Monday, October 15, 2007

One Man's Crisis...

I have written before about the fact that, contrary to the prevailing narrative that 9/11 represented a paradigm-shifting pivot for the White House, the Bush administration opportunistically used the events of 9/11 to advance several pre-existing agendas. From that earlier post:

Though marketed to the public as a post-9/11 exigency through the hyped, exaggerated and fabricated evidence of a nexus between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, invading Iraq had long been on the wish list of the Bush administration's foreign policy braintrust....As Ron Suskind notes in The One Percent Doctrine:

...the first National Security Council meeting [held for the newly inaugurated Bush presidency] in January 2001 dealt with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. And so did the second. It was a matter of how, not whether.

While the Iraq war is perhaps the most obvious and impactful policy, there was another excerpt from Suskind's work that is particularly relevant in light of recent revelations concerning the Bush administration's push to expand domestic surveillance powers:

On Friday, September 14, [2001] when the President of the United States wanted a grant of special powers from Congress, his team arrived on Capitol Hill well prepared.

It so happened that administration lawyers had for months been incubating theories about how to expand presidential power. The ideas were originally seeded by the Vice President, a believer, since the harrowing days in the death throes of the Nixon administration, that executive power had been dangerously diminished. [emphasis added]

As the Washington Post reported over the weekend, the Bush administration was pushing to expand its domestic spying capacity well before the attacks of 9/11 - attacks which have been used as a faux justification since, as well as a cudgel to silence critics of a power grab that predated those events (a familiar pattern):

[Former QWest CEO Joseph] Nacchio's account, which places the NSA proposal at a meeting on Feb. 27, 2001, suggests that the Bush administration was seeking to enlist telecommunications firms in programs without court oversight before the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. The Sept. 11 attacks have been cited by the government as the main impetus for its warrantless surveillance efforts.

As this Wired piece indicates, QWest may not have been alone (via Kagro X):

[I]n May 2006, a lawsuit filed against Verizon for allegedly turning over call records to the NSA alleged that AT&T began building a spying facility for the NSA just days after President Bush was inaugurated. That lawsuit is one of 50 that were consolidated and moved to a San Francisco federal district court, where the suits sit in limbo waiting for the 9th Circuit Appeals court to decide whether the suits can proceed without endangering national security.

But Mayer and Nacchio may not even be the only two arguing that the NSA started a program of collecting Americans' phone records before 9/11.

In a January 2006 Slate article that came out before the USA Today totally blew open the call records story in May 2006, Tim Naftali and THREAT LEVEL pal Shane Harris reported:

A former telecom executive told us that efforts to obtain call details go back to early 2001, predating the 9/11 attacks and the president's now celebrated secret executive order. The source, who asked not to be identified so as not to out his former company, reports that the NSA approached U.S. carriers and asked for their cooperation in a "data-mining" operation, which might eventually cull "millions" of individual calls and emails.

You know, I don't really need to re-write the conclusion from my earlier piece. It only seems more pertinent now:

The Bush administration, led by Cheney and his ideological brethren manning key legal posts, hasn't looked back since. Using a careful blend of fear and nationalism, the champions of a "unitary executive" have attempted to shroud their long anticipated moves in the cloak of 9/11. But in reality, they were laying the groundwork for this push well before those attacks ever took place. Instead of having to attempt incremental implementation, however, 9/11 gave them the casus belli needed to launch a broad war on civil liberties and the separation of powers doctrine that have each helped to maintain relatively stable political systems in this nation for over two hundred years. Like no other time in this nation's history, these principles are under a constant, direct and potent assualt from a reckless executive branch, a compliant Congress and a befuddled media.

In that sense, 9/11 did change everything.

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