Reuters, Juan Rodriguez
The White House was left divided on Sunday morning after a mysterious suitcase was found in JFK airport—an undetonated bomb, blueprints of Washington D.C.’s Ronald Reagan National Airport and undecipherable Arabic characters were found inside.
The administration was indecisive, with some, such as Vice-President Dick Cheney, arguing that wire-tapping was justified, as it was in the interest of national security. Others, such as James B. Cunningham, Ambassador to the UN, deemed the practice “highly unethical.”
Among the members supporting wire-tapping were Gale Norton, Secretary of Interior and John Ashcroft, Attorney General. Norton proposed that, although wire-tapping does violate human rights, concessions must be made in the interest of progress. Ashcroft affirmed the sentiment, saying: “The surveillance will enable the administration to concretely determine the origin of the attacks.”
Hillary Clinton, Senator of New York, conceded the effectiveness of the practice, suggesting it should be narrowed down to areas in which the perpetrators of the attacks may be. Norman Mineta, Secretary of Transportation, remained skeptical; the divisive practice of wire-tapping could lead to “further invasions of privacy.”
The idea of wire-tapping was discussed in detail, and George J. Tenet, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, proposed that the CIA should be the sole supervisor of the operation, citing the agency’s vast experience with handling intelligence.
Tenet noted the benefit of having a single agency at the helm: “It aids with clarity; we must be strategic, not involving other agencies until we have a response to our current situation in the Middle East.”
A debate arose between Cunningham and Cheney with regards to the controversial practice.
Cheney stressed the role of technology in the attackers’ communication, saying that the September 11th attacks “could have been prevented,” had the practice of wire-tapping been in use. The Vice-President promoted the Don’t Beat Around the Bush Bill, as it would aid the administration in preventing further terrorist attacks.
Cunningham, an experienced diplomat, was “concerned with the individual rights of the American citizen”—he mentioned that they were at stake, emphasizing that the administration should be conscious of how their directives are going to affect America.
The UN Ambassador proposed various solutions that circumvent wire-tapping. One alternative is the establishment of a collective international bureau to investigate fiscal transactions of the suspected organizations. Another strategy calls for cooperation from international agencies, such as MI6 and CSIS; the ambassador proposed that this approach would provide a “broader, more complete picture” to assist protection of American citizens.
Decisive action regarding wire-tapping was delayed. The administration was informed of public dissatisfaction with Paul O’Neill, Secretary of Treasury, accused of promoting the polarization of the two major parties at a time when the nation should be united.