Just across the wire. USA Today: the Jason Leopold of the mainstream media.

Like most Americans, I tuned out of the NSA story a few days ago. But something linked today on Media Blog has me tuning back in. Here it is, from the Baltimore Sun. It might be behind a registration wall, in which case try this link instead. It’s essentially a hit piece on Hayden, accusing him of having torpedoed a data-sifting program called ThinThread which, to hear the author tell it, was so spectacularly effective as to lend new meaning to the term “deus ex machina.” But the real lede is buried deep within the piece. Spruiell digs it out:

Officials say that after the successful tests of ThinThread in 1998, Taylor argued that the NSA should implement the full program. He later told the 9/11 Commission that ThinThread could have identified the hijackers had it been in place before the attacks, according to an intelligence expert close to the commission.

But at the time, NSA lawyers viewed the program as too aggressive. At that point, the NSA’s authority was limited strictly to overseas communications, with the FBI responsible for analyzing domestic calls. The lawyers feared that expanding NSA data collection to include communications in the United States could violate civil liberties, even with the encryption function.

Taylor had an intense meeting with Hayden and NSA lawyers. “It was a very emotional debate,” recalled a former intelligence official. “Eventually it was rejected by [NSA] lawyers.”

Spruiell puts it thusly:

[O]ut of all the noise in this article, a signal comes through loud and clear:

The NSA had developed this potentially life-saving program before 9/11, but privacy concerns prevented its implementation. The 9/11 attacks changed all that. Now that the program’s successor has been leaked to the media, the privacy absolutists want to undermine it again.

Indeed. Go read his post and the article while you can. They’re headed straight for the memory hole.