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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 9, 2006

Spy probe needs to find a better target

The Justice Department seems to be writing a new episode of "Mission: Impossible."

It finally announced last week the start of a formal investigation on President Bush's secret spying program.

But can a meaningful investigation of such a questionable and confidential project even be conducted?

We already know that Bush issued the presidential order approving the spying and reauthorized it more than 30 times. Vice President Cheney said so last week in Bush's defense.

What we don't know is who from the inside leaked the information to The New York Times.

It was The Times' stories last month that revealed the National Security Agency was conducting top-secret domestic surveillance without a warrant after 9/11.

For that, the leakers should be honored as patriots for blowing the whistle and alerting us all on the shenanigans of the Bush administration.

But officials, cited in news reports anonymously because the probe is so sensitive, say they're focused on finding out who leaked the information to the newspaper.

That would appear to be the wrong target(s).

Going after the whistleblowers in this case is a bit like shooting the messenger.

It does, however, fall in line with President Bush's initial line of defense when he expressed disgust at anyone who would leak such secret information during a time of war.

The president continues to insist he's on firm legal ground to conduct the spying effort.

"I can say that if somebody from al-Qaida is calling you, we'd like to know why," Bush said recently. "This program is conscious of people's civil liberties, as am I."

If that's the case, that would be a better area of concern than concentrating on the whistleblowers. How many Americans had their rights compromised by the domestic spying?

And how credible, or ethical, is an investigation headed up by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who in 2004, as the White House attorney, actively lobbied for and defended the secret program?

An investigation with the wrong targets and a lack of independence truly makes any effort by the Justice Department "Mission: Impossible."