Monday, January 23, 2006
Bush and the Republicans Launch "Who Cares If It's Legal Defense." Orwellian or Kafkaesque? We report, you decide.
By James Gerstenzang, Tribune Newspapers: Los Angeles Times; Times staff writers Peter Wallsten and Greg Miller contributed to this report
Published January 22, 2006
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is launching an aggressive effort to convince Americans that a National Security Agency program of domestic eavesdropping is legal and justified.
With public opinion polls indicating that Americans are evenly divided over the program, President Bush's top political lieutenants on Friday used the surveillance program in speeches to Republican activists as a weapon against Democrats.
The president and other senior administration officials had shied away from talking extensively about the NSA's program of monitoring certain phone calls and other communication between Americans and persons overseas. The program immediately became controversial when it was revealed last month, because the monitoring occurred without court approval. Bush had secretly approved it after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The president and other senior officials will be making a series of speeches and visits this week in Washington and beyond. They are trying to build new support for the program two weeks before the Senate begins hearings on it, while also taking advantage of underlying public support for aggressive actions intended to head off terrorist strikes.
Bush is expected to deal with the issue during a planned speech Monday in Kansas. At the same time, Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, the deputy director of national intelligence who headed the NSA when the eavesdropping program was developed, is scheduled to speak at the National Press Club.
On Tuesday, Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales is to deliver a speech about the spying, and on Wednesday Bush will visit the NSA headquarters outside Washington.
"We are stepping up our efforts to educate the American people about this vital tool in the war on terrorism ahead of the congressional hearing scheduled for early February," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.
Many Democrats say that Bush, by authorizing the NSA to intercept some phone calls without approval from a special national security court, violated the 1978 law regulating intelligence-gathering in the United States.
"Congress spent seven years considering and enacting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act," Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said Friday in a written statement. "It was not a hastily conceived idea. Now, the administration has made a unilateral decision that congressional and judicial oversight can be discarded, in spite of what the law obviously requires. We need a thorough investigation of these activities."
Beyond making its legal arguments, the administration is reaching out to the court of public opinion. Republican political operatives have discerned what they believe is the program's political potential.
Asked which is their greater concern, that the government's anti-terrorism policies had not gone far enough to protect the country or had gone too far in restricting civil liberties, 46 percent of those surveyed in a recent poll said the government had not done enough. Some 33 percent said it had gone too far.
The poll, conducted Jan. 4-8 by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, also found that 48 percent of respondents thought that "monitoring Americans suspected of terrorist ties without court permission" was "generally right," and 47 percent thought it was "generally wrong."
In short, said Andrew Kohut, the center's director, a surveillance program that had drawn sharp criticism when it was first disclosed "has been transformed from an accusation to a debatable issue." Support for the administration's eavesdropping program, Kohut said, "hinges on people seeing this as going after the bad guys" rather than as an infringement on civil liberties.
Republicans believe the spying debate works in their favor, allowing them to paint Democrats as weak on terrorism.
Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee chairman, told reporters on the sidelines of the GOP's winter meeting in Washington on Friday that the program would be a crucial element of the party's strategy in this year's congressional campaign.
Editor's Note: The term "Orwellian" usually refers to one or more of the following:
* Manipulation of language for political ends. Most significantly by introducing to words meanings in opposition to their denotative meanings.
* Invasion by the state of personal privacy, whether physically or by means of surveillance.
* The total control of daily life by the state, as in a "Big Brother" society.
* The disintegration of the family unit by the state.
* The replacement of religious faith with worship of the state in a semi-religious manner.
* Active encouragement by the state of "doublethink", whereby the population must learn to embrace inconsistent concepts without dissent.
* A dystopian or antiutopian future.
* The use of verbose and ambiguous language.