Jacob Sullum

Providing further evidence that he sees classification as a way to avoid the inconvenience of defending the administration's policies, McConnell uses the interview to confirm something the administration has long insisted it could not discuss safely: that telecommunications companies helped the NSA conduct its warrantless surveillance. Although that much may have seemed obvious, the Justice Department has tried to stop lawsuits against the cooperating carriers by arguing that even acknowledging their help would endanger national security.

But now that Bush wants Congress to give the companies retroactive immunity from liability for aiding and abetting the illegal snooping, McConnell is suddenly more forthcoming. "Under the president's program," he says, "the private sector had assisted us." Now those assistants need assistance, he explains, because "if you play out the suits at the value they're claimed, it would bankrupt these companies."

Judging from this example, Bush administration officials feel duty-bound to withhold information when it might be useful to critics of the president's anti-terrorism policies, because those policies are necessary to protect national security. But they believe the very same information can -- indeed, should -- be released at a more opportune time, when it will help the president pursue his policies.

In the interview, McConnell makes a point of describing himself as "an apolitical figure" who has voted for candidates from both major parties and is neither a Democrat nor a Republican. He means to reassure us that we can trust him, a nonpartisan professional, to make decisions about whose communications to monitor.

But McConnell is a professional spy. He naturally wants to do his spying as free from restrictions as possible. We would not trust prosecutors to say what due process is, and we should not trust spies to define the limits of our privacy.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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