Thoughts on NSA, FBI, FISA, “State Secrets” Secret Legal Opinions and related issues…

I have read, shared, saved, liked, G+ed so much since Hayden’s revelations, such as they were, that, for my sake if only that, I thought I should sort through what I think and believe rather than let those items, some contradicting each other, speak for me.

First, what I have always believed to be true of the Constitution’s protections of the rights of individuals from the action of the government:  I believe that for whatever good and bad reasons some had for demanding them, they were added to gain ratification by a young  country too weak to defend itself from any serious threats from abroad that was at least as great as the threat now often called “existential” posed by our current enemies.

1. I do not think that we must surrender to what are now called “existential threats”  to fend off our current adversaries.

A teeter-totter with the balance shifting to deal with threats is the image in my mind when I think of those protections of individual rights but it is a loaded teeter-totter that, at most and under the most extreme conditions might balance the interests of the government with those of individuals exactly; it is rigged never to tilt beyond that point to favor government over the individual.  Read how the rights are described.  They envision no such “balance.”

I accept that our Constitutional protections are subject to limits and that those limits must change over time.  Technology has grown freely in the last 50 years and our expectations of it and of the government in defending the US have grown rapidly as well.

9/11 was a shock to all but a few and even those few who knew the threat Bin Laden’s organization represented appear not to have had any information on when it would strike the homeland, if ever.  I think it is a “fools errand” to assign blame.  I won’t forget the televised attack and aftermath for as long as my mind functions.  My first reaction was “is there more to come?” and it turned out there was more.  If Dick Cheney, whose views I don’t admire, was scalded by being the senior official in the White House who had to react to all this and the possibility of more, it should be no surprise that he is such an absolutist on national security issues, it should be understandable quite independent of all the other things claimed about him.  I don’t endorse his national security views but I understand how he could hold them.

The Patriot Act and the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) were born in an environment of justifiable uncertainty if not outright fear.  Neither got the kind of deliberate attention questions of such magnitude deserved but perhaps that too is understandable.


A little background:  My military service assignment in South Vietnam was as a District Intelligence and Operations Coordinator in the Phoenix Program designed by and operated by the CIA (although it was not called that in South Vietnam).  I was in a relatively pacific district as it was an entryway to Saigon for the VC and NVA, not a place either wanted to have become the focus of great US or Republic of Vietnam (RVN) attention.  I have some experience with combat but not a great deal, particularly as compared with many others involved in Vietnam.

My task was to help coordinate the various US and RVN police and military agencies in identifying and neutralizing the enemy political infrastructure, VC or NVA.  Contrary to much that has been written, assassination was not the preferred method of neutralization as intelligence collection was a very important part of the task; never the less, enemy leaders and those accompanying them were sometimes killed.  I accepted then and now that focusing on the leadership to disable the enemy was preferable to traditional ground combat engagements killing low-ranking enemy troops as they came down from the North or were recruited locally; clearly those would be easily replaced and new generations would follow them.

I did not see then nor would I now that, despite my growing reservations about the war, I should abandon the country or fail to do what it had called on me to do.  (I was sent a draft notice pointing out that this advance notice would allow me to make other arrangements, i.e. enlisting for OCS in the Army in my case, agreeing with my father that going as a private, while only for a two-year commitment, put me at the very bottom of having anything to say over my life while going as a second lieutenant, requiring three-years, put me one step above the private in what I had to say about my life.)  I was just over one-year married, my wife was pregnant, and I wanted my best chance to meet the commitment and come home.  I should note that, private or lieutenant, the time in Vietnam would be only one year under the practices of that time. One could stay longer but that had no appeal to a new father who had only encountered his daughter the day he brought her and her mother home from the hospital about 11:00AM and left for Vietnam about 4:00PM.

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