The danger in tinkering with intelligence gathering is that the tinkerers sometimes go too far. In its effort to curtail domestic eavesdropping and foreign spying 30 years ago, a Democratic Congress used the Church Committee findings on illegal domestic surveillance in a way that some analysts believe subsequently curtailed our effectiveness to obtain information vital to the nation's security. The CIA came to rely more on satellites and other technologies and less on human intelligence. The result was fewer people who spoke the languages of the countries in which they operated and the consequence of that has been a reduced ability to gather information that could only be obtained on the ground.
Politicians, egged on by the crusading media (who were feeling especially self-righteous after "bringing down" President Nixon), resembled constitutional fundamentalists. Today's left quotes the text of the Constitution as if it means what it says on searches and seizures, though when it comes to behavior the left wishes to condone, the Constitution morphs into a "living document" in constant need of updating to suit the times. Which is it?
Liberals in the 1970s began suggesting that virtually all American spying is unconstitutional. Soviet and Chinese spies were to be expected, but we shouldn't "be like them." A similar double standard exists today in much of the big media and among certain liberal politicians of both parties. The enemy does what it wants without restraint. We put shackles on ourselves and are shocked when those without any attack us. Then we ask, "What went wrong?"
In his defense of the president's order to monitor limited communications between foreign terrorist suspects and people in the United States, Attorney General Gonzales listed a number of presidents, Democrat and Republican, dating back to the 19th century, who had used far more invasive and widespread tactics to gather intelligence they believed crucial to defending the nation.
Should the United States be attacked again, the next congressional hearings (assuming Congress survives the attack) will focus on why more wasn't done to protect us. More is now being done and public opinion seems to be fine with it for now, complaints from liberal Democrats (and a few liberal Republicans) notwithstanding.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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