John Yoo, a target of leftwing bullies still suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome, defends himself against malpractice allegations in the Inspector General report on warrantless electronic surveillance in an op-ed in today's Wall St. Journal:
It was instantly clear after Sept. 11, 2001, that our security agencies knew little about al Qaeda's inner workings, could not detect its operatives' entry into the country, nor predict where it might strike next.
Suppose an al Qaeda cell in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles was planning a second attack using small arms, conventional explosives or even biological, chemical or nuclear weapons. Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies faced a near impossible task locating them. Now suppose the National Security Agency (NSA), which collects signals intelligence, threw up a virtual net to intercept all electronic communications leaving and entering Osama bin Laden's Afghanistan headquarters. What better way of detecting follow-up attacks? And what president -- of either political party -- wouldn't immediately order the NSA to start, so as to find and stop the attackers?
Evidently, none of the inspectors general of the five leading national security agencies would approve. In a report issued last week, they suggested that President George W. Bush might have violated the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by ordering the interception of international communications of terrorists without a judicial warrant. The report also suggests that "other" intelligence measures -- still classified only because they are yet to be reported on the front page of the New York Times -- similarly lacked approval from other branches of government.
It is absurd to think that a law like FISA should restrict live military operations against potential attacks on the United States. Congress enacted FISA during the waning days of the Cold War. As the 9/11 Commission found, FISA's wall between domestic law enforcement and foreign intelligence proved dysfunctional and contributed to our government's failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks.
Under FISA, to obtain a judicial wiretapping warrant the government is supposed to show probable cause that a specified target is a foreign agent. Unlike, say, Soviet spies working under diplomatic cover, terrorists are hard to identify. Yet they are vastly more dangerous. Monitoring their likely communications channels is the best way to track and stop them. Building evidence to prove past crimes, as in the civilian criminal system, is entirely beside the point. The best way to find an al Qaeda operative is to look at all email, text and phone traffic between Afghanistan and Pakistan and the U.S. This might involve the filtering of innocent traffic, just as roadblocks and airport screenings do.
In FISA, President Bush and his advisers faced an obsolete law not written with live war with an international terrorist organization in mind. It was to meet such emergency circumstances that the Founders designed the presidency. As John Locke first observed, foreign threats "are much less capable to be directed by antecedent, standing, positive laws." Legislatures are too slow and their members too numerous to respond effectively to unforeseen situations. Only the executive can act to protect the "security and interest of the public."The power to protect the nation, said Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist, "ought to exist without limitation," because "it is impossible to foresee or define the extent and variety of national exigencies, or the correspondent extent & variety of the means which may be necessary to satisfy them." To limit the president's constitutional power to protect the nation from foreign threats is simply foolhardy.