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Journal peacefinder's Journal: The Nuclear Option 8

The current debacle over warrantless NSA wiretaps is kinda interesting. It's started some spirited discussions over the proper limits of executive authority. One argument I keep seeing is... well, let me quote an example:

"... anyone who [...] would rather be killed than allow the government to intercept the subject communications, they need to check into the nearest funny farm."

It's a pretty basic emotional argument, and I had all sorts of arguments undercutting the fear propping that argument up. I did blog battle and I am happy to report that I prevailed.

After it was over, though, I realized that I was using a whole bunch of lesser arguments when I could have just dropped the Big One. Here it is:


People seem not to remember the cold war anymore, but there was a clash of civilizations. The godless commies had thousands of nuclear warheads, hundreds of ICBMs, the full array of biological and chemical weapons, and a vast conventional force. For at least thirty years we assumed that they had the will to destroy us, that they would be only too happy to nuke Washington D.C. and maybe the rest of our nation without warning. All this was backed up by the KGB, a first-rate intelligence service that regularly snookered both the CIA and FBI. This was the conflict which underlay all of our foreign policy choices for fourty-five years, and this threat led to the creation of both the NSA and FISA.

But if we ever used warrantless domestic wiretaps in response to this threat, it has yet to be made public. We apparently preserved the warrant requirement for domestic wiretaps during the whole of the cold war. Why give it up now?

Is this administration seriously contending that al-qeida is a worse threat than the Evil Empire?


Use it well.

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The Nuclear Option

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  • I think this is one of the best journal articles you've ever written. Nice job.
  • You could also point out the Godless Commies used "State Security" as a justification to secretly surveil their own people. Guess we're Godless Commies now...
    • Yeah, but I don't see the profit in it. This is one issue where indirect comparisons are made irrelevant (and possibly counterproductive) by the wealth of available direct comparisons. Comparing the two threats and our behavior in response to each is a simple way to show just how odd the current administration's choices are.

      Before I hit on this strategy, I was fooling around with offering some perspective on the daily threats to our lives, and asking why we're so disproportionately scared of terrorism at al
      • Which, as I have often said, no one is better at killing Americans than Americans. You have to enjoy the irony of someone worrying about the Terrorists while smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer. Which one of those three will get you first? Alcohol, Tabacco, or Terrorist?
      • Well of all the example you sited, all of them (save maybe "fires", where a certain percentage may be arson) are accidents where there is little (save tobacco use, but that is self-inflicted) one can do about them.

        Terrorism is a willful act with another human being behind it. Unlike the other examples, it has *purpose*, and an author, and as such, it can be thwarted.

        I'd also argue that the damage inflicted by terrorism is much larger than a simple body count. Successful, large-scale acts of terrorism can do
        • I so completely agree with the latter two-thirds of your post that it's uncanny.

          With regards to the "willful act" part, that's absolutely true. The thing is, though, that the acts are committed to pressure us by inspiring terror. If we allow ourselves to be terrorized disproportionately to the actual damage done, that means we have handed them a... well, a force-multiplier, for lack of a better term. They killed 3,000 people that day, but we tend to behave as if they had killed several times that number. We
          • Warrantless wiretaps, as far as I can see, are just a power grab; I don't support them at all, and Americans should be howling for blood over them.

            But there is a historical perspective here that you may find interesting:

            The KGB were always very, very good at traditional "James Bond" style espionage - spies, moles, and the like. The CIA, on the other hand, were never very good at it, especially counter-espionage.

            But WW2 and the interception and decoding of first the German (Enigma) codes, and then the Japane

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