrounding the arrests, but it's dead on. Liquid explosives were successfully detonated on a commercial airliner as long ago as 1994, but George Bush and John Kline haven't done much to prevent future attacks of this sort. The 9/11 commission gave Bush and the GOP Congress a C in this area on last fall's report card, and John Kline actually voted to limit the number of airline baggage screeners.

Beyond the Republican-led government's failures to adequately address this specific type of attack, there is also the issue noted here earlier, that George Bush and John Kline's preferred method of fighting terrorism --- keeping U.S. troops trapped in the middle of Iraq's civil war --- has actually increased the terrorist threat.

So what was the key to foiling this particular terrorist plot? The Times continues:

What saved everyone was apparently superb intelligence work by the British, who apprehended the terrorists before they could carry out their scheme. It is unlikely that any of the scanning machines or screening personnel deployed at airports would have detected the potentially destructive materials before they could be carried aboard.

This is something Coleen Rowley knows about, as a 24-year FBI veteran. By its very nature, terrorism is carried out by individuals, not states. So our counter-terrorism strategy must be primarily a law enforcement strategy, not a military one.

Another great myth of the Bush administration is that terrorist surveillance cannot be successfully conducted with judicial oversight. For literally years, George Bush has authorized NSA surveillance of innocent Americans, and attempted to create "a database of every call ever made" within our borders. To critics who charge that these programs violate the 1978 FISA law, Bush and his allies have responded that the surveillance is necessary to track down an neutralize terrorists.

This argument is absurd on its face. The FISA law doesn't prevent the government from monitoring terrorist suspects; rather, it subjects such monitoring to judicial review, to prevent the government from monitoring, say, political enemies (see: cointelpro).

But for proof, one need look no further than last Thursday's arrests. While the suspects were arrested in Britain, British authorities received a great deal of information from the FBI, who were monitoring calls between Britain and the United States. And what do you know:

The investigation was so large, officials said, that it brought a significant surge in warrants for searches and surveillance from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret panel that oversees most clandestine surveillance.

One official estimated that scores of secret U.S. warrants were dedicated solely to the London plot.

So the FBI helped the Brits nab these guys, and they did it using the same FISA warrant process which George Bush has blatantly --- and almost certainly illegally --- ignored for five years. And although the FISA law doesn't extend to Great Britain, Glenn Greenwald reports that the Brits have a similar requirement to obtain a warrant for surveillance, one which was presumably followed.

George Bush and John Kline will tell you that we need to 'stay the course' in Iraq in order to defeat the terrorists, when it's abundantly clear that approach is accomplishing the precise opposite. And George Bush will tell you it's necessary to give up your civil liberties in order to be safe (astonishingly, it appears that John Kline has been silent on this point for nearly 8 months now, and just as astonishingly, the media haven't pressed him on it), even though the FISA warrant process --- the same process Coleen Rowley recommended for dealing with Zacarias Moussaoui in August 2001 --- proved to be no barrier in this case.

(Update: Robert Kuttner provides an insightful and more detailed analysis of exactly how incompetent Bush's approach to the 'War on Terror' has been)

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