I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Greater Mysteries

By Barbara O'Brien

The natives of the Right are whoopin' it up tonight over the news that the Canadians nabbed an alleged terrorist cell by monitoring their internet activity.

Naturally, rightie tribespersons are only marginally interested in the apprehension of possibly dangerous people. What they're really excited about is proof that electronic surveillance can catch terrorists, which of course means that liberals are wrong about everything they've said and believed since the Truman Administration. Whoo-HOO!

Over at Protein Wisdom, Jeff Goldstein wrote,

Although to be sure, lots of buildings and public transit venues in a number of countries remain intact as a result—and thousands of innocent civilians were probably spared. Still, small consolation indeed if it turns out some “spy agency” somewhere plucked a conversation out of (cyber)space and used it to zero in on these guys.

Keep an eye on Glenn Greenwald’s site for updates and analysis on how, during these overlapping probes, the Constitution was shredded.

Since Glenn's busy and I have posting privileges here, I want to help out. So: drawing on my near-average understanding of constitutional principles, I am reasonably certain that the U.S. Constitution was not violated, because it has no jurisdiction in Canada. Unfortunately I know next to nothing about the Canadian constitution. Perhaps a Canadian reader can help with that.

Mr. Goldstein also complained that very few leftie blogs have weighed in. "Maybe they’re all at church," he wrote. Judging from the reaction to my last post here, I doubt that, Jeff.

I regret to say this, because I know Mr. Goldstein is looking to us lefties for direction and guidance on this matter. But so far I haven't learned enough from news stories about the circumstances of the investigation and arrests to know if any civil liberties issues were involved. I hope sometime in the next few hours we'll learn more details, and that Anonymous Liberal or Hume's Ghost can drop by and enlighten us.

Captain Ed decided not to wait for commentary from liberals. Instead, he anticipated what he thought liberals would say so he could go ahead and write his counter argument:

The issue of Internet monitoring has some in the US uncomfortable about breaches of privacy. However, the terrorists use that as a decentralized communication method, and a willful refusal to investigate these communications is sheer folly, as this raid attests. Should the Canadians have eschewed their investigation -- and waited until this group killed hundreds or thousands of people before knowing anything about them? The Internet is not a private network, as some could argue the phone systems provide. Communications are not point-to-point but broadcast, and the expectation of privacy in Internet communications should have disappeared long ago.

If we want to catch these people before they strike, then we had better know when, where, and how they communicate for coordination and recruitment, and be prepared to stop them as the CSIS has apparently done today.
Here are my questions: How many times do we have to say we are not against surveillance as long as it's done lawfully before it sinks into a rightie brain? And are there numbers that go that high? And does it not seem to you that all conservative rhetoric these days is just one big mother fatass straw man?

My buddy blogger Steve M writes to Captain Ed,

Er, Ed? I don't know anyone who's arguing that governments shouldn't be monitoring suspect Web sites. It's the unrestricted warrantless dragnets that get us cranky, not cops finding their way to chat rooms where people are talking jihad and making their way in.

That's clear enough, isn't it? How can people who are bright enough (I assume) to tie their own shoes read that and interpret it to mean "We must eschew all surveillance"?

Steve M. also links to a New Yorker article about New York City counterterrorism measures that seems very similar to what the CSIS has been doing -- monitoring jihadist Web sites and chat rooms.

More questions: Is the New York City intelligence operation described in the New Yorker going to suffer because of the recent cut in counterterrorism funds? In the next few hours, how many rightie bloggers will declare that the CSIS web site monitoring program is not substantially different from what the NSA is up to, even though we don't know what the bleep the NSA is up to? And can Jeff Goldstein, in fact, tie his own shoes?

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