Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Stephen Hayes talks intelligence, security, and Dick Cheney

Stephen Hayes, regular writer at the Weekly Standard, and author of Cheney: The Untold Story of America's Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President has penned a superb piece in today's Opinion Journal today. It's a must-read, but I'll give you a teaser:

The way that he has gone about his job has won him many critics. His approval ratings are low. A small but growing group of congressional Democrats is mobilizing to impeach him. Respected commentators from respected publications have suggested that his heart problems have left him mentally unstable. Others have called on him to resign. Some conservatives have joined this chorus of criticism, with one prominent columnist labeling the vice president "destructive" and another dismissing those who share his views as "Cheneyite nutjobs." This past Saturday, protesters near his home outside Jackson, Wyo., tore down an effigy of Mr. Cheney in much the way Iraqis famously toppled the statue of Saddam Hussein.

So President Bush should ignore Mr. Cheney's advice and the White House communications team should keep him hidden from public view, right?

Nonsense. With intelligence officials in Washington increasingly alarmed about the prospect of another major attack on the U.S. homeland, and public support for the Bush administration's anti-terror efforts reclaiming lost ground, we need more Dick Cheney.

The policies he has advocated have been controversial. But they have also been effective. Consider the procedures put in place to extract information from hardcore terrorists. Mr. Cheney did not dream up these interrogation methods, but when intelligence officials insisted that they would work, the vice president championed them in internal White House debates and on Capitol Hill. Former CIA Director George Tenet--a Clinton-era appointee and certainly no Cheney fan--was asked about the value of those interrogation programs in a recent television appearance. His response, ignored by virtually everyone in the media, was extraordinary.

"Here's what I would say to you, to the Congress, to the American people, to the president of the United States: I know that this program has saved lives. I know we've disrupted plots. . . . I know this program alone is worth more than the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency put together, have been able to tell us."

And what about the National Security Agency's Terrorist Surveillance Program? Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush instructed his top intelligence officials to be aggressive in their efforts to track terrorists and disrupt their plots. Michael Hayden, NSA director at the time, took that opportunity to propose changes to the ways his agency monitored terrorist communications. A little more than a year before the 9/11 attacks, while Bill Clinton was still president, Mr. Hayden dramatized the NSA's dilemma in congressional testimony.

"If, as we are speaking here this afternoon, Osama bin Laden is walking . . . from Niagara Falls, Ontario, to Niagara Falls, New York, as he gets to the New York side, he is an 'American person.' And my agency must respect his rights against unreasonable search and seizure as provided by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution."

Once President Bush took office, Messrs. Hayden and Tenet took the problem to Dick Cheney. The vice president walked them in to see Mr. Bush and in short order the changes were implemented. The results were almost immediate. The New York Times article that exposed the surveillance program in December 2005 also reported that "the eavesdropping program had helped uncover a plot by Iyman Faris, an Ohio trucker and naturalized citizen who pleaded guilty in 2003 to supporting Al Qaeda by planning to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches. What appeared to be another Qaeda plot, involving fertilizer bomb attacks on British pubs and train stations, was exposed last year in part through the program."

Love him or hate him, Cheney has had an extraordinary life both in and out of Washington, DC. When it comes to security and intelligence, Dick Cheney is no slouch. He prepared the Ford White House for the Church Committee investigations on the heel of the infamous Seymour Hersh column outing the CIA's "dirty pool" from the 1950s through the early 1970s. He knows what it takes to ensure that the intelligence agencies we have here have the tools to ensure this nation stays secure.

Cheney admits to Stephen Hayes, in his book, that while the Clinton administration didn't help our intelligence services much int he 1990s, the fallout from the failures of intelligence on 11 September can be traced right back to the church committee, and not only their recommendations, but also the execution of Congressional oversight that basically neutered our ability to act and react to dangers on the horizon.

Mr. Hayes is right. We don't need less of Cheney, we need to see more of him. He communicates better than the president, and he knows this sort of stuff. With him on point, the American people can see that what we're doing is not spying on them, but rather trying to catch several fish in a large net, and that net must be stretched from one side of the nation to the other. Of course there is always the possibility that an unsuspecting American might be caught in it. Not every program is perfect. But the analysis that goes on behind the scenes and the programs we have in place to catch these animals are among the best in the world.

The NSA TSP helped break up more than one plot in London, and helped investigators trace affiliations throughout the world on the attacks that were successful. The 2006 terrorism plot in Toronto was also aided by the NSA's program. We are not just protecting ourselves with these programs. We're protecting our allies, as well. And when one works as well as it did, why would anyone in their right mind want to be rid of it?


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