by Larry C. Johnson (bio below)

“Definition: A Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue.”

Caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar, President Bush is working feverishly to divert attention from the fact that he has subverted the FISA law by claiming that the revelation in the New York Times of the NSA spying program has jeopardized national security and given the terrorists a hand. Sorry Mr. President that dog don’t hunt.

The fact that the NSA has the ability to listen to electronic conversations, such as phone calls and emails, has been public knowledge since the 1970s. Al Qaeda has known this for more than ten years. The authors of the Al Qaeda training manual dealt specifically with the need to take precautions to prevent their conversations from being captured by U.S. listening posts. If we are dealing with terrorists who don’t realize their conversations could be intercepted then we are after people who really must be living in a cave.

Could our National Security have been jeopardized? Yes, but only if the New York Times had divulged how the conversations were being intercepted. That knowledge would allow the targets of the intercepts to change their method of communicating. (In this case the President would be right to be upset.) But, that is not what happened. The Times did not reveal a methodology. The fact that the Government has the power to intercept conversations is why we have the FISA law in the first place. Telling the American people that the President is circumventing the law does not harm National Security in any fashion, but it could threaten George Bush’s job security.

Let’s be clear, Bush is upset because … continued below …
Let’s be clear, Bush is upset because he has been discovered violating his oath of office. Instead of protecting the Constitution, he has authorized procedures that violate the Fourth Amendment ostensibly in the name of saving the nation. The inconsistency and hypocrisy of the Bush Administration on this issue is breathtaking. They only scream about damage to national security when it suits their purpose. They had no qualms about outing Valerie Plame or Mohammed Noor.

The Government itself is very inconsistent on what can and cannot be told to the public. Robert Baer, for example, received permission from the CIA in 2002 to publish SEE NO EVIL (which is a terrific book). A careful reader, especially one who has held a Top Secret Special Access Program (SAP) clearance can quickly pick out information in his book about a signal intercept program that is highly sensitive. Bob Baer was not trying to hurt the United States, he was just telling a great story and trusted the CIA to take out all damaging material. CIA censors, however, dropped the ball. In the latest battle over what the public can and cannot be told, CIA reviewers prohibited Gary Berntsen from telling certain facts in his book, JAWBREAKER, which another CIA officer, Gary Schroen, was permitted to include in his 2004 work, FIRST IN.

The search for the leakers who have blown the whistle on the surveillance story is not about protecting national security. This is an effort to intimidate real investigative reporters who tell the American people the stories they need to hear. Unlike a Judith Miller, who provided highly paid stenography services to the Bush Administration, Jim Risen and Eric Lichtblau have a done a public service by alerting us to the fact that President Bush was ignoring the Constitution and acting like a King with a divine right to decide unilaterally what is and is not in the national interest.


Larry C. Johnson is CEO and co-founder of BERG Associates, LLC, an international business-consulting firm that helps corporations and governments manage threats posed by terrorism and money laundering. Mr. Johnson, who worked previously with the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism (as a Deputy Director), is a recognized expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, crisis and risk management. Mr. Johnson has analyzed terrorist incidents for a variety of media including the Jim Lehrer News Hour, National Public Radio, ABC’s Nightline, NBC’s Today Show, the New York Times, CNN, Fox News, and the BBC. Mr. Johnson has authored several articles for publications, including Security Management Magazine, the New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. He has lectured on terrorism and aviation security around the world. Further bio details.

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