25 December 2005

Under the Rose Bush

Whistler: Peace on earth, good will toward men.
Abbott: We are the United States government. We don't do that sort of thing!

Sneakers (1992)     

Of late, one might believe that the fictional Bernard Abbott really was expressing official government policy. One need not credit the Mao hoax to be outraged by the unauthorized NSA surveillance controversy. The resolution authorizing the use of military force cannot reasonably be interpreted to overcome the existing limitations on use of NSA assets in domestic surveillance. It might be possible to say that the AUMF resolution authorizes the FBI to do so… but not the NSA. Even if the Administration gave permission, or even direction, for use of NSA assets, it didn't have the authority to do so.

This is not a pleasant thing to thing about. I'm old enough to remember the problems in the 1970s. Then, too, there's the Enemies List. Fortunately—unfortunately?—I'm not nearly prominent enough to get onto such a list.

My holiday wish is for Administration figures—in whatever administration—to always remember that their oath is to protect and defend the Constitution. If they can push through their social-program and foreign-policy preferences consistent with that, that will do. Over the last half-century, though, that has been an increasingly rare situation, as power has become more important than the oath.