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Wiretapping al Qaeda, Harvard, and more.

Jun 3, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 37
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WHAT DID ROYCE LAMBERTH KNOW . . . ?

For a press corps obsessing over who knew what when before September 11, there was little attention paid last week to the following revelation in Newsweek (The Scrapbook believes in crediting reporters, but there were 11 bylines on this particular piece):

"Newsweek has learned there was one other major complication as America headed into that threat-spiked summer. In Washington, Royce Lamberth, chief judge of the special federal court that reviews national-security wiretaps, erupted in anger when he found that an FBI official was misrepresenting petitions for taps on terror suspects. Lamberth prodded Ashcroft to launch an investigation, which reverberated throughout the bureau. From the summer of 2000 on into the following year, sources said, the FBI was forced to shut down wiretaps of Qaeda-related suspects connected to the 1998 African embassy bombing investigation. 'It was a major problem,' said one source familiar with the case, who estimated that 10 to 20 Qaeda wiretaps had to be shut down, as well as wiretaps into a separate New York investigation of Hamas. The effect was to stymie terror surveillance at exactly the moment it was needed most: requests from both Phoenix and Minneapolis for wiretaps were turned down."

Justice Benjamin Cardozo famously complained that the prisoner shouldn't go free "because the constable has blundered." This account raises an even weightier conundrum: Should terrorists go unmonitored because a judge is ticked off at an FBI official? As the finger-pointing proceeds in the coming weeks, the role of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act--which created this judicial oversight mechanism--should not go unexamined.

THE GODFATHER OF VOLUNTARISM

When Milton Friedman came to Washington recently, the high and mighty gathered to honor (and listen to) the great free market economist. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan rescheduled a speech in Chicago to attend. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and sidekick Paul Wolfowitz showed up. So did former Attorney General Ed Meese, White House adviser Larry Lindsey, and economist Gary Becker, like Friedman a Nobel Prize winner. And President Bush delivered a tribute and hosted a White House lunch for Friedman and his wife, Rose.

Bush said that when Friedman began his work--he'll be 90 this July--"the conventional wisdom held that capitalism's days were numbered." Now all that's changed thanks partly to Friedman, whose economic ideas are "at work" in Chile, Russia, Sweden, even China, and of course in this country. He's also a social reformer. Bush called him "the intellectual godfather" of the all-volunteer army and a fierce advocate of school choice. "We're lucky that Milton Friedman flunked some of his qualifying exams to become an actuary and became an economist instead."

Friedman is famous for simple but scintillating economic explanations. The problem with the federal budget, he's often said, is not the size of the deficit but the share of the national economy the government claims. At the White House, Friedman offered a succinct lesson. Those who spend their own money on themselves are careful about how much they spend and what it buys. Those who spend someone else's money on themselves don't care what they spend but are attentive to what it buys. Those who spend their own money on someone else are careful how much they spend but careless about what it buys. Those who spend someone else's money on someone else aren't careful about how much or what it buys. That last case, Friedman exclaimed, "that's government."

GIVE HARVARD AN A (OR MAYBE JUST A B+)

The first step in fighting addiction is acknowledging you have a problem. So The Scrapbook is not a little proud of Harvard University for acknowledging its decades-long habit of passing out top grades and graduation honors like some minimum-wage cornerboy handing out flyers for a discount shoe store.

About half of all the grades given out at Harvard during 2001 were A's and A minuses. And nearly 90 percent of last year's graduating class received some form of honors. The school had become so promiscuous at awarding distinction that our occasional contributor, professor of government Harvey C. Mansfield, last year felt compelled to announce a double grading system for his classes, giving his students an "ironic grade," indexed for grade inflation and entered into the official records, along with a second informal grade based on actual merit.