Surveillance, Open Borders, White House Misdirection

By Margie Burns

The news that Vice President Dick Cheney had penned in notes about Valerie Plame on a newspaper article he wanted rebutted -- before her name was leaked by his top aide -- seems to have been downplayed on the Sunday morning television May 14, perhaps partly in honor of Mother's Day.

Two other highly contentious and serious issues, however, did get ample play: the dispute in Congress and elsewhere over our unsecured Mexican border; and the big story that the NSA has stockpiled a huge database of Americans' phone calls.

The good news is that these matters are not being totally swept under the rug. The bad news is that large media outlets continue to present them in administration terms.

Here's where both stories started: On Sept. 11, 2001, four American jumbo jets were hijacked simultaneously from three US airports and were deliberately crashed into New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon, with the greatest loss of life ever from a terrorist attack on American soil.

I am well aware that this is restatement of what everyone knows. But I wish that every reader could look at that single statement, sit back, and think. Try to come up with ONE instance of administration policy that actually fits the rubric of "fighting back." Clamping the lid down on press investigation of the hijackers? Concealing the real name of hijacker "Majed Moqued"? Going after Afghanistan (Pipeline-istan) instead of going after Osama bin Laden? Opposing victims' and survivors' efforts to use judicial discovery regarding the airlines? Opening up Afghanistan to revived heroin commerce? Targeting Iraq within hours of the events of 9/11? Pretending that the Iraqis would appreciate having their country invaded? Leaving enormous caches of weapons in Iraq unsecured, to be seized by insurgents? Promoting Condoleezza Rice to secretary of state, Stephen Hadley to national security adviser and numerous architect-of-war neocons to other responsible positions? Promoting virtually every official on whose watch 9/11 occurred?

Back to the two issues of unsecured borders and NSA surveillance of Americans' phone records.

Numerous firsthand accounts are available, direct eyewitness observation of what is called "Arab Road" in Arizona, of Middle Easterners entering the US via Latin America. They're among what are called "OTMs," "other than Mexicans." Now, I love America as the nation of immigrants. The fact that my own ancestors got here a couple of hundred years ago does not change that. I do not want to add to the difficulties of poor, struggling people or to see refugees terrorized. But still it's odd that what would seem to be a genuine security issue at our borders is never mentioned by the pump-up-the-uglies crowd in the GOP.

Instead, they present every border matter as a conflict between "immigration" and "security," a Hegelian clash of categorical imperatives with no right answer. And the mass media go along, every time. When was the last time you saw George Stephanopoulos, Tim Russert, Chris Matthews or any of the Sunday heads bring up OTMs or mention "Arab Road"? The point here, of course, is that if widespread attention were drawn to the genuine absence of border security, then the whole rotten edifice of "homeland security" would be exposed as a sham.

Which brings us to that little NSA database of Americans' phone records. Stephen Hadley, now our national security adviser, defends the "terrorist surveillance program" by suggesting that no names, addresses or taped records of conversations are databased. Only records, logs, of the calls are being kept, for the purpose of gleaning "patterns." Assuming for argument's sake that this suggestion is accurate, which is not a given, what does it tell you? Well, for starters, any smart "terrorist" would use someone else's phone, or would use a pay phone or would arrange for the call to come to someone else and would stand there in the kitchen, first on one foot, then the other, waiting for the callee to hand him the phone ...

Give me a break. Again, this issue is presented as a Hegelian clash, between the need for privacy and the need for domestic security. Americans want their privacy, but they also want to fight terrorists, etc. (Hadley, getting double use out of that word that both he and the First Lady apply to the president, says the president wants to "protect privacy" and that he wants to "protect Americans.") Bob Schieffer opened Face the Nation the morning of May 14 with two questions about the NSA program: Is it legal? And does it help in fighting terrorism?

The real question is the big one, the elephant in the room. The real question is, was this program even intended to fight terrorism? Is it, or was it, even connected to fighting terrorism?

Wasn't it inherently far more likely to be used against investigators than against terrorists?

The list of significant items in the "war on terror" covered up or suppressed by the White House is long and growing, and a topic for another blog.

Margie Burns is a Texas native who now writes from Washington, D.C. Email See her blog at

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2006

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