Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 7, 2006
WAR: First, Save Lives

What the hell kind of FBI agents would let a librarian get in the way of stopping a possible terrorist attack? (Via NRO). The FBI agents should have known full well they had the authority to do this - take the computer, stop the attack, and worry about the librarian and her inevitable lawsuit later.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:34 AM | War 2006 | Comments (27) | TrackBack (0)


What do librarians know about law enforcement, ask the author.

Perhaps they know plenty about the Rule of Law. Want to search the computer files? Get a goddamn warrant.

When the hell did Americans become such p**sies that we'll overthrow every part of what makes us great in search of 100% safety? Bad things happen sometimes, and all we can do is work within the system to prevent it. I find it hard to believe that the hour or two it would take to get a magistrate to sign a warrant will make much difference. I, for one, haven't heard of any bombs going off at Brandeis.

By definition, the "Long War," as some have come to call it, will never end. So all laws relating to personal liberty have to fall by the wayside because of "security during wartime"?

Enough is enough.

Posted by: Mike at February 7, 2006 9:52 AM

This situation seems to me to fall well within the purview of the "exigent circumstances" exception.

Posted by: mikeski at February 7, 2006 10:09 AM

The point is, they didn't actually need a warrant. They should know the law well enough to tell the librarian to go pound sand, and arrest her if necessary.

Posted by: The Crank at February 7, 2006 10:13 AM


I'm sure they know the law as well as you or I know it. Nothing in the facts suggests that exigent circumstances or hot pursuit or any of the manifold exceptions were in play.

The author suggests that al Qaeda members don't have an expectation of privacy. No, but American citizens do. I thought Article I prohibits Bills of Attainder.

Perhaps they didn't tell her to "pound sand" or arrest her because they knew they had less than probable cause, let alone anything stronger.

I think a quick scroll through any of my posts through the months will show I'm very much in favor of *tough* action against fanatics, terrorists, and nations that support them. I support pre-emptive war for instance. But on the home front I want to see our government err hard on the side of liberty. I think this librarian is a true American, and I find it deeply troubling that educated folks would attack her.

She has my support, that's for sure.

Posted by: Mike at February 7, 2006 10:21 AM

This should come under the rule of common sense. I agree that you need a warrant in most cases, but an emergency circumstance, where someone's life is in danger, or potentially in danger, means do what you ahve to do, just go back and get a warrant after the fact (I think the issues would be less if the Bush administration would at least have done that, rather than run roughshod over the constitutional landscape).

So explain the problem to the librarian, if she demonstrates her civil disobedience, which is prefectly fine, you then arrest her, which is what frequently happens, as freedoms also mean the responsibility of your actions, then sort out the mess.

Seize the computer by whatever means necesary, examine it while someone gets a warrant, under whatever emegency procedures probably exist, then hope its a false alarm. Get the warrant, release the librarian with a warning that someone's life might have been in danger, and worry about the unlikely lawsuit later. Somehow I doubt the FBI should be concerned with civil damages; not if they have a warrant after the fact.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at February 7, 2006 11:23 AM


I'm with you, believe me. I'm suggesting that their failure to do what you and Crank suggest (plus the obvious fact that no bomb went off) indicates that their "probable cause" or even their "vague suspicions" were less than rock-solid.

If the G-men (or G-women) involved thought a bomb really was in danger of going off, they'd have shot the librarian, let alone arrested her, as they took every computer in the library to forensics ASAP.

That's where my common sense comes in here.

Posted by: Mike at February 7, 2006 11:42 AM

If you are having a conversation in a public place where you can be overheard, do you have an expectation of privacy? Of couse not.

The same should be viewed in a public library on computers that are purchased with public tax money. If you feel your online activities should be private, purchase your own computer and secure your own access to the internet.

If I allow you to use my personal computer, I have no expectation of my own personal privacy (other than common courtesy) to protect my personal information.

Posted by: maddirishman at February 7, 2006 2:28 PM


Not quite. There's still that thorny "unreasonable" part in the 4th Amendment's search & seizure clause.

Just because I'm talking loudly, crudely, hatefully, and abrasively in public doesn't give law enforcement the right to stop & search me . . . unless they have a "reasonable" belief that I'm committing a crime, conspiring to commit one, etc.

If the FBI has a reasonable belief that I've committed a crime, get a damn warrant. If it has a reasonable belief I'm about to commit a crime, let it take its chances then. As I said, the fact that the agents allowed the librarian to send them packing tells you all you need to know about the "reasonableness" of their putative search.

So when I use a publically paid-for computer (my tax dollars in that equation too), and there's no "reasonable" belief that I've committed or will commit a crime, then to quote Crank, the FBI should just go and "pound sand."

I think we all have a tendency to lose sight of who works for whom in these situations. The FBI, and every other part of the federal government, works for us. Not the other way around.

Posted by: Mike at February 7, 2006 2:43 PM

"I think we all have a tendency", since we haven't been attacked in over four years (on American soil), to act as if the war is "over there." It's happening here, too. The government is not obliged to conduct this war as if it were a rash of car thefts in South Philly. Sorry.

Posted by: John Salmon at February 7, 2006 3:03 PM


John, explain to me if you can how warrantless wiretapping is keeping your ass safe in Philadelphia. In other words, how would seeking the warrant three days after the fact jeopardize your safety?

If you can't answer that, allow me as a New Yorker (that's the city the terrorists actually hit, and the city they'll likely try to hit again in the future) to politely request that you worry about yourself in Philly and watch out the car thieves.

Posted by: Mike at February 7, 2006 3:22 PM

The point is we are referring to public property in a public place that the entire public has access to. There is no presumtion of privacy in a public place. "Unreasonable " should not apply to public property in a public place. If I stand out on a public square and shout that I am about to commit a terrorist act, is unreasonable for law enforcement to give me their undivided attention?

I agree with part of your statement, the FBI (and the librarian) work for us. The FBI's part of that equation is to protect us and enforce our laws. Way to often we stand in their way.

Posted by: maddirishman at February 7, 2006 3:36 PM

Jack Bauer would've shot her in the knee to get whatever info was needed. :-)

Posted by: largebill at February 7, 2006 3:45 PM

A cop or FBI agent walking up to somebody in a library and asking them what book they're reading, what website they're visiting, or what blog they just commented on IS unreasonable. I don't give a shit whether taxpayers payed for the computer or not.

Mike's onto it here. If this situation was really as the author and Crank portray it, the FBI agents would have kindly restrained the librarian, and gotten what they needed. Either it wasn't an emergency or they didn't have anything close to probable cause.

Posted by: Mr Furious at February 7, 2006 4:12 PM


I see we've reached the always entertaining strawman portion of our programming. The debate equivalent of the Hail Mary pass: exciting, good for an oooh or an aaah, but rarely, if ever, successful. Nonetheless, you ask, "If I stand out on a public square and shout that I am about to commit a terrorist act, is unreasonable for law enforcement to give me their undivided attention?"

Undivided attention? Sure, I'm cool with that. But detention and seizure of your personal effects? I'd argue that anyone screaming out loud that he will commit a terrorist attack in the near future is more in need of a dollar and directions to the nearest "clinic," than for FBI action.

Posted by: Mike at February 7, 2006 4:15 PM

By the way, Crank, you just inadvertantly obliterated any argument for legalizing or allowing torture.

In the ticking time bomb scenario everyone likes to tout, the Jack Bauer's in the situation would do what was necessary and worry about the legal ramifications later. Do you think they wouldn't be pardoned, if they were ever even convicted? The idea should not be to lower the bar pre-emptively—for torture or unreasonable search or wiretaps.

Posted by: Mr Furious at February 7, 2006 4:17 PM

This issue isn't the guy on the town square, but the computer in the library. Public property, no right to privacy. If you want privacy, buy your own computer, don't use the one in the library.

Posted by: maddirishman at February 7, 2006 4:43 PM

I guess the librarian was standing athwart browser history, yelling Stop!

Posted by: Attila (Pillage Idiot) at February 7, 2006 4:49 PM


I agree w/ you in principle- public property, no right to privacy- but there's a lot of debate about the extent to which one has an expectation of privacy, even on a publicly used and accessed computer. I'm not saying I'm necessarily swayed by the following analogy, but its got some logic-

Whats the difference betw/ accessing your private e-mail account at home vs at the local library. Is your expectation of privacy any less?

Before you answer, "of course", consider the following- you move, and instead of receiving your mail through the slot in your door, you have to walk to the corner, where all of the complexes mailboxes are. Is your expectation of privacy any less?

Again, I'm not saying I'm persuaded, but its food for thought. Warrantless probable cause searches are an entirely different ball of wax. Resolution of the current NSA situation might help towards a definition, at least in the national security realm. Then again, vagueness has its uses, as the founders well knew.

Posted by: seamus at February 7, 2006 6:11 PM

Mr Furious - I don't see how this affects the torture debate at all; my point is, they didn't actually need a warrant (both because of exigent circumstances and because of the absence of a reasonable expectation of privacy in a public computer on public property), and the FBI let themselves get sytmied by a librarian raising legally frivolous objections.

Anyway, as you'll recall, I'm not in favor of legalized torture, so whatever the connection is doesn't bother me.

Posted by: The Crank at February 7, 2006 6:24 PM

And yes: I accept the possibility that this author has the facts wrong. But if the facts are as stated, these FBI agents screwed up big time.

Posted by: The Crank at February 7, 2006 6:24 PM

I fired off my comment without looking back at your writings on torture, but that is certainly not to say or imply that I thought you supported it. I am glad, and not a bit surprised, that you don't.

Anyway, it's long been my contention that in the event of a true ticking time bomb scenario, the proper authorities (or rogue Jack Bauer-type) would do whatever was necessary at the time if thousands (or millions) of lives hung in the balance. Knowing full well that their course of action was illegal, yet necessary, they would do what they had to and hope, in the end, they'd be redeemed.

If that situation occured, what court would convict? Or what President wouldn't pardon? OR, given the chance to save countless lives (or that of my family, etc) who wouldn't break the law and throw themselves at the mercy of their fellow man or be willing to risk prison?

I hate to constantly use '24' as a reference (especially since I haven't watched since the second season), but that's the image or scenario the torture supporters are trying to scare us with.

The object should not be to lower the bar so that torture EVER becomes legal. If anyone representing this country ever resorts to torture it better be under the most dire circumstances possible when there is no possible alternative.

The parallel with this library case, while a stretch, is that the error, caution or burden should be on the side of privacy whenever possible. It shouldn't become the practice of public resource computers at libraries, schools or wherever to become conduits for surveilance or surrendering your civil rights. the FBI should still have a warrant or a damn good reason to move without one.

I don't know any more about this example than you presented here, if the FBI really backed down to a librarian and it cost lives, they made the wrong judgement. Since that didn't occur, perhaps they were unsure about their lead or perhaps they just got lucky, but one might argue, they made the RIGHT judgement.

If I'm an FBI agent (my cousin is) and I am sure that I can save lives by violating somebodies rights, even if it costs my career, that's probably a risk I'd be willing to take. But that's the kind of gravity that decision should be made with, not "Hey, partner, think this calls for the old "Suspension of the Constitution Terror Exemption"? or " don't worry, the SAC will back us up on this..."

In both cases, once a framework is in place allowing suspension of rights or allowance of torture, the real chance that it will be abused, misapplied or misinterpreted cannot be ignored. That is exactly what happened in Abu Garaib—the Pentagon and Administration sufficiently muddied the waters so that parameters were unclear and abuse was inevitable. If the rules are clear—NO TORTURE, PERIOD—without signing statement exmptions and winks and nods, then that shit won't happen. And if it does it better have been demonstrably worth it.

Posted by: Mr Furious at February 8, 2006 2:04 AM

Here's what the author of the column and the Michelle Malkin-types hyping it, conveniently left out of the story...

[Boston Globe link] "...Waltham police said several buildings at Brandeis and a public elementary school were evacuated after university officials received an e-mail warning that there would be a terrorist attack at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. A search of the buildings turned up no explosives, police said.


But by the time a warrant became an issue, law enforcement officials had determined there was no imminent danger and decided to cooperate with Newton officials, Marcinkiewicz said. She said no arrests had been made as of yesterday afternoon.

There it is, there was NO danger, NO threat, and the FBI knew their options and waited for the warrant. the only thing "incomplete and wrongheaded" (to use the author's own words) is his portrayal of a benign scenario as a hypothetical doomsday scenario, without mentioning that he is full of shit.

That column you linked to was dated Feb. 6, the NRO link, the 7th. The Globe piece I link to is dated January 26 and I found it by clicking the related stories from Malkin's link to the same column.

Posted by: Mr Furious at February 8, 2006 9:47 AM


Rock on, bro. As we suspected, common sense did indeed prevail.

And the more conservative folks in our country accuse the left wing media (whatever the hell that is) of hysteria.

Posted by: Mike at February 8, 2006 10:03 AM

Clarification: Malkin linked to the same Op-Ed column appearing in another paper that had comments. One of the commenters had the link, not a related stories banner.

Malkin linked to that column at 10:48 am, the NRO at 9:00 am. The commenter linked to the two week old Globe story during lunch, so neither Malkin nor the NRO can be fingered for the complete and utter negligence I was hoping (ignoring a link to the truth right there), but neither exercised even the minimal due diligence. Malkin later mentions she would be on Hannity that evening. I'm pretty sure she felt compelled to further this bullshit for a national TV audience.

Posted by: Mr Furious at February 8, 2006 10:05 AM

The press (right wing, left wing, whatever) hypes, misinterprets, forgets what it wants when it wants.

Mr Furious is to be commended for his diligence. At the end of the day however, a very strong argument can be made that a person has no expectation of privacy in a public computer. The FBI has the right to look at computers in libraries for any, or for no, reason at all.

Mike's, and Furious', point about the practicality of going to the mattresses vs a self-righteous librarian- given FBI's knowledge about the threat - speaks to their training and professionalism. It probably would have been a bad idea to put her in handcuffs and seize the computer, but it would not have been illegal.

Posted by: seamus at February 8, 2006 10:57 AM

"What the hell kind of FBI agents would let a librarian get in the way of stopping a possible terrorist attack?"

One who can expect to spend the rest of his relatively short career in the Midland, Tx office or some such backwater.

Posted by: Strick at February 8, 2006 12:44 PM

Clearly, I had a bit of time on my hands this morning...

The point is, that it really wasn't hard to find the complete story. It took me much longer to type up my rants than to do the research.

Posted by: Mr Furious at February 8, 2006 10:36 PM
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