Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The President's A-Hole

No, I'm not making an obscene reference. In yesterday's press conference, President Bush was asked about his illegal domestic espionage program.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Getting back to the domestic spying issue for a moment. According to FISA's own records, it's received nearly 19,000 requests for wiretaps or search warrants since 1979, rejected just five of them. It also operates in secret, so security shouldn't be a concern, and it can be applied retroactively. Given such a powerful tool of law enforcement is at your disposal, sir, why did you see fit to sidetrack that process?

A: We used the process to monitor. But also, this is a different — a different era, a different war, Stretch. So what we're — people are changing phone numbers and phone calls, and they're moving quick. And we've got to be able to detect and prevent. I keep saying that, but this is a — it requires quick action.

And without revealing the operating details of our program, I just want to assure the American people that, one, I've got the authority to do this; two, it is a necessary part of my job to protect you; and, three, we're guarding your civil liberties. And we're guarding the civil liberties by monitoring the program on a regular basis, by having the folks at NASA, the legal team, as well as the inspector general, monitor the program, and we're briefing Congress. This is a part of our effort to protect the American people. The American people expect us to protect them and protect their civil liberties. I'm going to do that. That's my job, and I'm going to continue doing my job.
In the official transcript of the press conference on the White House website, the President's answer was corrected, because he intended to refer to the NSA, the National Security Agency, not NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The NSA ("enn-ess-ay") is a sooper-seekrit spy group tasked with spying on people outside the United States. Title 50, United States Code, Chapter 36, Subchapter I, Section 1802 [50 USC 1802] explicitly gives the President (through the Attorney General) the authority to spy without a warrant only if "there is no substantial likelihood that the surveillance will acquire the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party" [paragraph (a)(1)(B)]. 50 USC 1801(i) defines "United States person" to include any U.S. citizen anywhere in the world, any legal permanent resident of the United States, and most U.S. corporations and organizations. If there is any "substantial likelihood" that you're spying on someone legally in the United States, then you must get a court order.

NASA ("nass-uh") is a mostly non-seekrit organization tasked with sending spaceships and space cargo and space experiments and space explorers into space. It's true that NASA does sometimes deal with launching satellites that will be used by the NSA or other spooks, but mostly they're concerned with moon rocks and Mars rovers. It's also true that the first A in NASA is for Aeronautics, which isn't as much of their mission as it once was.

However, NASA and the NSA are not the same thing. They're not even very similar, Mr. President. And NSA is definitely not pronounced "nass-uh." Since you allegedly lived in Houston for a while, you should know that. NSA is more than just NASA with an A-hole.