Why do I say this story’s got everything? Well, let’s see: (1) anonymous and totally unidentified sources as the conduit for all the information, check; (2) accusations of religious profiling, check; (3) vociferous Council on American-Islamic Relations protests, check; (4) spilling of the beans (by those anonymous sources) on a classified program designed to protect us from terrorists, check.
The story about radiation monitoring by the FBI originated in the US News and World Report of December 22. Let’s look at the first paragraph of the original article:
In search of a terrorist nuclear bomb, the federal government since 9/11 has run a far-reaching, top secret program to monitor radiation levels at over a hundred Muslim sites in the Washington, D.C., area, including mosques, homes, businesses, and warehouses, plus similar sites in at least five other cities, U.S. News has learned. In numerous cases, the monitoring required investigators to go on to the property under surveillance, although no search warrants or court orders were ever obtained, according to those with knowledge of the program. Some participants were threatened with loss of their jobs when they questioned the legality of the operation, according to these accounts.
As you can see, the sources–which are never identified any further–are referred to as “those with knowledge of the program,” but are not characterized in any other way: not just their names are absent, but also exactly how many of them there actually are (the article seems to be saying two, as best I can tell), or what positions they hold. Likewise, the people allegedly threatened with the loss of their jobs are never identified (are they, perhaps, the same people as those informants?). This story is only the latest, of course, in a long line of security leaks that seem motivated in good part by the desire to embarrass the Bush administration.
Does anyone honestly think a story like this–which, in its present form, hardly rises above the level of a gossip column, and yet has the promise of playing fast and loose with our lives–is actually needed by the American public? That the leak and the printing thereof does us all some sort of service? Does anyone (other than the ever-victimized CAIR) really think this information, if true, represents a terrible intrusion into citizens’ lives, Moslem or otherwise? Does anyone think it’s really unreasonable? Does anyone think that the right of someone to not have a radiation monitor on their property (note, the article doesn’t even say the devices were placed within buildings, it says “parking lots and driveways”) trumps the public’s right to protect itself from possible nuclear weaponry in terrorist hands?
The only even remotely disturbing part of the story (if true), IMHO, is the allegations of threats to people’s jobs for refusing to cooperate because they think it might be illegal to do so. But it turns out the information about job threats seems to come from one unnamed source somewhere within the program:
One source close to the program said that participants “were tasked on a daily and nightly basis,” and that FBI and Energy Department officials held regular meetings to update the monitoring list. “The targets were almost all U.S. citizens,” says the source. “A lot of us thought it was questionable, but people who complained nearly lost their jobs. We were told it was perfectly legal.”
So, one disgruntled employee is saying this. There’s no mention of independent corroboration. And, plenty of people think it’s perfectly legal to do this (see the comments section of the link, in particular), whereas the article only quotes one legal scholar who says it’s illegal.
So, let’s see: according to a single informant, people were asked to do something that is probably legal, and some (not all, mind you, but some) who complained nearly lost their jobs.
Nearly?? What does that mean? Does it mean somebody yelled at them? So not a single person (not to mention one named person, willing to go on the record) actually lost a job as a result of this?
And who were these people asked to do the monitoring? Were they FBI agents? And is this activity on their part something new? Well, tune into the last paragraph of the article–although I wonder how many people actually got that far:
Most staff for the monitoring came from NEST, which draws from nearly 1,000 nuclear scientists and technicians based largely at the country’s national laboratories. For 30 years, NEST undercover teams have combed suspected sites looking for radioactive material, using high-tech detection gear fitted onto various aircraft, vehicles, and even backpacks and attaché cases. No dirty bombs or nuclear devices have ever been found – and that includes the post-9/11 program. “There were a lot of false positives, and one or two were alarming,” says one source. “But in the end we found nothing.”
Okay–so they were employees of NEST, an acronym for the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Emergency Support Team. Interestingly enough, the quote reveals that this group has been looking for such radioactive material for thirty years. And yet somehow we’ve survived this egregious assault on our civil rights by successive administrations, both Republican and Democrat. After all, Geiger counters (or whatever high-tech machine they use nowadays) are so very self-incriminating and invasive, aren’t they?
So, now that we know that this has been going on for thirty years, where’s the beef? In the present case, is the terrible crime of the Bush administration the fact that Moslem buildings such as mosques were being monitored, post-9/11? Quelle horror!
What would critics have the NEST team and the administration do? Not monitor anyone, and let the nuclear chips fall where they may (and then, if and when they do fall, criticize and investigate Bush for not protecting us? )
Or should they monitor everyone instead, in order to be perfectly PC? And ignore the fact that modern-day post-9/11 terrorists tend to be overwhelmingly Moslem, and that it’s cost-effective and reasonable to monitor them more closely?
This is serious stuff, monitoring for nuclear weapons; not a game. Should it be sacrificed on the altar of refusal to do profiling, even if it’s warranted? Do we need to avoid racial profiling at all costs? I certainly don’t think so.
But–does this case even actually involve profiling? Just because some mosques were monitored, does this mean mosques were profiled? Officials deny it:
Officials also reject any notion that the program specifically has targeted Muslims. “We categorically do not target places of worship or entities solely based on ethnicity or religious affiliation,” says one. “Our investigations are intelligence driven and based on a criminal predicate.”
So according to “officials” (and surely, we shouldn’t believe them; best to believe the anonymous tipster or tipsters), every mosque monitored (and I have no doubt that some were) was targeted because of specific intelligence about that site.
So, what are we to do if there’s a tip that there’s a dirty bomb or some other type of nuclear material hidden in a mosque? Not put some radioactive-detecting information on the street or driveway near it, for fear of the taint of profiling?
I don’t know about you, but sometimes, lately, I feel I’ve fallen through the looking glass into bizarro world. Or maybe the MSM has.
[NOTE: Fausta has some thoughts on the subject, and a roundup of discussions around the blogosphere on the general topic of recent security leaks that affect the WOT. Likewise Michelle Malkin (scroll down for the portion of her post about the radiation monitoring story). And Shrinkwrapped has some reflections on the possible role of a self-destructive impulse in the leakers and their supporters.]