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Sleep Well

Bill Neinast


As President Obama and Attorney General Holder undergo their own water boarding, the fear of drowning must be growing. 

The drips mentioned here last week have turned into torrents.  The wet rag of scandals draped over their faces are becoming increasingly hard to breadthe through.

So there was an attempt to give them some relief.  To give them a short breath of air,  information on collecting phone records was released to divert attention from the IRS, the Justice Department, and Benghazi.   

This may have given them a gasp of fresh air.  Conversely, however, opening up about Big Brother watching yet another area of personal information resulted in even more concern about the Administration’s attack on personal liberty. 

Collecting the phone data is legal.  Telephone companies have been doing it since the days of Alexander Graham Bell.  Information about what calls are made from and to what phone numbers plus the date and duration of each call is essential for business purposes.   Statements for billing and decisions on when and where more capacity may be needed are made on these stored records.

There is no need, however, to know either the subject or content of those calls.  Consequently, that information is not collected.

This was temporary storage.  When the needed information was extracted, the records were destroyed.

After 9/11, however, a new need arose.  The phone records of suspected terrorists could lead to other suspects and terrorist cells.  For this purpose, the content of the messages also became important.

This need was one of the reasons for enacting the USA Patriot Act of 2001, which significantly weakened restrictions on law enforcement agencies' gathering of intelligence within the United States.

Under this Act, various intelligence agencies under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama began to preserve the phone records permanently, or at least for a long time.  Accordingly, they required the phone companies to transfer the records to them for permanent storage.

This was necessary because who suspected terrorists were communicating with might extend backward for many years.  Who they were communicating with years ago is as important as who they are talking with today.

Having this information was essential for obtaining legal search warrants from appropriate courts to tap the lines of the suspects and begin recording their conversations.  This is the type of information that foils terrorist attacks.

The procedure described here is thus perfectly legal.  Appropriate committees of Congress were kept informed of the procedures and found no fault.

When the program became public last week, however, pandemonium reigned in the streets.  The procedure was not correctly understood by many who thought they were being spied on every time they picked up a telephone.

This concern is misplaced.  There is no invasion of privacy in storing the records that phone companies have collected for years.  There is good reason, however, to be concerned about how easy it is to misuse that data to invade the privacy of anyone coming to the attention of various political operatives.

For that reason, the leak, if that is what it was, was poorly timed.  The news came in the middle of genuine concern over IRS and Justice Department agents spying on citizens and misusing information they garnered from that spying or prying.

Low level employees of the IRS in Cincinnati who were expected to take the fall for the Administration refused to do so.  Two of them testified under oath that they were ordered directly and indirectly by officials in the Justice Department’s Washington office to target specific organizations opposing Obama and to send certain information to that office.

Simultaneously, news broke that the Justice Department cast an even wider net of spying.  The Internet messages of AP and Fox News journalists were being read in the hallowed halls of justice.

In at least one case, Attorney General Holder testified under oath that he knew nothing about the affidavit bearing his signature that Correspondent James Rosen was a possible criminal conspirator.  That affidavit was taken to three judges for the issuance of a subpoena to monitor Rosen’s internet traffic, and the third judge finally issued the subpoena.

Oh! That’s right.  Holder said he knew nothing about prosecuting reporters.  He did not say that he knew nothing about just accusing reporters of misconduct.  

White House Spokesman Jay Carey has tried to explain the difference between accusing and prosecuting.  Unfortunately for Obama and Holder, few men on the street can understand the difference.

So here’s the perspective.

Big Brother is alive, well, and growing, but there is nothing to fear.  Holder and the new IRS Administrator have been tasked to look into the activities of their departments and to correct any little bitty thing they find wrong.  

Their reports will never be seen in the White House, because “the buck” never gets there.

Benghazi is one of those bucks that never got there.  Why are there no pictures of the President in solemn concentration in the White House as Benghazi was exploding like there were of him watching bin Laden being taken out?  The answer would probably echo former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s, “What difference does it make now?”

Those who believe that the contents of their telephone conversations will never be monitored should talk with Mitt Romney.  Ask him how the information of his donations to a Defense of Marriage organization got into the Gay community.

So sleep well.  Big Brother is watching over you.