April-May 2006
                         (page 1)

Unknown Unknowns
by Joe Sobran

     When President Bush confirmed that he'd authorized 
the National Security Agency to conduct an enormous 
secret program to monitor Americans' telephone calls, as 
reported in USA TODAY, I assumed that this remarkably 
unpopular president had finally taken a fatal step too 
far. Now the American public, already revolted by this 
administration's blunders, crimes, lies, scandals, 
domestic surveillance, deficits, et cetera, would roar 

     It soon appeared not. In fact, a poll the day after 
the story appeared found that most Americans, including 
many who generally disapprove of Bush's job performance, 
accepted the program as a legitimate "national security" 
measure to contain terrorism.

     As Bush told it, no laws were broken, the 
Constitution wasn't violated, no calls were wiretapped 
without court orders. The NSA was merely studying 
=patterns= of phone calls in the records of three major 
phone companies (a fourth refused to cooperate).

     Innocent people, in short, had nothing to fear. A 
huge, shadowy government agency, known to most of us only 
by its initials (not to be confused with the National 
Security Council, mark you), was merely exercising, 
without telling us, another power we didn't know about. 
That power isn't authorized by the Constitution, but it 
isn't forbidden by it either, and the U.S. Supreme Court 
has permitted similar things in the past, under certain 
conditions, which are being scrupulously observed by the 
NSA. Possible abuses aren't worth worrying about.

     Big government is just a wee bit bigger than we 
knew, that's all. But then, we're also more secure than 
we knew. No telling how many terrorist plots the NSA has 
foiled! And no telling how much it has cost the taxpayer 
to collect untold volumes of useless information. But 
that's not for us to know either.

     As long as most of us support our government, that's 
what counts. And of course we do support it, without 
knowing quite what it is now. We are assured it's a 
democracy, responding to our needs (as it defines them) 
and under our control.

     What? Your civics teacher didn't explain this to 
you? Well, the old civics books may be a little out of 
date. As Donald Rumsfeld has explained, there are some 
things about our enemies that are known, and some that 
are unknown, and the latter can be further broken down 
into the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns.

     I suppose the same is true about our rulers. We know 
a lot about what they do, and we also realize that a lot 
more than we know is concealed from us. In the case of 
the NSA it happens that some of the unknown unknowns have 
come to light. But countless unknowns remain.

     The film UNITED 93 is being hailed for showing and 
celebrating the courage of the passengers on a hijacked 
airliner on September 11, 2001, who immediately fought 
back against the terrorists. But who will fight back 
against those who have hijacked our country?


Read this article on-line at 

To subscribe to the Sobran's, see or for details and samples
or call 800-513-5053 or write

Copyright (c) 2006 by The Vere Company, 
All rights reserved.
This article may not be reprinted in print or
Internet publications without express permission
of The Vere Company.