Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Warrantless Wiretaps and the Brooklyn Bridge

As we consider the desirability of warrantless wiretaps, think about Dick Morris's story of the Brooklyn Bridge:

In 2002, the feds (presumably the NSA) picked up random cellphone chatter using the words "Brooklyn Bridge" (which apparently didn't translate well into Arabic). They notified the New York Police Department, which flooded the bridge with cops. Then the feds overheard a phone call in which a man said things were "too hot" on the bridge to pull off an operation. Later, an interrogation of a terrorist allowed by the Patriot Act led cops to the doorstep of this would-be bridge bomber. (His plans would definitely have brought down the bridge, NYPD sources told me.)

Why didn't Bush get a warrant? On who? For what? The NSA wasn't looking for a man who might blow up the bridge. It had no idea what it was looking for. It just intercepted random phone calls from people in the United States to those outside — and so heard the allusions to the bridge that tipped them off.

If Al Gore had been president and had heeded the Democrats' sensitivity on warrantless wiretaps, the Brooklyn Bridge would probably be rubble today. Think about it. How much national and personal security are you willing to trade for wiretaps only pursuant to a court-authorized warrant.

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