Whatever the Motivations Behind Its Reporting---
this NYTimes editorial gets it about right:
Let's be clear about this: illegal government spying on Americans is a violation of individual liberties, whether conditions are troubled or not. Nobody with a real regard for the rule of law and the Constitution would have difficulty seeing that. The law governing the National Security Agency was written after the Vietnam War because the government had made lists of people it considered national security threats and spied on them. All the same empty points about effective intelligence gathering were offered then, just as they are now, and the Congress, the courts and the American people rejected them.
This particular end run around civil liberties is also unnecessary. The intelligence agency already had the capacity to read your mail and your e-mail and listen to your telephone conversations. All it had to do was obtain a warrant from a special court created for this purpose. The burden of proof for obtaining a warrant was relaxed a bit after 9/11, but even before the attacks the court hardly ever rejected requests.
The special court can act in hours, but administration officials say that they sometimes need to start monitoring large batches of telephone numbers even faster than that, and that those numbers might include some of American citizens. That is supposed to justify Mr. Bush's order, and that is nonsense. The existing law already recognizes that American citizens' communications may be intercepted by chance. It says that those records may be retained and used if they amount to actual foreign intelligence or counterintelligence material. Otherwise, they must be thrown out.
President Bush defended the program yesterday, saying it was saving lives, hotly insisting that he was working within the Constitution and the law, and denouncing The Times for disclosing the program's existence. We don't know if he was right on the first count; this White House has cried wolf so many times on the urgency of national security threats that it has lost all credibility. But we have learned the hard way that Mr. Bush's team cannot be trusted to find the boundaries of the law, much less respect them.
Mr. Bush said he would not retract his secret directive or halt the illegal spying, so Congress should find a way to force him to do it. Perhaps the Congressional leaders who were told about the program could get the ball rolling.