Is Bush Just Following Lincoln's Example?

News at Home

Mr. Kashatus is an independent scholar and a writer for the History News Service.

Does President Bush have the constitutional authority, as he claims, to order the warrantless surveillance of suspected al-Qaida agents in the United States?

Yes he does, say some, who point to Abraham Lincoln's suspension of writs of habeas corpus during the Civil War to defend their position. Then and now they argue, the commander-in-chief during wartime has an obligation to place national security above Fourth Amendment safeguards that protect the privacy of the individual.

But there's a major difference between the two cases, namely the degree to which each president aimed to tilt the delicate balance of power in the federal government in favor of the executive branch. While Lincoln retained his credibility with Congress and the American people, Bush is diminishing his.

Indeed, both presidents faced similar situations as commanders-in-chief during wartime. Lincoln, confronted with a destructive Civil War, was constitutionally obligated to protect and preserve the union. To prevent Washington from being encircled by Maryland's and Delaware's pro-secessionist forces and to ensure the transit of loyal troops to the capital, Lincoln, beginning in April 1861, ordered federal soldiers to arrest active secessionists, saboteurs and guerrillas in those states. He later extended a similar temporary order to other northern areas of uncertain allegiance.

In peacetime, such activities would have been clearly unconstitutional, violating Fourth Amendment protections. As a result, anti-Lincoln Democrats accused the president of establishing a military dictatorship, a charge that was supported by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney.

Taney challenged the legality of Lincoln's action in the 1861 Ex parte Merryman case, ruling that the arrests of suspected secessionists were illegal on two counts: (1) "there was no war" since only Congress can declare war and had not done so; and (2) only Congress had the power to suspend "habeas corpus" if the public's safety was endangered.

Lincoln countered by citing Luther v. Borden, an 1849 case, in which Taney himself ruled that Rhode Island's state government, to defend itself in a public uprising, rightfully resorted to the military arrests of activist civilian dissidents. Though not a declared war between nations, he argued, a state (and by implication, a nation) has a legitimate duty to defend itself when attacked by armed forces either from within or outside its boundaries.

As a result, Lincoln's actions were deemed constitutionally valid on the basis that the Civil War presented fundamental and immediate dangers to government and society. He also made sure that the arrests were kept to a minimum and made his subordinates remain accountable by carefully monitoring their activities.

Bush, confronted with a War on Terrorism, is also constitutionally obligated to protect and preserve the nation. To prevent another terrorist attack, the president, on Sept. 14, 2001, asked for and received from Congress permission to "use all appropriate and necessary force" against entities involved in the Sept. 11 assault.

Such a "blanket permission," he insists, included his secret authorization of the National Security Agency to spy on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Americans and other residents of the United States. But he is experiencing more difficulty than Lincoln in defending his domestic surveillance program.

Democratic lawmakers and civil-liberties advocates accuse the president of deliberately side-stepping the 1978 Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act, which created a special court to approve such a domestic eavesdropping. The law includes emergency provisions that let investigators seek court approval up to 72 hours after the surveillance starts.

Bush is now scrambling to defend his actions, claiming that his role as commander-in-chief during wartime requires that he make national security more important than the privacy of those individuals monitored under the domestic surveillance program. But that position has yet to be tested in the courts.

To be sure, the president should and must enjoy broader constitutional authority in wartime in order to protect the American people. Congress recognized that need when it approved the Patriot Act. But that's not the issue here.

The real issue is Mr. Bush's objective--specifically, whether his administration is guilty of tilting the delicate balance of power in the federal government too far in the direction of the executive branch. There must continue to be legal safeguards to check such an expansive view of presidential power, and it's up to Congress to safeguard them.

To their credit, legislators on Capitol Hill have recently taken a cautious approach to the president's anti-terrorist program. Rejecting Mr. Bush's call to make the Patriot Act permanent, Congress voted to extend it provisionally only for five weeks.

While Lincoln created precedents that many of his successors used to excess, he did not harbor an intent to reshape the balance of power between Congress and the presidency and kept himself and his cabinet accountable to all traditional constraints of the democratic process. As a result, Lincoln can be absolved from the charge of having been a "constitutional dictator."

If Bush had wanted to escape the same charge, he would have tried to have the Federal Intelligence Surveillance law changed instead of circumventing it. Then he might have greater credibility with the American people and their representatives in Congress.

This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the History News Service, an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts. The article may be republished as long as both the author and the History News Service are clearly credited.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006

Dear Gordon,

I have to comment on your point " This isn't a "war" in the traditional sense as much as an on-going reality. Sept. 11 was just the most dramatic act to date in a drama that has been going on long before Bush and will go on long after him... there is a credibility to the notion that this is more of a political power-grab than a legitimate response to a threat."

My apology for the edits...

I agree and empathize with your dilemma. Personally, this war is so thoroughly confusing it makes my head hurt. But, do not make the fatal mistake of assuming that we do not face a legitimate threat. On the subject matter of 4th Generation War, I recommend you read the works of William S. Lind, Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation.

His writing is concise, detailed and provides an insiders opinion to the fluid dynamics at play in the current world wide conflict while offering actions/recommendations/solutions/strategy that holds a good deal of logic in the quest for US victory.

This war is only in it's infancy stage and when it will end is pure conjecture. That is not to say that we will not prevail for we definitely will. However, we all need to be prepared... all of us... not just our front line troops. Fully be prepared mentally and physically for any worst case scenario.

This NSA deal, although not minor, is peanuts in the overall scheme of things to come. We should be more concerned over our greatest weakness... the inability to formulate/implement rapid defense response/action and coordinated/effective disaster recovery after a traumatic event. The attacks on 911 clearly exposed this flaw which was then revisited/magnified during the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina.

My advise is that you take nothing for granted, be prepared for the worst, protect your family first/neighbors second and say a prayer to you personal higher power. The only way to defeat a 4th Generation enemy is vigilance. Some may argue that the Bush/NSA action is vigilance but, in reality it is mostly wasted effort on the wrong targets.

Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006

Dear Mr. Heuisler,

You are a first rate piece of garbage! 'Nuff said...

Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006

Dear Mr. Gordon and Mr. Alvarado,

From your previous posts at HNN it is easy to gather that you are both very intelligent men and I certainly did not mean insult or wish to lower you to my intellect level... which is fair to midland but, nothing to write about in the Harvard Crimson.

The point I am trying to make is to never trust government for it lacks any concern, whatsoever, for the rights and dignity of the individual. The government, despite all it's promises, has failed miserably whenever decisive action is required regardless, what some faux patriots tell us.

Self reliance is the key to individual survival in the current climate of 4th Generation Warfare. I realize that this is a selfish outlook and I would never turn my back on a fellow human being when it counts but, this is what it has come to.

"Bourgeois patriotism, as I view it, is only a very shabby, very narrow, very mercenary, and deeply antihuman passion, having for its object the preservation and maintenance of the power of the national state, that is, the mainstay of all the privileges of the exploiters throughout the nation."
—Mikhail Bakunin, Letters to a Frenchman

PS... Remember to say a prayer for the seven brave soldiers and 125 Iraqi's killed today,

Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006

Dear Mr. Heisler,

"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security." Benjamin Franklin

I would rather be incinerated by a nuclear bomb than surrender one iota of my personal liberty.

If both Heuisler and you want to throw up the white flag, get on your knees and cry a river of tears to the bin Laden's of the world before they chop off your useless, empty heads be my guest. This is exactly what bin Laden preys upon and you both are easy marks.

Cause and effect. Action and reaction. Osama bin Laden plays the tune and you dance. Well not me, buster!

Restructuring our lifestyle, surrendering our freedom, living in fear... this is what bin Laden thrives upon... it is a major weapon in his arsenal. If we are forced to curtail freedom, live in fear of our own government, allow ourself to be spied upon, worry about our personal associations or be forced to watch what we write or say... then bin Laden has won.

Now re-read what Bill wrote... really read it. Bill is giving the thumbs up to the actions of a police state. Worse yet, what he writes is an oversimplified, overreaction that is racist in tone.

Not only are you two surrender monkeys giving aid to the enemy you're promoting hatred of fellow Americans and inciting others.

Let's just gather up all Arab Muslims in the United States and lock them in internment camps. We did it to the Japs why not the Haji's? We'll make Heuisler, Heisler and Michelle Malkin commandant and when you three aren't busy water boarding some hapless Arab you could have a little manage a tois to kill time between torture sessions.

Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006

Dear Bill 'un-American' Heuisler,

The mere act of responding, not directly to me, but, to Charles is proof enough that you are ill prepared in the defense of the indefensible right wing blather you espouse. If you wish to debate me then, address me directly. I have no contempt for you as a fascist and fully respect your right to be and think as you choose however, I have absolutely no respect for a gutless, coward 'chump' fascist who will not address a detractor mano y mano.

Pacifist and Marxist... The world according to a half-wit... Bill Heuisler

In the vain of Jeff Foxworthy 'You must be a Redneck'...

To dare question the US opening of a second war front in Iraq when not fully securing the first war front in Afghanistan, failure to kill/capture Osama bin Laden and failure to eliminate al Qaeda... YOU MUST BE A PACIFIST.

To dare question the US objectives in Iraq, initial disbanding of the Iraqi Army, failure to secure weapon depots to supply the insurgency against our troops, failure to secure borders to allow entry of more weapons to be used against our troops, failure to fully equip our troops with armor/bullets/boots, failure to initiate a Draft to replenish our troops to relieve/share this burden... YOU MUST BE A PACIFIST

To dare question US tactics used against the civilian populace of Iraq including the use of banned weapons, torture, indiscriminate use of overwhelming force (Fallujah) and to foment Shia/Sunni slaughter... YOU MUST BE A PACIFIST.

To dare question the tax dollar cost of the Iraq War, the whereabouts of billions in dollars unaccounted for, failure to secure oil infrastructure/control production, reconstruction progress or lack thereof, no-bid contracts, cronyism, war profiteering, Republican kick-backs that jeopardize our troops... YOU MUST BE A PACIFIST.

To dare question US promotion of questionable Iraqi leaders (Chalabi, Allawi... this after Republicans fawned over Saddam for 15 years), allow Iraq to disintegrate into civil war, permit Iranian flavored theocracy to take root and have absolutely no plan to gain control of events or exit strategy... YOU MUST BE A PACIFIST.

Let's switch gears...

To dare question the unprecedented growth in reach, borrowed dollars (China) and manpower of the US government by a GOP that allegedly stands for smaller government... YOU MUST BE A MARXIST

To dare question secret government spying against Americans (Greenpeace/PETA/Move On for Christ sake), blatant bypass of FISA law, incarceration without charge, no access to counsel or right to expedient trial of citizens and forced detainment in foreign gulags to maximize/cover-up torture... YOU MUST BE A MARXIST

To dare question tax breaks to the wealthy in a time of war, waste of billions in tax dollars (see above), increased poverty levels, elimination of worker rights/pensions/protection (SAGO) and the loss of an entire US city-New Orleans to incompetence... YOU MUST BE A MARXIST.

To dare question Republican malfeasance... YOU MUST BE A MARXIST...

But enough about me...

(Mr. Heisler you may feel free to chime in at any time in defense of your near namesake and ideological cousin... Maybe the two of you can expend some of your excess basal intellect...)

You write, "That's what should be expected when people with certain affiliations and beliefs frag officers"

How does an isolated military frag incident, in Iraq no less, justify domestic spying and bypass of FISA laws?

You write, "use places of worship to incite violence"

Provide detailed proof? Places, names, events...

You write, "shoot civilians from trunks of cars"

Provide details of John Allen Muhammad/Lee Malvo's Muslim affiliations and network of any Mosque that provided support for their antics?

Here, I'll even help you sad-sack...


Then as always,,, you just slay me you kidder... you outdo yourself and write. "My philosophy has always been to kill them before they can kill me."

What happened to us, as in U-S, as in U-S-A? You, the one who wants us all to "appreciate the greatness of our country". You selfish, useless little worm. You promote the indiscriminate killing of Arabs and other brown skin undesirables, of your own personal choice, so that you feel safe. You miserable excuse of human flesh you don't even deserve to call yourself an American.

Then you write of Mayfield. "He talks like a duck, acts like a duck, defends ducks and then expects "Christian" charity, and to be protected by the laws his fellow ducks wish to destroy and replace with Sharia."

Not only are you a racist but a pinhead as well.

My only regrettable error was to use a Howard Stern's quote to question the "Isn't it better we removed Saddam" noise at another unrelated post/dialogue but, I forgot that a knuckle dragger named Bill Hueisler lurks at HNN.

Finally, return is fair play. If you can't take heated comment or insult, as you surely dish it out, over/about your opinions and racist bias then don't post-up at HNN. If you faced a real debate with the likes of a Pat Buchanan or Eleanor Clift you'd be meat, rode hard and put away wet.

Maia Cowan - 1/10/2006

Time was when I'd have thought this speculation was the wildest and most incredible (in the literal sense of the word) tinfoil-hat conspiracy mongering. That was before Bush entered the White House. Watching his flagrant disregard for the laws of our country, which began almost immediately after his inauguration with the removal of Victoria Wilson from the Civil Rights Commission, I've learned that he'll keep pushing the limits of his power. So. The Bush Administration's apologists argue that laws don't limit Bush's presidential authority because the country is in a state of war. But Bush put us in a state of war without any legal or logical justification. So -- what if one of the motivations for going to war was to provide a pretext for expanding the power of the president beyond all previous limits?

Bill Heuisler - 1/8/2006

Ms. Kazmier,
Thanks for answering my questions. In return, I'll answer yours in reverse order.

Roger Ailes never makes a decision or entertains a serious thought without speed-dialing Heuisler. These are all my talking points

Joe Wilson was a Kerry Democrat who publicly voiced his opposition to President Bush and was appointed to a very sensitive mission without the knowledge of Powell, Tenet, Cheney, the President or any top advisors.

Wilson had no CIA experience and no background in nuclear, uranium or non-proliferation matters. His only qualifications were that he had once been ambassador to Burundi, needed a job and his wife worked in Langley.

He was also shown to be a liar: Senate Committee on Intelligence report detailed how he'd misled reporters about his trip to Niger
to investigate whether or not Iraq ever tried to purchase uranium. His testimony to the committee - and his book - related his finding evidence an Iraqi delegation had actually asked members of Niger's government about yellow cake earlier in 2002.

His public statements did not ever mention this intel, but accused his President of lying instead.

He also said he'd seen "forged documents" about Niger and uranium ore. Problem? The documents weren't in CIA possession until 8 months after Wilson returned to the US.

Partisan Democrat, no experience and lied about intelligence that could have aided our efforts against Iraq and against terrorism.

I'd say he was also a traitor who should be hung for concealing Iraq's search for nuclear weapons during a run-up to war. Did he give aid to the Saddam government? I think so.

Thanks again for answering all my questions, Ms. Kazmier, and I'll be sure and give your regards to Roger.
Bill Heuisler

Lisa Kazmier - 1/8/2006

Wasn't the least bit qualified for? Is this some Roger Ailes talking point?

Bill Heuisler - 1/8/2006

Mr. Todd,
Thanks for the web sites (a frown here) you've cost me more than three hours investigating a thoroughly informative and entertaining series.

Thanks again. Happy New Year.
Bill Heuisler

Andrew D. Todd - 1/8/2006

The term "state of war," or "declaration of war," has a very specific and technical meaning. It is what the lawyers call a "term of art." Various and sundry laws are formulated in terms of the state of war. Provisions become operative when a declared state of war exists. Congress, made up almost exclusively of lawyers, declined to declare war, but merely made various lesser resolutions. This was their way of saying that they did not permit the courts to be closed down, that they did not authorize the introduction of conscription, nor the introduction of price controls or rationing, etc. You may have seen the picture of Sewell Avery, president of Montgomery Ward, being forcibly carried out of the company offices by two soldiers, upon the orders of President Roosevelt during the Second World War. Avery had refused to deal with trade unions. Roosevelt had reached a concordat with the trade unions, guarenteeing against strikes in wartime industries, and Avery's actions represented a threat to the bargain.


Avery does look rather smug, don't you think. The GI's, on the other hand, seem a bit nervous.

Bill Heuisler - 1/7/2006

Ms. Kazmier,
Because she was exposed (among other Langley types) getting her husband a highly sensitive job he wasn't the least bit qualified for.

We're at war. Of course there have been declarations. Three in fact.

1998: Congress declared Iraq in
"material breach" of international law, "urged" the President to "take appropriate action", specifically including military action.

2001: 1/3/2001 AUMF against those responsible for recent attacks. AUMF means, Authorization to Use Military Force against "nations,organizations or persons"..."planned, authorized, committed or aided" 9/11.

2002: 10/11/2002 Joint Resolution of Congress to authorize military force against Iraq - War Powers Resolution.

War was declared at Beirut, Khobar, the Cole, WT Center (93), embassies in Africa and WT Center in 2001.
War was declared by Islamofascist terrorists (who behead civilians on video tape to prove their cause).

Why is OBL free, you ask? Because we haven't caught him yet. Do you imply that he has connived with what you call, "the power grab"? Do you think our troops in Afganistan were remiss at Tora Bora? Do you have evidence Jose Padilla is innocent of plans to set off a radioactive bomb?

Please give us all this information so we can be better informed.
Bill Heuisler

Lisa Kazmier - 1/7/2006

Then why did she quit and why is her career considered "over"?

We're at war? Who declared it? Exactly who are we at war against? And if we're really "at war" against Osama bin Laden, why is he free while Jose Padilla has been in jail for years without trial? I've seen the power grab, I've seen the soldiers die. I'm seen gas prices go up. What else?

Bill Heuisler - 1/7/2006

Happy New Year, Cousin,
Don't waste your time on the likes of people who dislike this country but are obsessed with pacifism, the UN, Howard Stern and Anarchists who admired Marx. Are they confused? No, merely inadequate to the issues and incapable of expressing themselves without maladroit insult.

Small minds are often incapable of medial correspondence, and exhibit hatred in response to concepts they can't quite grasp. Envy is a strong motivator when unhinged from basal intellect, and we should rejoice in the degeneration of those who don't appreciate the greatness of our country, the righteousness of our defense against terrorism and the wisdom of those who ignore them.
Bill Heuisler

Charles Edward Heisler - 1/6/2006

Interesting response Patrick, Cat, or lack of intellect got your tongue???

Bill Heuisler - 1/5/2006

Mr. Bond,
Thank you for the Moran quote. He's a fair-minded defender of the press who doesn't pull punches.

You neglected to quote the ending of Mr. Moran's 1998 article which gives a new perspective on a President's role - in the '80s and in 2001:

" It is also worth acknowledging that it is easier now to oppose the CIA’s Afghan adventures than it was when Hatch and company made them in the mid-1980s. After all, in 1998 we now know that far larger elements than Afghanistan were corroding the communist party’s grip on power in Moscow.
Even Hatch can’t be blamed completely. The CIA, ever mindful of the need to justify its “mission,” had conclusive evidence by the mid-1980s of the deepening crisis of infrastructure within the Soviet Union. The CIA, as its deputy director Robert Gates acknowledged under congressional questioning in 1992, had decided to keep that evidence from President Reagan and his top advisors and instead continued to grossly exaggerate Soviet military and technological capabilities in its annual “Soviet Military Power” report right up to 1990.
Given that context, a decision was made to provide America’s potential enemies with the arms, money - and most importantly - the knowledge of how to run a war of attrition violent and well-organized enough to humble a superpower.
That decision is coming home to roost." Michael Moran

Makes me wonder who is running this country. Tenet's "Slam dunk" about WMDs in Iraq rings awfully hollow. Instead of worrying about Presidents and their powers, we should burn Langley and find new people.
Bill Heuisler

Bill Heuisler - 1/5/2006

Mr. Todd,
a confession:
I agree with everything you say, but Mayfield's rights are no longer as important to me as they once were before 9/11. Mea culpa, but that's what happens when people with certain affiliations and beliefs attack my country with the stated intent to destroy my way of life.

That's what should be expected when people with certain affiliations and beliefs frag officers, use places of worship to incite violence, shoot civilians from trunks of cars and fund others overseas who are killing our troops. My philosophy has always been to kill them before they can kill me. He talks like a duck, acts like a duck, defends ducks and then expects "Christian" charity, and to be protected by the laws his fellow ducks wish to destroy and replace with Sharia.

Not any more. I'm far more upset by the FBI clusterf**k than worried about Mayfield's rights. Maybe he should move his law practise to Cairo; see what rights he has there.

Andrew D. Todd - 1/5/2006

Well, put this in perspective. The noted trial lawyer ("barrister") F. Lee Bailey made a specialty of representing "gruesome murder suspects," typically men who were accused of strangling their wives, eg. Sam Shepherd. Then there's Otto Schily in Germany. Back during the 1970's he defended the various members of the Baader-Meinhof gang, and was subject to official harassment. He eventually became the Interior Minister of Germany (equivalent to our Attorney General). By definition, defense lawyers have dubious clients. In the last analysis, if you allow lawyers to be harassed for taking clients the authorities disapprove of, it effective works out to denying the constitutionally guaranteed right to counsel.

Bill Heuisler - 1/5/2006

Mr. Todd,
You wrote, "not even the beginning of a case". I beg to differ. The FBI screwed up, but there was plenty of circumstantial evidence.

One of Mayfield’s clients was Jeffrey Battle, a member of the "Portland Seven", charged a year after 9/11 with conspiring to fight against U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The following quotes Peoples Workers World (one of my sources)
"None of the Portland Seven was ever in Afghanistan, and the FBI has provided no evidence that they ever contacted al Qaida or the Taliban. Nevertheless, last November, Battle and fellow defendant Patrice Lumumba Ford were sentenced to 18 years. Ford and Battle had accepted a plea agreement after their attorneys concluded that there was no way they could get a fair trial. Much of the evidence against them during their trial came from a paid informer who had goaded them into acts of adventurism." (Goaded? Fair trial?)

"The FBI used the Portland Seven case to whip up anti-Muslim hysteria, sending spies to infiltrate a Portland mosque. For months, police helicopters circled over the mosque to intimidate the congregation. The FBI charged that the Islamic Center of Portland (ICP) had raised funds for the Portland Seven – understandable, if true, since several of the defendants were members of the ICP.

The witchhunt was so intense that ICP President Alaa Abujinem last year became a co-plaintiff in an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller. The lawsuit asked the court to find the USA Patriot Act unconstitutional.

Saudi-born Abujinem, a U.S. citizen, told a news conference, “In America, the Bill of Rights does not allow the police and FBI to investigate me or other Muslim immigrants when we have done nothing wrong. Yet in recent months I have been treated as a suspicious person in my adopted country,” he said."

Like you said, give the devil the benefit of the law. If you believe the case as stated above, then the FBI and the Feds are overpaid idiots.

One other thing, imagine I was in Saudi Arabia, charged with plotting against Muslims. Imagine how long I would live.
Bill Heuisler

Andrew D. Todd - 1/5/2006

Well, I should state that I am an engineer and historian, not a lawyer. And, no, I don't postulate planning in the FBI. I postulate recklessness, or rather, a "culture of recklessness." Too many people egging each other on, too many people afraid to say no to the boss. Oh, and as I said, there is this weirdly dangerous relationship of people who rely on complex machines, but don't understand them well enough to exercise sound human judgment. As to intent, no robber who shoot a shopkeeper in the course of a stickup really intends to do so. The law imputes intent, as a means of taking the more dangerous crooks out of circulation.

There really does not seem to be even the beginning of a case against Mayfield. There is no evidence that he ever contemplated any action save purely legal and constitutional protest, and considerable evidence that he is a stable citizen, who does things like teaching English to immigrants. I was not able to find a copy of the original Immergut memorandum, but as reproduced by Pipes, it seems a thoroughly disingenuous document, evasive about details.

If the tables were turned, how would you defend yourself against an accusation that you intended to organize a systematic massacre of all Muslim Americans? Turn about is fair play, and the standards of evidence you set for other people will inevitably be used against you. Give the Devil benefit of law for your own sake!

Steven R Alvarado - 1/5/2006

"the inability to formulate/implement rapid defense response/action and coordinated/effective disaster recovery after a traumatic event".

No brainer on this, contract it out to UPS and Walmart.

Gordon Bond - 1/5/2006

Thanks for your comments. My point was not to play up nor down the seriousness of the threat. Only that the fundamental nature of the two conflicts is very different. We have been and always will be under varying degrees of threat by any number of groups in the world. What we are being asked to accept is an equally fundamental shift in the power structure of our country - one that strikes at the very heart of what defines us as a nation. It is a Constitutional crisis but I don't know that we can draw any meaningful lessons from What Lincoln was up against given the differences.

Gordon Bond - 1/5/2006

My only mis-statement, which I now realize, was that I mean to say Mujahadeen and not Taliban. But it is a matter of record that the US did indeed meet the Taliban. It is also a matter of record that bin Laden was a friend to the CIA against the Soviets. See below.

I'm not here to defend Sadam or his regime. But the very fact he was such a meglomaniacle personality and didn;t play well with others is likely the reason that al Qaida never gained a foothold in Iraq and never found the substantial support and haven they did with the Taliban.

I still maintain that while Iraq needed to be watched, it simply did not present the level of threat to warrant the invasion. But this is all getting too far from the issues raised by the original essay.

"As his unclassified CIA biography states, bin Laden left Saudi Arabia to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan after Moscow’s invasion in 1979. By 1984, he was running a front organization known as Maktab al-Khidamar - the MAK - which funneled money, arms and fighters from the outside world into the Afghan war. What the CIA bio conveniently fails to specify (in its unclassified form, at least) is that the MAK was nurtured by Pakistan’s state security services, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, the CIA’s primary conduit for conducting the covert war against Moscow’s occupation."

- Michael Moran is MSNBC’s International Editor

"The last meeting between U.S. and Taliban representatives took place five weeks before the attacks on New York and Washington; on that occasion, Christina Rocca, in charge of Central Asian affairs for the U.S. government, met the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan in Islamabad on August 2, 2001. Rocca said the Taliban representative, Mr. Zaeef, was aware of the strong U.S. commitment to help the Afghan people and the fact that the United States had provided $132 million in relief assistance so far that year."

- Ron Callari, Albion Monitor

Bill Heuisler - 1/5/2006

Mr. Todd,
You are correct, I believe, except you postulate planning. You don't know the Feds. Imagine Feebies, NSA and Homeland Security all making a case for that poor benighted US Attorney. Kidnapping? Who would sign the paperwork? Not a chance.

When a series of events, actions and reactions lead "toward" conclusion, one must conclude probability more than mere chance. The Muslim crap is just that, as you point out, but the past history, attachments, actions and statements are evidence of some intention - fulfilled or not. They were watching him, with cause. And I'm not happy Mayfield is walking around. I assume you're not either.

Chaos - objective and subjective - gets bystanders killed. Screw the FBI, they blew a case. Please recall there has been no terror attack in the US since 9/11. Bush? Averages? Dumb luck? Is there a difference?
Can serendipity last?

In Arizona real lucky people simply disappear in a cloud of fairy dust.
You're really good at this, though. Are you a member of The Bar or do you just frequent a good one?

Bill Heuisler - 1/5/2006

Mr. Bond,
Three mistakes out of three.
Your lack of knowledge of history is appalling. We (the US) supported the Mujahadeen against the Soviets. The Soviets left Afganistan in 1989.

The Taliban was established in 1994 when Afghanistan was ruled by the
Mujahadeen. By 1995 the Taliban had captured half of Afghanistan from the mujahideen. In September 1996 the Taliban took Kabul. Exactly when were Taliban fighting the Soviets, Mr. Bond? Hmmm? And exactly when did the US befriend Osama Bin Laden?

You've been fed a bunch of nonsense for political reasons. Wake up.

9/11 Commission said there were links, but no "provable" direct connection to 9/11. President Bush said there was no direct evidence that Saddam was involved, but that there were links, Iraq to al Qaeda.

This is a history site, not Democrat Underground. Get your history right.
Bill Heuisler

Gordon Bond - 1/5/2006

The United States also entertained Taliban leaders when they were our friends in the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Even bin Laden was a friend in the vein of "the enemy of my enemy." So does that mean that the US was culpable in 9/11 because it once supported a regime who gave comfort to our now enemies? Of course not.

Our own governments reports have concluded there was no substantial and direct link. The level of contact simply does not warrant the amount of resources poured into Iraq.

You may call my statements "bland" but yours, sir, are about as weak and grasping as they come.

Andrew D. Todd - 1/5/2006

Let's finish off my field first. Fiber optic cables do not cease at the water's edge. Another basic point you have to understand is this: the information capacity of an electromagnetic wave-- that is radio, microwave, or light, is proportional to its frequency. Satellite radio is broadly speaking in the gigaherz range, that is, billions of cycles per second. The signal has to drill up through twenty miles of atmosphere before reaching space, so you can't go too far up-frequency before it starts behaving like a weather radar. Weather radars are very nice in their place, but for long-distance communication, they present certain problems... By contrast, an optical cable runs on light in the hundred teraherz range.An optical cable will typically have ten or so optical fibers. In other words, an optical cable can carry as much information as a thousand or more communications satellites. As you may infer, the relation between an optical cable and a satellite is very much that between a truck and a mule. Undersea cables were built to all kinds of improbable places. In particular, Global Crossing built a long way out into the Third World.








If you want to get somewhere which is only mule-accessible, what you do is to drive your truck, pulling your horse trailer to the road access point which is closest to where you want to get to. I think the same principle applies to cables and satellites. Even it the cable doesn't go all the way, you might want to get within the footprint of a comparatively underutilized satellite, perhaps over the Indian Ocean, and avoid competing with mobile services and satellite broadcasting in the comparatively congested and expensive North Atlantic region.


Now then as to the Mayfield case, I take it your source is this, or perhaps the derivative Daniel Pipes column.



I'm going to tell a shaggy dog story first. Some year ago, the Guinness Book of World Records looked into odd card hands that people claimed to have dealt themselves. Computing the probabilities, the McWhiter brothers, who edited the Book, came to the conclusion that the entire world population would have had to have been playing cards continuously for considerably longer than the earth has existed. No one seriously contends that brontosauruses played either bridge or poker. The editors' conclusion was that virtually all such claims had to be phony.

Now, let's look at the FBI's story in that light:

Quoting the article:

"The FBI found 15 potential matches for the fingerprint found near the scene of the terrorist train bombings in Spain. But the bureau only arrested one man — local attorney Brandon Mayfield, a convert to Islam."

" U.S. Attorney Karin Immergut and Portland FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele both insisted this week that Mayfield was not targeted because of his faith.... 'That really had nothing to do with it,' Steele said. 'It was based on a computer analysis. The computer had no idea whether he was Muslim. (The fingerprint) was looked at by fingerprint examiners who had no idea he was Muslim. It was sent to us, and we had no idea who he was, much less the fact that he was Muslim.'"

If this account were true, it would imply that about twenty million people were terrorist affiliates of the same sort that Mayfield allegedly is, that is, about one fifteenth of the population. The FBI claims to have selected down to 15 people on the basis of fingerprints alone. The FBI admits that there is no connection between Mayfield's fingerprint and the fingerprint on the bomb. It is agreed that this belongs to a North African who was subsequently arrested in Spain, and the FBI claims that the fingerprint transmitted to them was so bad that it was confused with Mayfield's. Therefore, the political associations of those fifteen people should be a random distribution of the political associations of all Americans. Muslims are in fact only about two percent of the population, and even remotely militant one must only be a fraction of a percent.

My reaction is essentially a statistical one-- the FBI claims to have drawn four aces, ten times running. There's just no way you can do that without fuzzing the cards. I don't know what the Arizona method is for dealing with someone who draws four aces, ten times running...

I don't know if you have ever heard of the "Six Degrees of Separation" experiment, carried out some years ago. People were given a letter to a random stranger, and told to deliver it, without simply sending it through the mail. Rather, they were to pick someone they knew who might be in a better position to hand-deliver the letter, in effect to create a chain of acquaintances leading from themselves to the unknown stranger. It turned out that people could do it in an average of six hops. If you know a hundred people, and they know a hundred, and so on, that works out to a trillion people, and the world population is only six billion. So that kind of indirect association means nothing. For example, anyone who is Irish-American has probably talked to someone who has talked to someone who has talked to someone who is an IRA fundraiser.

My guess is that this Perouz Sedaghaty character, if he were raising money, would have gone about it like any other businessman. He would have collected directories from mosques, made a list of the people who seemed likely to have money (doctors, lawyers, executives, etc.), and called them up. He would have tried to avoid stating his business to a secretary or wife, because no one really wants to talk to a fundraiser. However, a fundraiser makes his living by getting people, in essence, to pay him to go away. It's easy to see how some one might have been induced to write his telephone number down.

The computer does not know the difference between scientific fact and political prejudice. The most obvious explanation for Mayfield's arrest is that someone stirred a "watchlist" into the computer, either intentionally or inadvertently. I think the FBI were trying too hard to find a man who couldn't be found because he didn't exist. There was no American who had left his fingerprint on the bomb, because a North African had done so. In looking for this mythical American, someone faked something. Effectively, the FBI's computer was feeding their ideas back at them, and it was a kind of cyborg Folie a Deux. Such an event has been postulated in science fiction, but this is probably the first real live sighting. I suppose Karin Immergut and Beth Anne Steele will eventually be brought to trial for kidnapping, or conspiracy thereto. I don't know if there's a statute of limitations, but if so, it must be a long one. Sooner or later, a Democratic U. S. Attorney will open charges. This will raise an interesting legal question: does the McNaughton Rule defense apply to a delusional relationship with a computer?

Parenthetically, Daniel Pipes' comments reveal a complete failure to grasp the distinction between dependent and independent events. You are effectively demanding that the mathematics of probability and statistics be abolished in support of your political agenda.

Bill Heuisler - 1/4/2006

Mr. Bond,
To say Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 runs counter to many facts and circumstances cited by analysts, reporters, politicians and believed by a majority of Americans.

N.Y. WTC bombing - Yousef & Yasin
Prague 5/01-al Ani & Atta
Kuala Lumpur-Shakir, Midhar & Hamzi

Above are Iraqis involved in WTC '93 and Iraqi agents who contacted 9/11 hijackers before 9/11.
Google the names, read.

Then please refute the evidence before making such a blind, bland, counterintuitive declaration.
Bill Heuisler

Bill Heuisler - 1/4/2006

Mr. Todd,
Thanks for the exhaustive report on telecommunications. You're obviously the encyclopedia to go to on this subject. Overseas calls are the NSA target in this case, so landlines or physical connections are not germain.
My contention that computers sift, or drag nets through, all various electromagnetic and radio "oceans" in search of certain combinations of words still stands - as does the impossibility of proactive search warrants. Further, the utility of the President's war powers through the interception of hostile signals is as applicable as it would be to a General on the battlefield.

Mayfield, an American Black Muslim, was arrested due to a "false ID" from a fingerprint lifted in Spain. The forensic tech obviously screwed up the identification match, but he'd also been fingered by NSA.

Oregon US Attorney, Immergut, said,
"Someone in Mr. Mayfield 's house was in telephone contact with Perouz Sedaghaty, director of Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a number of whose foreign branches have been designated terrorist organizations."

(February Sedaghaty was indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiring to defraud the U.S. by transmitting $150,000 to terrorists in Chechnya.)

Immergut also said court-authorized searches found Mayfield's computer had checked airline schedules to Madrid in the Fall of 03, checked rentals in Spain and accessed web sites sponsored by the Passenger railroad targeted in the bombings.

She added that agents discovered a handwritten notation of a telephone number in Spain, a book chronicling the Al Qaida network, classified national defense documents relating to a U.S. weapons system and a post 9/11 letter written by Mayfield expressing support for the Taliban.

Enough? Apparently not. But that is certainly no argument against the NSA surveillance of communications with known or suspected terrorists.

Andrew D. Todd - 1/4/2006

Well, matters have rather changed over the last forty years or so.

Physical Plant:

In the first place, there's much more optical fiber in place nowadays. The telecommunications glut of the 1990's means that people are practically giving bandwidth away. Fiber optic cables are preferable to satellite links because their time lag is less. It is something like 20,000 mile up to a geostationary satellite, and 20,000 miles down again. That is, about a fifth of a second at the speed of light. I know that doesn't sound like much, but it does play the devil with machine feedback, and you have to design special mechanisms to get around it. By contrast, an optical cable to Europe is only about three or four thousand miles long, and even allowing for the diminished speed of light in glass, the time lag might be about one sixth of that in a satellite link. The better grade of optical fibers, used in long-distance telecommunications, are usually "graded index single-mode." To tap in, you would have to cut the cable, and this would cause alarms to ring in the telecommunications company's switching center. The whole point of the CALEA act was that the FBI was becoming afraid because it was losing its traditional wiretapping ability due to technological changes.

Additionally, packet switching is in widespread use. Packet switching tends to convert messages into waves of packets, each traveling independently along the momentarily least congested route. Telephone tapping in a packet regime practically requires that packets be steered to a point where they can be picked up.

Sattelites and radio generally are primarily useful for communication with mobile units. The tendency is to incorporate enough cryptography to give at least as good privacy as a landline, because any kid can use generic components to build a receiver tunable to any frequency.


The gold standard of encryption is the so-called "once-only-cipher." You take a stream of true random numbers, produced by an electronic "noise generator," XOR them against the plaintext to get the ciphertext, and XOR them against the ciphertext to get the plaintext back. And you never use the key again, which is why the cipher is called "once-only." You can put something like 4.7 gigabytes (4700 books) of once-only-key on a DVD for about a dollar, so the difficulties of once-only ciphers are not what they once were. Once-only-ciphers are theoretically unbreakable-- that is, there is no logical or even statistical basis for asserting that one putative plaintext is the correct solution of a given ciphertext of the same (padded) length.

If you know someone to the point of conspiring with him, the only sane thing to do is to exchange DVD's, and go to once-only cipher in the interests of peace-of-mind. One can take for granted that all the more critical communications of the Pentagon are on this basis. Lesser ciphers are useful for dealing with people you don't know well enough to set up a special arrangement with. And of course, people you don't know very well are precisely the people you can't trust not to publish messages sent to them.

Now, for ordinary encryption:

There is something called Bremmerman's Conjecture, an argument from quantum physics about the ultimate limits of how fast a computer can ultimately go. The consensus is that a "complexity" much in excesss of ten to the three hundredth power is beyond the limits of any computer which can be built. The computational difficulty of cracking a cipher increases much faster than the computational difficulty of encrypting and decrypting. A typical desktop computer, which would have been worth perhaps a hundred million dollars in 1975, can shove a message into Bremmerman's Conjecture territory without undue difficulty.

Now, of course there is this buzz going around about "quantum computing," which is hard to assess. However, it is agreed that there are certain operations which quantum computers cannot perform. Private key ciphers are designed to methodically use just about every possible operation. They are designed rather like the thicket in which Brer Rabbit was born and bred. Furthermore, they use "autocoding," an operation analogous to carrying in addition, so they can only be attacked at the start of the message-- after that, the autocoding gives the cipher the properties of a once-only-cipher.

Public-key ciphers, at present, are not thicket designed. They _may_ be vulnerable to quantum computing, and they seem exposed to advances in mathematics. It is presently unclear whether one can design a public-key cipher on the thicket principle. A partial solution to the weaknesses of public-key ciphers is the so-called "keyserver," eg. Kerberos. You have an ongoing relationship with the party operating the keyserver, and they give you "cryptographic introductions" to people you want to talk to. That is, you use your private-key cipher to communicate with the keyserver, and the other party uses his private-key cipher to communicate with the keyserver, and the keyserver generates a random number and gives it to both of you to use as a private key in communicating directly.

The main ultimate practical usefulness of public-key ciphers is not for secrecy as such, but for digital signatures. Someone can have enough information able a public-key cipher to determine that a signature is good, without being able to forge it. So the real threat of quantum computing is primarily towards signatures and electronic payments.

Incidentally, with the rise of "bot-nets," the NSA is no longer top dog in code cracking. The author of a computer virus can steal computer time worldwide faster than the NSA can buy computers. Basically, everyone in the telecommunications business knows that they have to take certain cryptographic measures, or the Russian mafia will own all their subscribers' credit card numbers, simply by tapping the phones of the major mail-order firms. A practical side effect of this is that if the NSA wants in, it cannot simply tap lines, but has to physically get into the telecommunications company's control room, and practically, that means inducing the telecommunications company to cooperate.

Now, of course, if you don't trust the telephone company, you can superimpose your own cryptography. That is what people are discussing doing. Telephone tapping is ultimately futile, in much the same sense that the British march to Lexington and Concord was futile. It merely broke down trust, and caused people to start acting in terms of the logic of force. One can say with the benefit of hindsight that General Gage was probably a rather stupid man who did not understand what America was all about. The logic of force meant that within a couple of days, he was besieged in Boston by 15,000 minutemen, twice the total number of British troops in North America. The logic of force as applied to telecommunications means that every little girl burns a disk full of random numbers, and exchanges same with her best friend, so that they can giggle over the phone in perfect privacy.


Parenthetically, computer voice recognition does not work very well. As one Slashdot humorist remarked: "Voice recognition is AI complete." Unless a surveillance agency knows exactly what it is looking for, it has to record a large swath of telephone conversations, file them away, and eventually accumulate enough so that the telephone numbers which are called form a pattern. They need to know that little Jenny is little Brenda's best friend, simply for purposes of filtration. You see the potential invasiveness.

You might review the Brandon Mayfield case, incidentally. It's a classic case of that general sort of thing going haywire. The FBI issued an apology, but the apology was not accepted, and the last I heard, Mayfield was suing them. His "theory" will be in effect that the FBI intentionally attempted to isolate militants by interfering with their marital relations, and that he got picked up on account of his work as a divorce lawyer. The truth is probably more subtle. Artificial Intelligence programs are like badly behaved dogs. They tend to surface and act on their owners' suppressed feelings and motivations. You don't like someone, but you know you are not allowed to bite him. Your dog knows that you do not like the person, but cannot understand why biting is not permissible. So he bites the person for no better reason than that you dislike him.

Gordon Bond - 1/4/2006

Whether one agrees with the idea of allowing the President extra-ordinary powers in time of crisis or not, it seems to me that to compare the Civil War with what's happening now is to compare the proverbial apples and oranges. The Civil War was a "traditional" conflict between armies with territories and capitals to be captured. There was a beginning, middle and end.

One could make the argument that, given the acute crisis facing the nation at the time, the President was justified in expanding his powers for a greater common good. But as a traditional conflict, it would also have been more easy to conceive that this expansion would have a finite lifespan. Once certain objectives were met or the war won, it would be reasonable to expect those powers pulled back to where they were before.

What is troubling in the present crisis is that the concept of a "war" on terrorism lacks the sure and almost comforting footing of a traditional conflict. Some would say this "war" began on September 11, 2001. Yet this country has, to varying degrees, always been under the threat of terrorism. One need only look to roughly a decade previous to 9/11 to see another attempt at destroying those buildings. There were supposedly terrorist plans that were thwarted on New Years 2000. And where does it "end?" Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and even if a traditional victory were possible, al-Qaida is still out there in many other countries. And even if it were possible to totally defeat them, another group would simply take its place. This isn't a "war" in the traditional sense as much as an on-going reality. Sept. 11 was just the most dramatic act to date in a drama that has been going on long before Bush and will go on long after him.

With no realistic possible time limit on an expansion of powers due to the nature of the conflict, there is a credibility to the notion that this is more of a political power-grab than a legitimate response to a threat.

Courts and mechanisms have been established to both address the time sensitivity issue and also allow for judicial oversight. I personally do not believe that the crisis level is so acute as to justify suspension of civil liberties.


Bill Heuisler - 1/4/2006

Ms. Kazmier,
Valerie Plame was not a covert CIA agent and had not served the Company overseas within five years prior to her exposure as the person who had lobbied State to send her husband to check on Iraqi attempts to purchase yellow cake. Fitzgerald said the Agee Law hadn't been broken in his press conference.

Treason means giving aid and comfort to an enemy (Article III, section 3 of the US Constitution). In the Plame affair, the only person who gave aid to the enemy was Wilson who lied when he publicly said there hadn't been any attempts by Iraq to purchase yellow cake - when his book and his 9/11 commission testimony said the opposite. Was he protecting Saddam's reputation? Was he trying to undercut the US? Do we care?

Leakers of NSA intercepts were Intelligence officers who didn't care they were warning terrorists of the surveillance. They had signed nondisclosure oaths upon employment and could conceivably cost US lives.

Mr. Todd,
The word "wiretap" misses the point.
Sorry to say, but there is little international privacy, not because of spies, but because of technology.
Modern communication - particularly into or out of the country - is, at some point or another, wireless. NSA intercepts are from satellite feeds, miocrowave, electromagnetic waves or Hertzian waves. There is no private communication unless encrypted, and decryption algorithms are advanced to unimaginable levels.

This NSA surveillance is wholesale - a computer program designed to sift certain words and phrases from the extranational ether. The relevant words are then examined for certain risk-factor sources. At that point, the matter becomes personal and the determination must be made whether the matter is criminal or national defence. If national defence, the President has war powers given by Congressional authorization that allow him to act on interceptions the same way he would act if an Iran missile launch was detected by Sat or electronic means.

Face it we're at war. Issues like these are crucial and should not be misconstrued for political reasons.
Bill Heuisler

Lisa Kazmier - 1/3/2006

And that's why this president wants to investigate who the traitorous leaker was, the identity of who leaked Valerie Plame's identity wasn't nearly as big a concern, even though a number of ex-security officials consider that act treasonous.

Apparently, treason can only be defined by the president.

the blue nomad - 1/3/2006

Only with respect to CEOs*, talk radio hosts, and anyone with the last name Bush (just to be on the safe side).

* Entertainment, media, and high tech executives excluded, as well as Warren Buffett and George Soros

Andrew D. Todd - 1/3/2006

So, how do you know if your phone has been tapped? With digital telecomm switching, phone tapping is not something people do on a street corner. The "bonus services" like caller ID, conference calling, and call forwarding implement all the raw technical capabilities required for telephone tapping. The CALEA act required telephone companies to incorporate telephone tapping into the computer programs which run the network. The number of people, in the telephone companies, outside of the NSA, who have "need to know" for massive telephone tapping is approximately on the same order as the number of Air Force and Navy officers who have "need to know" for nuclear weapons launch codes. I know enough about telecommunications engineering to know how little I know. It's not my engineering specialty. Most of the HNN conservatives have never programmed a computer in their lives, and they think they know all there is to know!!! They know nothing and they think they know everything. I used to have conversations with la-di-da, too-good-for-this-world, academic Marxists who were like that. It's a strange reversal. I don't know whether it's simply a matter of the Trotskyite roots of Neo-Conservatism, or whether it's just a matter of critical technological lag.

You have no way of knowing if your telephone is being tapped. What you can do is to assume that your telephone has been tapped, and automatically take such actions as you would consider justified in that eventuality. There are various technical measures you can take, such as encryption.




In 1774-75, in response to events, large numbers of villages in New England organized "Committees of Correspondence and Defense." Something similar seems to be happening among the computer people on the internet.

Charles Edward Heisler - 1/3/2006

It will be monitored as it is always monitored, by a hostile press and political opposition.
Does anyone believe that if there is blatant abuse of these powers that those abuses won't be used, very publically, against this President?

Steven R Alvarado - 1/3/2006

Will the reinvention of the Democrats into the image of Jefferson include the repeal of the 13th Amendment?

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/3/2006


Exactly how does one monitor the probity of a program that is kept secret by a president who asserts that the constitution grants him the power to do this in an utterly unregulated manner?

Frederick Lee Wettering - 1/3/2006

The author IMHO did not do proper justice to the Merryman case, in which Taney ruled that Merryman's habeas corpus rights had been violated and ordered him released, only to be met by executive branch defiance. The definitive ruling for the time was the subsequwent case of ex parte Milligan, which in effective upheld Taney in finding Lincoln's actions to be an unconstitutional violation of habeas corpus protections.

Lisa Kazmier - 1/2/2006

Sorry. The court allowed for after-the-fact approvals, also. This was a wilfull defiance of the existing structure that permits wiretaps, that is, an explicit assertion that anything this administration deems acceptable must be so. To question it is to be a traitor, it seems.

Well, come arrest me, then. I wouldn't be surprised if my phone wasn't tapped, though it might just be another overreaching assumption that my phone, which has been in my name for 4 months, remains that of its previous account holder of the number (who keeps getting calls from lawyers and various individuals routinely). For all I know, she fled the country as a terrorist.

the blue nomad - 1/2/2006

Thank you for your insights Mr. Kashatus. HNN is a rare and discerning treat in a sea of often hysterical partisan blogs.

One might also mention the politics of Mr. Bush's wiretapping scheme. American politics has always been circumscribed by the tension left unresolved after the revolution between Federalists and Antifederalists, and during crisis periods (the Civil War, and depression/WW II especially) this tension has tended to become magnified.

There isn't of course going to be a shooting war between today's Federalists (the big government conservatives of Mr. Bush) and the emerging Antifederalist Democrats (the ongoing reinvention of the Democratic Party in the image of Jefferson is a story that has not been sufficiently covered), but nor does it seem inevitable that the Republicans will enjoy the kind of popular support FDR enjoyed (even in the 1940s). This strikes me as a problem.

The country is much more fragmented today, and many Democrats arguably do not even believe America is at war (no one had to be reminded that this country was at war in the 1940s). I'm inclined to wonder if we aren't heading toward some kind of constitutional crisis that could lead not only to more vigorous checks of executive authority, but ultimately (over the next couple of decades) to wide-reaching structural and even possibly constitutional reforms, and a much looser federation of states. Others have suggested this possibility in recent years, including a bipartisan group of former members of Congress (most of them from the south).

Charles Edward Heisler - 1/2/2006

Being practical in nature I can tell you what "has" happened--no further domestic attacks since 9/11. I am sure that I don't want to listen to the mewling about what "might" happen until and unless I get some examples of law abiding American citizens that ar persecuted by Presidential perogatives.

Glenn Rodden - 1/2/2006

"Your main question has been answered at least twice by the Director of NSA and by the AG. The answer is that the requirements of speed and agility are not met by FISA, even with the AG's emergency authority. If you read the transcript or listened to Gen. Hayden's press conference you would have heard your main question asked and ansered as being "speed and agility". You would also have a strong clue as to why the administration is asying that -- the actual decisions on interceptions are being made in real time or something very close to it by a NSA shift supervisor -- I imagine something like
"Terrorist A is receiving orders to start what sounds like an operation, quick, see whom he calls to pass the order on to."

Which "requirements" of the FISA are you referring to? Does FISA hinder the interception of "real-time" communications between alleged terrorists? How? Provide one example of where this has happened.

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/2/2006


1. The cooncern over Bush's actions is bi-partisan. I grant the number of elected republicans making that concern an issue is small, but they cover the full ideological range of the party.

2. Part of the Bush Administration's problem is that the context of the use of illicit surveillance includes the Bush Administration's open desire to use torture. Their immorality {the desire to use torture) and duplicity {the attempt to redefine torture to make some techniques legal) in that area has reduced the willingness of many Americans to trust him in other areas where human rights are concerned.

John H. Lederer - 1/2/2006

Your main question has been answered at least twice by the Director of NSA and by the AG. The answer is that the requirements of speed and agility are not met by FISA, even with the AG's emergency authority. If you read the transcript or listened to Gen. Hayden's press conference you would have heard your main question asked and ansered as being "speed and agility". You would also have a strong clue as to why the administration is asying that -- the actual decisions on interceptions are being made in real time or something very close to it by a NSA shift supervisor -- I imagine something like
"Terrorist A is receiving orders to start what sounds like an operation, quick, see whom he calls to pass the order on to.".

Lisa Kazmier - 1/2/2006

The main issue is what exactly is going to be defended when this "war on terror" is serving as a pretext for the unfettered expansion of executive power. We all know how this administration hates being questioned about anything. Well, we don't live in Louis XIV's kingdom nor tsarist Russia. This president had the means to get approval for his wiretaps and ignored it. Why? The answer to that question IS the main issue.

Lisa Kazmier - 1/2/2006

You seem to totally accept this administration's assertions of who they are spying on and why. Just how do we know that? If only legitimate targets were subject to the wiretaps, why wasn't the secret court consulted, a court which has rubber-stamped such activity in the past. One judge has resigned in protest. This smells like "fishing expedition" to me and we have yet to see how far it's gone (the NYT already disputes the assertion of its limits).

Given the overreach in the attempt to redraw executive power in the absolute by regular assertions of privilege, I think a careful inquiry is in order here, certainly it's more important than Monica Lewinsky's sex life.

Charles Edward Heisler - 1/2/2006

No Gentlemen, the "Main Issue" is national security and the Presidential right to use extra-legal methods to maintain that security.
The length of the crises is of no consequence nor is the location of the battles.
Immediately following 9/11 Bush warned the Country that the war on terror was going to be a long war and a war with many fronts--no American that was listening to the President should be confused about the length and breadth of this endeavor.
That some are concerned about the "how long?" and "where?" says more about the foolish attitude of some Americans to expect easy and quick answers to hard and complex questions than it does to Presidential responsibility and will.

Michael Green - 1/2/2006

Rick Perlstein's post brings us back to something approximating "the main issue." While I certainly agree with the anti-Bush posters here more than I do with the pro-Bush posters, did Lincoln expect a perpetual Civil War? Clearly not, and while many failures could be cited, he never lost sight of his main goals of saving the Union and perpetuating freedom. He offered olive branches to the Confederacy, which--I am sad to say--could have preserved slavery by dropping its arms; that would have saved the institution that the South went to war to protect (although Lincoln was not an abolitionist).

Those who say that the war on terror is a different thing--unending, unlike the Civil War--really ought to read up on the Ku Klux Klan and other examples in the South of domestic terrorism, or ask the families of the victims in Mississippi during Freedom Summer whether the South had accepted the outcome of the Civil War and the three constitutional amendments resulting from it that were designed to assure equality before the law. And Bush's defenders might stop to ponder that when the South fired on Fort Sumter to start the war, Lincoln did not then declare war on Brazil. Indeed, when Secretary of State William Henry Seward suggested provoking a foreign war, Lincoln tossed aside that idea with alacrity.

Steven R Alvarado - 1/2/2006


Rick Perlstein - 1/2/2006

When will the "war" be over? I'm trying to find the quote to no avail, but recently when Rumsfeld was in Iraq a soldier asked him that question, and added, something like, Should I sign up my three-year-old for Ranger training? Rumsfeld responded, if memory serves, that we'll need to maintain the current state of affairs as long as their are fire stations and ambulances.

I don't think that's what Lincoln had in mind.

ray paune - 1/1/2006

He has taken away civil liberties and says it is because of 9/11. Well, the people in Iraq were never found to have ties with Al-Quaida. This action of viewing emails and listening to phone conversation is a direct affront the the Constitution which he pledged to uphold. He should be thrown out of office with the utmost dispatch.

Steven R Alvarado - 1/1/2006

Im not sure that they can drop this "hot potato". Too many of them believe their own propaganda. Some body needs to stop this train before the Democrats run themselves over a cliff.

Charles Edward Heisler - 1/1/2006

Lincoln enjoyed the support of his legislators because those legislators understood that the country was at war and the importance of winning that war. For a few legislators in America today, there is no war and no problem, except that their Party is not the majority Party and the White House is Republican. The problem Bush and America has with all of this is raw political ambition.
Once again the Democrats have chosen the worst possible solution to their political weakness--seeming to totally ignore the necessity of ferreting out threats to domestic security. It will be interesting to see how fast the Democrats drop this hot potato they put in the oven.

Jason KEuter - 1/1/2006

Would you call jailing thousands of political opponents acting within the "constraints of the democratic process"? What about the emancipation proclamation? Does that not constitute executive overeach?

Mr. Kasathus is grossly misrepresenting Linclon's war time record in order to impune Bush, whose behavior is utterly tame compared to Lincoln's. Lincoln clearly tipped the balance of power to the executive branc during the war, and much of the aggressiveness of radical Republican Reconstruction was part of an effort by Congress to redress the constitutional imbalance that Republicans in Congress really couldn't stop during the war without losing power.

Mr Kathasus's post projects a grossly sanitized present incarnation of Lincoln onto the past in order to score a few partisan points. The verdicts of history are rarely as simplistic as the bombast of presentism in service to political partisanship.

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 12/31/2005

You say Lincoln kept illegal arrests to a minimum, but there were several hundred of them. He arrested half the legislature of Maryland, for instance, so the other half could vote to keep that state attached to the union. In the midwest various Copperheads disappeared for some time, into the jug without charges.

There is a big difference between the actions of Lincoln and Bush: Lincoln was abusing the civil liberties of American citizens, exclusively, while Bush is taking liberties with foreign terrorists communicating with American citizens. Further, there is as yet no example of any time Bush has abused the evesdropping powers, or used them for a purpose not connected to national security. Some of Lincoln's thugs locked up people to settle old scores, and there were such abuses. There was also a climate of intimidation. Lincoln locked up so many that the word got around that political opponents had better keep their mouths shut if they knew what was good for them. (This was reported to me by my grandfather many years ago, and he heard it from his father, who had experienced it in the taverns at the time.)
Nothing like that has occurred under Dubya's administration, to my knowledge. Only a few rabid leftists think it has--people of the sort who believe Elvis is still alive.