PRESIDENT BUSH WAS CAVALIER on Friday night when he told Jim Lehrer on PBS that a report about the National Security Agency eavesdropping on U.S. citizens was "not the main story of the day." He is entitled to his own news judgment, but it reveals a lot about his willingness to disregard constitutional safeguards and civil liberties while pursuing the war on terrorism. To the rest of us, the revelation in the New York Times that the National Security Agency has been eavesdropping on people within the United States without judicial warrants was stunning. In one of the more egregious cases of governmental overreach in the aftermath of 9/11, Bush secretly authorized the monitoring, without any judicial oversight, of international phone calls and e-mail messages from the United States.
The news came on the same day that Congress voted not to extend controversial aspects of the soon-to-expire Patriot Act, and on the heels of disturbing reports that the Pentagon's shadowy Counterintelligence Field Activity office has been keeping tabs on domestic antiwar groups, including monitoring Quaker meetings, under the guise of protecting military installations. The program is reminiscent of official efforts to spy on antiwar groups in the 1960s.
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