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Rich: White House outrage over wiretap story is 'smokescreen'


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The White House outrage over the New York Times breaking the NSA wiretapping story is a "smokescreen," Frank Rich writes in his Sunday Times column, RAW STORY has learned.

For one, an episode of a cable television mini-series featured a terrorist worrying about NSA taps almost two weeks before the original Times story was published on December 16, Rich argues. The columnist also wonders if the Bush Administration tapped journalists and political opponents.

Rich claims the motive for attacking the press is to "deflect attention from embarrassing revelations about its incompetence and failures," and that other leaks may soon reveal "what the White House is really so defensive about."



Almost two weeks before The New York Times published its scoop about our government's extralegal wiretapping, the cable network Showtime blew the whole top-secret shebang. In its miniseries "Sleeper Cell," about Islamic fundamentalist terrorists in Los Angeles, the cell's ringleader berates an underling for chatting about an impending operation during a phone conversation with an uncle in Egypt. "We can only pray that the NSA is not listening," the leader yells at the miscreant, who is then stoned for his blabbing.

If fictional terrorists concocted by Hollywood can figure out that the National Security Agency is listening to their every call, guess what? Real-life terrorists know this, too. So when a hyperventilating President Bush rants that the exposure of his warrant-free wiretapping in a newspaper is shameful and puts "our citizens at risk" by revealing our espionage playbook, you have to wonder what he is really trying to hide. Our enemies, as America has learned the hard way, are not morons. Even if al-Qaida hasn't seen "Sleeper Cell" because it refuses to spring for pay cable, it has surely assumed from the get-go that the White House would ignore legal restraints on eavesdropping, just as it has on detainee jurisprudence and torture.

That the White House's over-the-top outrage about the Times scoop is a smokescreen contrived to cover up something else is only confirmed by Dick Cheney's disingenuousness. In last week's oration at a right-wing think tank, he defended warrant-free wiretapping by saying it could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. Really? Not with this administration in charge. On 9/10 the NSA (lawfully) intercepted messages in Arabic saying, "The match is about to begin," and, "Tomorrow is zero hour." You know the rest. Like all the chatter our government picked up during the president's excellent brush-clearing Crawford vacation of 2001, it was relegated to manana; The NSA didn't rouse itself to translate those warnings until 9/12.


Subscribers to Times Select can read the rest of Mr. Rich's column, "The wiretappers that couldn't shoot straight," at this link.

Originally published on Saturday January 7, 2006


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