That the White House's over-the-top outrage about the Times scoop is a smokescreen contrived to cover up something else is only confirmed by Dick Cheney's disingenuousness. In last week's oration at a right-wing think tank, he defended warrant-free wiretapping by saying it could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. Really? Not with this administration in charge. On 9/10 the N.S.A. (lawfully) intercepted messages in Arabic saying, "The match is about to begin," and, "Tomorrow is zero hour." You know the rest. Like all the chatter our government picked up during the president's excellent brush-clearing Crawford vacation of 2001, it was relegated to manana; the N.S.A. didn't rouse itself to translate those warnings until 9/12.
Given that the reporters on the Times story, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, wrote that nearly a dozen current and former officials had served as their sources, there may be more leaks to come, and not just to The Times. Sooner or later we'll find out what the White House is really so defensive about.
If the Bush administration did indeed eavesdrop on American journalists and political opponents (Ms. Amanpour's husband, Jamie Rubin, was a foreign policy adviser to the Kerry campaign), it's deja Watergate all over again. But even now we can see that there's another, simpler - and distinctly Bushian - motive at play here, hiding in plain sight.
That motive is not, as many liberals would have it, a simple ideological crusade to gut the Bill of Rights. Real conservatives, after all, are opposed to Big Brother; even the staunch Bush ally Grover Norquist has criticized the N.S.A.'s overreaching. The highest priority for the Karl Rove-driven presidency is instead to preserve its own power at all costs. With this gang, political victory and the propaganda needed to secure it always trump principles, even conservative principles, let alone the truth. Whenever the White House most vociferously attacks the press, you can be sure its No. 1 motive is to deflect attention from embarrassing revelations about its incompetence and failures.
Much more. A good Sunday read, and it's free.