Presumably, she would also agree that when one terrorist in Afghanistan phoned another, our military did not need a court order to intercept the call.
I even suspect she might agree that the National Security Agency could intercept a communication resembling the hypothetical conversation described at the beginning of this column.
But what if our hypothetical caller in Islamabad makes his way to the U.S., lands at Dulles Airport in suburban Virginia, rents a car and, while heading down the road toward the U.S. Capitol, pulls out a new cell phone and calls his old friend back in Pakistan?
"I'm here," he says.
What Sen. Boxer is suggesting is that President Bush may have committed an impeachable offense if he authorized the NSA to intercept communications similar to this one unless he had permission from a judge. She must have forgotten we are in a war she voted for.
We don't know the exact procedures of the NSA surveillance program. But thanks to a Dec. 19 press briefing by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Gen. Michael Hayden, principal deputy director of national intelligence, we do know its key points. First, Gonzales said, "we have to have a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al Qaeda, affiliated with al Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with al Qaeda, or working in support of al Qaeda."
Secondly, only international communications are intercepted. "I can assure you," said Gen. Hayden, "by the physics of the intercept, by how we actually conduct our activities, that one end of these communications are always outside the United States of America."
Most importantly, we know the intercepts have allowed our government to gather wartime intelligence it could not have gathered if a court order were required. When specifically asked if that were the case, Gen. Hayden said: "I can say unequivocally, all right, that we have got information through this program that would not otherwise have been available."
The last thing America needs is a partisan investigation of an ongoing war. But if Sen. Boxer truly believes the congressional resolution authorizing war against al Qaeda did not authorize the president to monitor al Qaeda's calls coming into and out of the United States, she ought to sponsor a new resolution that does.
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