For starters, it would appear that Congress had some knowledge of this program, which accelerated in 2002 as a result of the capture of Abu Zubaydah. Time sensitivity meant that exploiting the data captured along with Zubaydah was of the essence. There were only days or hours in which to act.
And we have come to learn that the Zubaydah data uncovered the plot by Iyman Faris to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge. Faris was captured while still in the planning stages.
Have we really succumbed to giving up civil rights or is there so much nonsensical ravings on all sides that the truth is lost in the shuffle? And does this program have any relationship to data mining efforts taken after Able Danger was shut down - with the idea being that data recovered in various worldwide operations would be used to draw connections between disparate items that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.
This particular aspect of national security also works hand in hand with the Patriot Act, provisions of which were rejected by the Senate. While Instapundit thinks that the rejection shouldn't adversely affect national security, and that the laws affect by the Patriot Act really were used for operations other than counter-terrorism, I'm a bit more wary. There's no evidence that the Patriot Act did not do as it was intended (proving the negative, I know).
But all we need to know is actually buried deep in the NYT article:
What the agency calls a "special collection program" began soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, as it looked for new tools to attack terrorism. The program accelerated in early 2002 after the Central Intelligence Agency started capturing top Qaeda operatives overseas, including Abu Zubaydah, who was arrested in Pakistan in March 2002. The C.I.A. seized the terrorists' computers, cellphones and personal phone directories, said the officials familiar with the program. The N.S.A. surveillance was intended to exploit those numbers and addresses as quickly as possible, the officials said.If the Bush Administration takes steps to protect the US from attack, its excoriated from the Leftists who think that it's infringing on civil rights. The failure in the other direction is unimaginable to consider - another mass casualty attack. Yet, that's what the Leftists are actually forcing the Administration to consider.
In addition to eavesdropping on those numbers and reading e-mail messages to and from the Qaeda figures, the N.S.A. began monitoring others linked to them, creating an expanding chain. While most of the numbers and addresses were overseas, hundreds were in the United States, the officials said.
Another argument is that the Bush Administration did this without Congress knowing. That's not the case either - as per Michelle Malkin:
Contrary to the impression the piece and headline leave of an administration acting in complete secrecy and with total impunity and disregard for civil liberties, the reporters reveal that Vice President Dick Cheney, then-NSA director Gen. Michael V. Hayden of the Air Force, and then-CIA director George Tenet called a meeting with Congressional leaders from both parties to brief them on the program.Quite a few people are blogging this, including Protein Wisdom, Brainster's Blog, Stop the ACLU, Martin's Musings, The A-Team Blog, California Conservative, Truth Above All, Mad Mikey's Blog, La Shawn Barber, Ace of Spades, The Unalienable Right, In the Bullpen, Anti Idiotarian Rotweiller, The Mahablog.
The administration trusted that the briefing would remain confidential for the sake of national security. Obviously, they trusted too much. [emphasis mine]
And the kicker is that the Times story is somehow tied to a book scheduled to be released by one of the principals in the Times story. Eric Risen is one of the authors of the Times story, and he's about to release a book that covers some of the same ground. There was no mention of the book in the Times story - so one is left to wonder about the timing.