Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Leading the Witness

This just in. The most recent USA Today/Gallup Poll, taken September 15 -17, revealed, among other things that an astonishing 55% of Americans approve of President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program.

Well... actually not quite. It seems the respondants do approve of the program that was described in the question. Unfortunately, that program doesn't exist. It's too bad too because it sounds a lot better than Bush's actual NSA program. Here's the question:

"As you may know, the Bush Administration has been wiretapping telephone conversations between U.S. citizens living in the United States and suspected terrorists living in other countries without getting a court order allowing it to do so. Do you think the Bush Administration was right or wrong in wiretapping these conversations without obtaining a court order?"

Do we really know all that? Are you quite sure? Let's keep score.

1) Correct me if I'm wrong here (I have a comments section) but what I thought was going here was a massive data-mining operation. That means they aren't selectively surveilling calls to and from individuals identified as "suspected terrorists". Oh, no. They're mining and scanning everyone's voice and data communications. That information comes straight from USA Today itself. Don't they read their own news stories before they write these questions?

The fact that this is a program targeted at the entire US population -- not specific individuals, numbers or addresses and not based on probable cause -- is an established fact. Unless the attacks of 9/11 made each and every one of us a "suspected terrorist" this framing of the question is incomplete at best and deliberately misleading at worst.

2) This program doesn't stop at international phone calls. Sure, President Bush said it was only limited international calls when the story first broke. But Mr. Bush says a lot of things, doesn't he?

We remember when he said, "Any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires - a wiretap requires a court order." That turned out to be very misleading to say the least.

We remember when he then admitted this was untrue but went on to insist that the program was limited to "terrorists suspects". I quote...

The NSA program is one that listens to a few numbers, called from the outside of the United States and of known al Qaeda or affiliate people. In other words, the enemy is calling somebody and we want to know who they're calling and why."

That turned out to be false as well.

We remember that he then he promised us that "the program applies only to international communications". That too turned out to be a flat-out lie.

So, you can't really trust the characterization this questio is based on, can you? This has been known for months. Could this have possibly been unknown to the pollsters?

3) If the program is too classified to be fully disclosed to congress or the courts how can we ever call ourselves certain that they are only using it to track terrorists. Throwing everything we already know aside, even if never knew any of that, how could we say with any certainty that this power wasn't being used to spy on political enemies, to track the activities of reporters, for example. You know, real police-state, "1984" type stuff. Oh, wait. They did that already too? Well, then you see what I mean.

So, the question is, why can't we get a poll questions that ask whether the American public approves of what's really going on, information that has been in the public domain for months now? Ask them if the government is right to invest in the president the power to tap, intercept, store and possibly listen on any American's calls and data communications; international or domestic; terror-related or not without a warrant and without congressional or judicial oversight. That is the real question because that is what is truly happening in the United States today. Yet this questions remains unasked.

As follow up, for the people silly enough to answer 'yes', ask them if they'd like to see a Democratic president with this power. Would they trust, say, Hillary Clinton with these "unitary" powers too? Then listen as their head explodes.