Most Members of Congress have been left in the dark about the particulars of the Administration's highly secretive domestic surveillance program. What we have been hearing about that program over the last few weeks, however, is extremely disturbing. Perhaps the most chilling development has been the revelation that the nation's phone companies may have turned over millions of customer calling records to the NSA National Security Agency (NSA) at the NSA's request.
In short, an Administration that professes the importance of limited government may be adopting Big Brother tactics to spy on the day-to-day activities of ordinary Americans. While the facts are still developing, we've also heard from General Michael Hayden, the new Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and architect of the NSA program. General Hayden unfortunately has a less than inspiring grasp of the Constitution. Asserting this past January that the Fourth Amendment does not include a "probable cause" requirement - which it does - he essentially stated that so long as a search and seizure is "reasonable" it is "lawful." That's not the standard, and while his approach is likely full of good intentions, the path to hell is paved with them.
General Hayden's interpretation of the law would essentially allow any domestic surveillance program to proceed, no matter how invasive, so long as he or someone else in the Administration believes that it will protect us. Just as 9/11 reminds us that we are not immune to terrorist attack despite our wealth and power, however, the McCarthy Era and the Church Committee remind us how our government is not immune to abuses of power and corruption. Today is no different.
If we are truly to be protected during the war on terror, we must concern ourselves not only with our physical security but also with securing our most cherished liberties and rights. Indeed, neither is worth much without the other. Leaders of all party affiliations accordingly need to work to execute an anti-terrorist strategy that promotes caution and precaution - one that includes robust efforts to protect us from attack while demanding that the Administration comply with the law when working those efforts. If "warrantless surveillance" and other homeland security strategies promulgated by General Hayden and others run roughshod over the Constitution, Congressional oversight, and the law, the Administration's approach to protecting the public may well become as potent a threat as terrorism itself.