Saving the NSA Effort on Some Calls to India

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President Bush has acknowledged that the National Security Agency has been eavesdropping on international phone calls without court permission. That's of special interest to commentator Sandip Roy, who makes a lot of phone calls home to India.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A controversy in the United States is causing one of our commentators to do some thinking. President Bush acknowledged the National Security Agency has been eavesdropping on international phone calls without court permission, which is of special interest to commentator Sandip Roy, who makes a lot of phone calls home to India.

SANDIP ROY:

To whoever may be eavesdropping on me for the NSA, my apologies. You were probably expecting triple agents in Tehran or coup plotters in Baghdad. Instead you got my mother in Calcutta. There you sit in your cubicle in some dreary government building, tapping into my midnight calls to India, your cup of snack-machine coffee going cold as you dig through your dog-eared Bengali-to-English dictionary. Let me save you some time. My mother and I pretty much have the same conversation every week.

(Soundbite of telephone ringing; phone call)

Ms. RAEBA ROY(ph) (Sandip's Mother): Hello?

ROY: Hello, Ma.

We always start with health. If you've been paying any attention at all, you know my mom just had a cataract operation.

(Soundbite of phone call)

Ms. ROY: (Bengali spoken)

ROY: She only needs her drops four times a day now instead of 17. And that really is the number of eyedrops, not a secret hawala account number to transfer terrorist funds. Poor eavesdropper, your eyes must be glazing over by now. But then she says...

(Soundbite of phone call)

Ms. ROY: (Bengali spoken)

ROY: What was that?

(Soundbite of phone call)

Ms. ROY: (Bengali spoken)

ROY: Didn't it sound a little bit like Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's henchman? Alas, (Bengali spoken) is just a Bengali word for a meal you feed a bride before the wedding--in this case, my cousin. If you don't believe me, here comes the menu.

(Soundbite of phone call)

Ms. ROY: (Bengali spoken)

ROY: That's rice, dhal with vegetable, cabbage for my aunt who's vegetarian, a vegetable bake, chicken.

(Soundbite of phone call)

Ms. ROY: (Bengali spoken)

ROY: Dear NSA Agent, I understand you look for repeating patterns in the conversations you monitor. Well, my mom has plenty of those. Number one is her grandchildren.

(Soundbite of phone call)

Ms. ROY: (Bengali spoken)

ROY: If you need to use the restroom, this would be a good moment because my mother will be on this topic for a while. My nephew is taking his Bengali exam. My niece just got her grades. There is no escape.

(Soundbite of phone call)

Ms. ROY: (Bengali spoken)

ROY: So before you pass out from boredom at your desk in that undisclosed bunker, I'll come clean. There is a secret meaning to our conversation. This is not just a phone line you're listening in on. What you're really wiretapping is an umbilical cord, one that stretches halfway around the world.

(Soundbite of phone call)

Ms. ROY: (Bengali spoken)

ROY: OK. Bye.

Ms. ROY: Bye.

INSKEEP: Commentator Sandip Roy is editor for New America Media in San Francisco and host of "Up Front" on member station KALW. His mother Raeba Roy, who must be very proud of him, lives in Calcutta.

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