Friday, January 11, 2008

I keep calling and there is no answer...

One of the reasons I stopped watching tv was because the news is horrible - both in content and presentation. I used to read alot of news online and as the uber-early campaigning started I eased back because seriously - I do not need to see the negative ads for 18 months prior to the election.

Recently I have started paying a bit more attention to the news - trolling Yahoo, MSNBC, CNN, and the BBC. I do like to be aware of what is going on around me, really I do. So I stumbled upon this gem yesterday and I nearly choked on my tea.

Apparently the FBI has been too busy spying on us to pay their phone bills for wire taps. What? You get a subpoena - to eavesdrop on people and then you forget to pay the bill and the phone company gets mad and cuts you off? I had to read the story twice to try and wrap my brain around just what was happening.

A Justice Department audit released Thursday blamed the lost connections on the FBI's lax oversight of money used in undercover investigations. In one office alone, unpaid costs for wiretaps from one phone company totaled $66,000.

Now I know that catching the bad guys is tough and that being undercover is dangerous. So I would think that the trained professionals at the FBI - responsible for running these operations would be tuned into the fact that wiretapping is a great way to gather info on the bad guys and it very well may make protecting the good guys - pretending to be bad guys safe.

I have ethical issues with some of the wire tapping latitude granted law enforcement by the Patriot Act - but the fact is if they are going to do it - then ante up and pay for it. What a crock. Sloppy office procedures and record keeping will get you every time - but when peoples lives are in the balance - it is really important to dot the i's and cross the t's. Paying the phone bill falls into that category.

In at least one case, a wiretap used in a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act investigation "was halted due to untimely payment," the audit found. FISA wiretaps are used in the government's most sensitive and secretive criminal and intelligence investigations, and allow eavesdropping on suspected terrorists or spies.

I have said it before and I am going to say it again. I feel no safer now than prior to 911. In fact I feel less so in many ways. For starters - this type of situation highlights that we are still running around not knowing what the hell is going on. It highlights that you throw money at agencies and you pass laws - which may or may not violate my civil liberties, you can make me stand in line for ever at the airport and take off most of my clothes while in the line and bottom line - I am not any safer. We are no more organized now that we were in 2000.

"It seems the telecoms, who are claiming they were just being 'good patriots' when they allowed the government to spy on us without warrants, are more than willing to pull the plug on national security investigations when the government falls behind on its bills," said former FBI agent Michael German, the ACLU's national security policy counsel. "To put it bluntly, it sounds as though the telecoms believe it when the FBI says the warrant is in the mail but not when they say the check is in the mail."

And while I am in the mood to point the glaring faults of the government I am going to pick on the phone company also. If in your wisdom you are going to role over and play ball and let the government broaden the scoop of what is fair game - while listening to who they deem the bad guys - I think it is disingenuous to then cut them off when they fall behind on the billing. Nice trick - but once you let them run around and trample our civil liberties - then one has to wonder - is the line you cut the one listening to the actual terrorist or is the line you cut the one that they are using to monitor the status of deep cover operative - who has in fact infiltrated an actual homegrown terror network.

For me this highlights the problems facing us. A government so bloated on power, mismanagement and a general lack of a plan. As much as I would like to blame GW - he is not totally at fault. This has been a problem for as long as I have been able to vote. We need to get serious and admit that the system is not working. There are too many moving parts and a total lack of focus.

I think we all need to ask ourselves - what is it we truly want from our government. What are the key roles which government should fill in our lives. What could we live without? What is best addressed at the local leave?

I am not in love with any of the candidates and I am paying attention now and frankly - I want someone to have the balls to say - you know what - we have problems and I am willing to roll up my sleeves and offer up some real solutions. Unpopular yeah - probably - will you want to re-elect me in 4 years - maybe not - but you know the solutions are more important that the quest for more power.

Is that going to happen? No. But a girl can hope - right?

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