When wiretapping is easy to justify

Bush critics will come to appreciate the importance of this tool in the war on terror.

bush 88 (photo credit: )
bush 88
(photo credit: )
The bright holiday atmosphere of the end of 2005 in New York was eclipsed only by the dark political clouds created by George W. Bush's political enemies. The lovely clear weather in Manhattan is continually muddied by venomous attacks on the American president from his media and political foes for having dared to order the wiretapping of conversations held by American citizens as part of his war on Muslim terror. The sounds of "Jingle Bells" mingling with Hanukka songs last week in New York was incessantly interrupted by a cacophony of talking heads on television arguing whether the president was right, whether Bush had broken the law, and if he had violated American civil liberties when he ordered that telephone calls between the United States and Afghanistan be listened in on immediately after the massacre al-Qaida carried out in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Bush-bashers maintain that the president should have first received legal authorization to bug American citizens' phone calls. His supporters explain that he could not have behaved otherwise because Afghanistan was serving as a base for Osama bin Laden to plan further attacks and, consequently, the National Security Agency eavesdropped on all calls between the US and Afghanistan in order to prevent further terror attacks, without causing harm to innocent American citizens. The New York Times exposed the wiretapping operation, just one of very many carried out by the NSA, which listens in not only on enemies, but also on friends such as the State of Israel. President Bush personally asked the Times and Washington Post editors to keep the matter under their hats to prevent terrorist leaders learning that they were being listened to wherever they might be in the world. AFTER INITIALLY heeding the president's wishes, the editors eventually published the story, sparking a national debate. Now lawyers for criminals convicted of terror in the US are threatening to sue the government for illegally eavesdropping on them. Apparently the horrific pictures of the 9/11 massacre have already faded from the memories of those Bush-bashing newspaper editors and politicians. They of course also oppose Bush's military campaign in Iraq, which is triggering a slow but sure historic-democratic earthquake in the entire Middle East. The average Israeli finds it difficult to grasp the argument: After all, it is the wiretapping and bugging of every possible kind carried out by Israel's security and intelligence services that have become a key weapon in stemming the wave of terror let loose by Yasser Arafat and Marwan Barghouti, and which is continuing even under the impotent management of Mahmoud Abbas. Israel has continually honed its eavesdropping methods to an art in its struggle against terrorists and spies, and in order to obtain timely warnings of impending attacks. It uses wiretapping to eliminate the terrorist leaders and stop suicide bombers in their tracks. IF I am not mistaken, the fruits of Israeli wiretapping for security reasons have never been used against Israeli citizens unless real acts of treason were involved; and in most of those cases, the Israelis involved - Arabs and Jews alike - were brought to justice. When Ezer Weizman, at the time a minister in the government of Yitzhak Shamir, conducted secret talks in Geneva with a PLO representative when such contacts were still illegal, Shamir, quite rightly, publicly and officially lambasted Weizman based on a wiretapping report he received. Yitzhak Rabin as prime minister took no steps against Yossi Beilin's emissaries to the then-illegal talks with the PLO in Norway when he learned about them from the Mossad. Thanks to wiretapping, the Mossad has learned of intimate conversations held between Jewish members of Knesset and Yasser Arafat and his cronies in which the MKs counseled the PLO leaders on how better to put the screws on the Likud governments and/or Prime Minister Ariel Sharon himself. The Shin Bet, Mossad and Military Intelligence file cabinets are filled, I believe, with this kind of shocking information - unless it has been destroyed, as is sometimes the case. Israeli governments related to these meetings as "political talks," despite the fact that they give a distinct impression of being acts of treason, especially when they occurred during the first intifada, and then afterwards during the war that broke out on September 29, 2000. This is because an ironclad law in Israel's democracy - just as in democracies like England and the United States - stipulates that material obtained via wiretapping may be used for operational security needs only. At a time when the US and other democracies are still being threatened by international Islamist terror, one might ask why the Times and other American papers of its ilk are working so hard to undermine the status of President Bush, who is only now completing the first year of his second term. The answer is pure hatred - hatred harbored by the liberal Left for anything that symbolizes strength and resilience of the kind demonstrated by the Bush administration in this terrible war. Just as the media in Israel has changed its opinion of Ariel Sharon, I am convinced that a similar 180-degree turnaround will occur to some of President Bush's foes. The global war being waged by Islamism against the world's democracies may bring further catastrophes. These will show just how justified Bush and his policies, including wiretapping, are. The writer is a veteran Israeli newspaper columnist.