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CALEA, MONICA MISSILES AND BUDDY

President Clinton’s rapid-fire retaliation against terrorists suspected of bombing two U.S. embassies Aug. 7 in Africa, all cynicism aside, is in a broad sense more about invaluable eavesdropping by law enforcement than about Monica. Really.

Yankee haters in Afghanistan and Sudan can explain away the U.S. attack as simply Monica missiles. But, if early press reports prove true, it was strong and swiftly gathered U.S. intelligence that linked-in remarkably short order-the embassy bombings to Osama bin Laden and his global terrorism network.

The clinching piece of `intel’ came from an intercepted mobile-phone conversation between two bin Laden henchmen who unwittingly tied themselves to the bombings.

In fact, according to Newsweek, Clinton might not have given the green light from Martha’s Vineyard for Tomahawk III missiles to fly had he not felt he had the conclusive evidence the mobile-phone intercept provided.

The FBI has been harping for years that digital wiretaps remain one of its most important tools for combating terrorism, drug trafficking and other illegal activities.

After the July 1996 explosion of TWA 800 over Long Island, FBI deputy director James Kallstrom-suspicious of a terrorist link that no longer appears real-put in a nationally televised plug for digital wiretaps.

Today, with spot terrorist strikes increasing and migrating to the United States, the U.S. telecom industry-including wireless carriers and manufacturers-still is butting heads with the FBI regarding digital wiretap policy.

Indeed, the Communications for Law Enforcement Assistance Act of 1994 is far from being implemented. Try implosion. Lawsuits, legislation, FCC petitions and rule makings, and vicious verbal warfare between industry and the FBI litter the debate.

FBI Director Louis Freeh and Attorney General Janet Reno are accused by the telecom industry and privacy advocates of pushing CALEA beyond constitutional boundaries. The FBI says it’s all about money-carriers and equipment suppliers want to minimize costs of network modifications required under CALEA. Some in Congress have thrown up their hands in frustration with both sides, and refuse to appropriate money to CALEA.

In the post-Cold War world, the United States no longer faces a monolithic Soviet threat. The threat is a whole different breed of cat. Today’s terrorist is highly mobile, technologically sophisticated and a nefarious global networker.

Senseless death and destruction cannot be tolerated in civilized societies. Won’t someone step up to the plate to do right by CALEA?

Meantime, Bill Clinton, whatever you may think about him, can take comfort during long walks with Buddy on the Vineyard he did the right thing and returned for one brief moment to being presidential.

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