Fun and games with terrorist threats

Al-Qaida is coming ... Al-Qaida is coming ... Al-Qaida is coming.

Topics: Washington, D.C.,

Back in August, when the Bush administration wanted to pressure Congress into passing “The Protect America Act” — which vested in the President vast, new warrantless eavesdropping powers to spy on Americans — they sent out Mike McConnell days before the August recess to tell everyone in Congress that they better pass the bill before they leave or The Terrorists would kill us all and the blood would be on the hands of Congress for failing to give the President what he wanted:

Congressional, administration and intelligence officials last week described the events leading up to the approval of this surveillance, including a remarkable series of confrontations that ended with McConnell and the White House outmaneuvering the Democratic-controlled Congress, partly by capitalizing on fresh reports of a growing terrorism threat. . . .

A critical moment for the Democrats came on July 24, when McConnell met in a closed session with senators from both parties to ask for urgent approval of a slimmed-down version of his bill. Armed with new details about terrorist activity and an alarming decline in U.S. eavesdropping capabilities, he argued that Congress had days, not weeks, to act.

“At that time, the discussion changed to ‘What can we do to close the gap during the August recess?’” said a senior Democratic aide who declined to be identified because the meetings were classified. As delivered by McConnell, the warnings were seen as fully credible. “He’s pushing this because he thinks we’re in a high-threat environment,” the senior aide said.

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Now that Congress has a few days left in which essentially to make The Protect America Act permanent and grant amnesty to lawbreaking telecoms, this is what Mike McConnell is doing:

The top American intelligence official said on Tuesday that Al Qaeda is improving its ability to attack within the United States by recruiting and training new operatives. At the same time, he said, the group’s affiliate in Iraq is beginning to send militants to other countries.

That caution came from Michael McConnell, director of national intelligence, as he presented to the Senate intelligence committee an annual report on threats to the United States. The report was released as his testimony began.

Al-Qa’ida is improving the last key aspect of its ability to attack the U.S.: the identification, training, and positioning of operatives for an attack in the homeland,” he wrote in the 47-page document.

This is really, really scary. We better forget about checks and balances and oversight and restraints of any kind and everything else and just make sure that the President can spy on our emails and telephone calls with no oversight, otherwise Al Qaeda is going to slaughter us in our Homeland. And we also better make sure that telecommunications corporations don’t have consequences when they break the law, otherwise we’re doomed, because Al Qaeda is coming.

Or, as leading fear-mongerer and proponent of limitless surveillance powers, Jay Rockefeller, put it today:

“Al Qaeda has used this border safe haven to reconstitute itself and launch offensive operations that threaten to undo the stability brought to Afghanistan and undermine, if not overthrow, the Pakistan government,” said Mr. Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat.

This, Mr. Rockefeller added, gave Al Qaeda “a base of operations from which to plot and direct attacks against the United States.”

After scaring everyone with the latest Al-Qaeda-is-Coming warnings, the CIA also admitted for the first time that it waterboarded detainees in its custody, but what’s a little water up the nose — or a little presidential omnipotence — when Al Qaeda is coming to get us in our Homeland?

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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