Rich on NSA
Frank Rich is being quoted more widely than usual this morning. His newest column (brought to us in full through ratboy's anvil) takes on the NSA spying scandal. He's saying that the administration's outrage is all one big diversion from its continuing failures and even suggests that the President's secret order to approve avoiding warrants for surveillance was a response to the debacle at Tora Bora a month earlier.
Such is the blame-shifting game Mr. Cheney was up to last week. By dragging 9/11 into his defense of possibly unconstitutional bugging, he was hoping to rewrite history to absolve the White House of its bungling. And no wonder. He knows all too well that the timing of Mr. Bush's signing of the secret executive order to initiate the desperate tactic of warrant-free N.S.A. eavesdropping - early 2002, according to Mr. Risen's new book, "State of War" - is nothing if not a giant arrow pointing to one of the administration's most catastrophic failures. It was only weeks earlier, in December 2001, that we had our best crack at nailing Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora and blew it.
Rich doesn't limit his comments to the illegality at the NSA. His criticisms are wide ranging:
The louder the reports of failures on this president's watch, the louder he tries to drown them out by boasting that he has done everything "within the law" to keep America safe and by implying that his critics are unpatriotic, if not outright treasonous. Mr. Bush certainly has good reason to pump up the volume now. In early December the former 9/11 commissioners gave the federal government a report card riddled with D's and F's on terrorism preparedness.
The front line of defense against terrorism is supposed to be the three-year-old, $40-billion-a-year Homeland Security Department, but news of its ineptitude, cronyism and no-bid contracts has only grown since Katrina. The Washington Post reported that one Transportation Security Administration contract worth up to $463 million had gone to a brand-new company that (coincidentally, we're told) contributed $122,000 to a powerful Republican congressman, Harold Rogers of Kentucky. An independent audit by the department's own inspector general, largely unnoticed during Christmas week, found everything from FEMA to border control in some form of disarray.
Yet even as this damning report was released, the president forced cronies into top jobs in immigration enforcement and state and local preparedness with recess appointments that bypassed Congressional approval. Last week the department had the brilliance to leave Las Vegas off its 2006 list of 35 "high threat" urban areas - no doubt because Mohammed Atta was so well behaved there when plotting the 9/11 attacks.
As usual, the whole thing's worth your time.