- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2006

Does anyone really believe President Bush wants to spy on innocent old ladies or any other group of innocent Americans? Does anyone — besides the loony left and its unwitting dupes — really believe Mr. Bush has a sinister desire to consolidate executive power, make himself a dictator and eviscerate the Fourth Amendment? These are some of the things the knee-jerk opponents of Mr. Bush’s selection of Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden to head the CIA apparently believe.

Gen. Hayden is considered one of the architects of the administration’s NSA warrantless surveillance program. So critics and skeptics of that program have jumped in to oppose him for that reason alone, though other objections have also surfaced, such as that a military leader shouldn’t run a civilian intelligence organization.

Political leaders, even certain Republicans like Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, have promised to exploit the Hayden confirmation hearings to inquire into the propriety of this controversial program.

Like some other people, it occurred to me Mr. Bush is more than ready for a public debate over his NSA program. Otherwise, he surely wouldn’t have chosen a man whose intimate connection to it is well known and vulnerable to political posturing.

I, too, welcome this debate, though the program proponents begin at a bit of a disadvantage because security concerns preclude them from producing evidence that would vindicate their decision to carry out the plan. But philosophical and practical arguments, apart from the specifics of evidence in particular “searches” will be fair game.

I won’t rehash all the arguments for and against the program, except to say its opponents have shamelessly mischaracterized it as “domestic” spying when one of the parties to the communications must be outside the United States. They’ve tried to create the impression the privacy of innocent civilians will be violated in these “broad sweeps.” And they’ve portrayed this as an important part of an overall Bush administration pattern to trample on civil liberties and expand presidential powers.

But the only communications intercepted are those where at least one party is a terrorist, a suspected terrorist or has ties to terrorists. Absent cases of mistaken identity, which can also occur with warrants, it’s hard to imagine many innocent people will fall under such surveillance.

If opponents of the surveillance program were acting in good faith, why would they mischaracterize the program as domestic spying? I can certainly understand a strong public reaction against a president violating civil rights of American citizens, especially for his own purposes, like Richard Nixon was alleged to have done with his enemies list. In those cases, the president would have a personal or political motive to abuse the civil rights of citizens.

But what sinister motive would Mr. Bush possibly have for eavesdropping on nonterrorists? Does anyone really believe he has anything to do with micromanaging the intercepts, much less selecting the targets of the surveillance? Does anyone really believe the United States has the resources to waste time spying on innocents?

Moreover, does anyone really believe President Bush, Gen. Hayden, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or any other major player would support this warrantless surveillance program if it were not necessary?

That is, propaganda aside, does any reasonable person truly believe, if we could always accomplish the necessary surveillance by going through the sometimes laborious and time-consuming warrant process, the administration would insist on the right to do it without warrants?

The only people who believe that are those inclined to believe the president wants power for the sake of it, or for the sake of abusing the civil liberties and privacy of American citizens. Folks, that’s just silly and absurd on its face.

I am confident the administration would not conduct warrantless searches unless it believed the delay in obtaining a warrant would often jeopardize our national security and possibly American lives. Why is this so difficult to comprehend in an age where terrorists have unlimited access to disposable cell phones and other high-tech devices?

The president is not playing war games here, but some of his opponents are playing political games. Fortunately, it appears the American people instinctively understand the naysayers are long on civil liberties hysteria and short on national security concerns.

Let their posturing continue as this public debate unfolds. It is time to have this out and to expose the privacy charlatans for who they are.

David Limbaugh is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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