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Chief Spy or Chief Enforcer?

"In a letter . . . the intelligence chief thanked Congress for the passage of the legislation, which has already been signed into law, and vowed to report and remedy 'any incidents of non-compliance.'

"The commitment to greater openness, McConnell said in the letter, which was made public Tuesday, is consistent with the intelligence community's actions in testifying on behalf of the bill.

"'Leaders of the intelligence community,' McConnell claimed, 'went far further in open discussions than in any other time I can recall in my forty-year intelligence career.'"

Here's the letter, in which McConnell also repeats the official White House talking point that the new language "is aimed at restoring the effect of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) drafted in 1978."

But as Eric Lichtblau wrote in the New York Times yesterday, it's not just Democrats and civil rights advocates but also news organizations that have come to the inescapable conclusion that the legislation is considerably more expansive than that -- effectively carving out a huge chunk of communications involving American citizens from the longstanding requirement that surveillance be accompanied by a court-approved warrant. (See yesterday's column.)

Making the White House Happy

The White House press office this morning called attention to these two opinion pieces on the new law.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes: "To hear the critics tell it, the warrantless wiretapping law passed by Congress this weekend is an immoral license for a mad President Bush and his spymasters to eavesdrop on all Americans. For those willing to believe such things, mere facts don't matter. But for anyone still amenable to reason, the deal is worth parsing for its national security precedents, good and bad."

On McConnell: "The first duty of Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell is to prevent the next terrorist attack, and it's disgraceful that some have vilified him for trying to revive our intelligence ability in that cause. His effort has been no different, and no less honorable, than a general arguing for more troops."

And, the Journal asserts: "Opposition from the Democratic left to this intelligence program isn't merely part of the partisan blood feud against a weak President near the end of his term. It is part of a far larger ideological campaign to erode Presidential war powers. Goaded by the ACLU and much of the press corps, many Democrats want to use the courts and lawsuits to restrict Mr. Bush and future Presidents in their ability to gather intelligence in the war on terror."

And dependable White House apologists David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey write in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece: "The amendments . . . permit interception of foreign communications directed into the United States, as long as a person in the U.S. is not the target of surveillance. Why the critics object to this provision on civil liberties grounds is unclear."

They argue further that the bill goes too far, not in violating civil liberties, but in restricting executive power.

Bush's Support

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press: "To see the type of person who still backs him, President Bush need only look in the mirror. The president fits the composite of today's Bush supporter: a conservative, white, Republican man, an evangelical Christian who goes to church regularly.

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