THE "IT'S CLASSIFIED!"...

THE "IT'S CLASSIFIED!" SHUFFLE. I'm continually amazed by how bad -- how unctuous, transparent, and phony -- Bill Frist sounds in interviews. Appearing on CNN's "Late Edition" yesterday, he parried a question from Wolf Blitzer about the NSA data mining operation by first going on at length with detailed positive commentary about the program and then immediately hiding behind the "it's classified" defense when tough questions came up. This is a classic Bush administration move, of course, but Frist handled it with his characteristic klutziness:

[BLITZER]:Are you comfortable with this program?

FRIST: Absolutely. Absolutely. I am one of the people who are briefed...

BLITZER: You've known about this for years.

FRIST: I've known about the program. I am absolutely convinced that you, your family, our families are safer because of this particular program.

I absolutely know that it is legal. The program itself is anonymous, in the sense that identifiers, in terms of protecting your privacy, are stripped off. And, as you know, the program is voluntary, the participants in that program.

And it comes to the reality -- it faces the reality that we're in the 21st century. And the only way to connect the dots, whether around the world or in this country, to prevent another 9/11, whether it's in the Pentagon or in New York or back in Nashville, Tennessee, is to connect those dots. And the only way to connect those dots is to use 21st-century technology that protects your privacy, and that's exactly what this does.

BLITZER: Can you tell the American people right now that over these past almost five years since the phone records have been collected -- I'm not talking about the warrantless surveillance, the warrantless wiretaps -- the phone records, that has resulted in thwarting one terrorist attack in the United States?

FRIST: You know, I am not going to comment on the program until the appropriate time. There has not been even a confirmation of the USA Today program itself.

Given that Frist had just been "commenting" on the program one second beforehand, this was a bit too rich even for Blitzer, who pressed Frist a few more times. The senator ended up retreating full-scale to the hoariest dodge of all: "You know, the more we talk about these programs, the more we're giving our playbook to the terrorists who are sitting out around this country right now, who did plan 9/11 and what happened at the Pentagon today. And they are in this country now. They are waiting." Sure, Bill, we understand.

--Sam Rosenfeld

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