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Context of 'Late April 2006: President Bush Personally Refuses to Allow Justice Department Investigation of NSA Wiretapping Program'

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Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the NSA expands surveillance operations, relying on its own authorities; some sources indicate this includes a massive domestic data mining and call tracking program, and some contend that it is illegal. In a 2006 public briefing, NSA Director Michael Hayden will say, “In the days after 9/11, NSA was using its authorities and its judgment to appropriately respond to the most catastrophic attack on the homeland in the history of the nation.” Following an October 1 briefing by Hayden to the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will write to Hayden on October 11, saying, “[Y]ou indicated that you had been operating since the September 11 attacks with an expansive view of your authorities with respect to the conduct of electronic surveillance” (see October 11, 2001). Some evidence indicates NSA domestic surveillance began even before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). [Nancy Pelosi, 1/6/2006; Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006]
No Connection to Bush-Authorized Warrantless Domestic Call Monitoring - In his 2006 remarks, Hayden will clearly distinguish between the expansion he initiates under his own authorities, and the warrantless monitoring of calls with one end outside the US authorized later by President Bush (see October 4, 2001), saying, “[E]xcept that they involved NSA, these [Hayden-authorized] programs were not related… to the authorization that the president has recently spoken about.” [Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006]
'Stellar Wind' Is Name of Hayden-Authorized Program - In 2012 interviews, former NSA official William Binney will indicate that “Stellar Wind” is the name of the surveillance program initiated by Hayden. [Wired News, 2/15/2012; Democracy Now!, 4/20/2012] Some sources will refer to the Bush-authorized eavesdropping as being part of the Stellar Wind program. [Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
Differing Views on Authority for Surveillance - In his 2006 briefing, Hayden will say the Fourth Amendment only protects Americans against “unreasonable search and seizure,” and that 9/11 changed what was to be considered “reasonable.” Specifically, if communications are believed to have “[i]nherent foreign intelligence value,” interception of these communications is reasonable. In addition to referring to Hayden’s “view of [his] authorities” as “expansive,” Pelosi’s letter will give another indication that the NSA’s new standard is significantly broader than it was previously, stating, “You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted] being of foreign intelligence interest.” Hayden will publicly clarify in 2006 that the authority for the NSA’s operational expansion exists under an Executive Order issued by President Reagan, saying, “These decisions were easily within my authorities as the director of NSA under and [sic] executive order; known as Executive Order 12333.” And, he will say, “I briefed the entire House Intelligence Committee on the 1st of October on what we had done under our previously existing authorities” (see October 1, 2001). In her October 11 letter, Pelosi will also write of having concerns about the program that haven’t been resolved due to restrictions on information-sharing with Congress imposed by Bush (see October 11, 2001). Binney, who pioneered the development of certain NSA data mining and surveillance technologies, will come to believe that what the NSA is doing is unconstitutional; he will first take his concerns to Congress (see Before October 31, 2001) and then resign on October 31 (see October 31, 2001). [Nancy Pelosi, 1/6/2006; Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006]
Surveillance Involves Domestic Communications - In his 2006 remarks, Hayden will not say the NSA is only targeting foreign communications under his post-9/11 authorization. Rather, the context of his remarks will indicate he is referring to domestic communications. More specifically, Hayden will state: “If the US person information isn’t relevant, the data is suppressed. It’s a technical term we use; we call it ‘minimized.’ The individual is not even mentioned. Or if he or she is, he or she is referred to as ‘US Person Number One’ or ‘US Person Number Two.’ Now, inherent intelligence value. If the US person is actually the named terrorist, well, that could be a different matter.” Hayden will also reveal that information is being passed to the FBI, an investigative agency with a primarily domestic jurisdiction, saying, “[A]s another part of our adjustment, we also turned on the spigot of NSA reporting to FBI in, frankly, an unprecedented way.” [Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006] One of Pelosi’s statements in her letter to Hayden may indicate an aspect of the domestic component: “You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted] being of foreign intelligence interest,” she will write. [Nancy Pelosi, 1/6/2006] In a 2011 interview with Jane Mayer published in the New Yorker, Binney will say the NSA was obtaining “billing records on US citizens” and “putting pen registers [call logs] on everyone in the country.” [New Yorker, 5/23/2011] And in a 2012 Wired article, NSA expert James Bamford will write that Binney “explains that the agency could have installed its tapping gear at the nation’s cable landing stations—the more than two dozen sites on the periphery of the US where fiber-optic cables come ashore. If it had taken that route, the NSA would have been able to limit its eavesdropping to just international communications, which at the time was all that was allowed under US law. Instead it chose to put the wiretapping rooms at key junction points throughout the country—large, windowless buildings known as switches—thus gaining access to not just international communications but also to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the US.” Binney’s account is supported by other sources (see October 2001). [Wired News, 2/15/2012]
Surveillance Program Is Massive - Bamford, citing Binney, will write: “Stellar Wind… included not just eavesdropping on domestic phone calls but the inspection of domestic email. At the outset the program recorded 320 million calls a day, he says, which represented about 73 to 80 percent of the total volume of the agency’s worldwide intercepts.” It is unclear exactly when this level of surveillance began. According to whistleblower AT&T employee Mark Klein, construction of secret rooms splitting communications traffic does not begin until Fall 2002 (see Fall 2002). Bamford will write that Binney says, “[T]he taps in the secret rooms dotting the country are actually powered by highly sophisticated software programs that conduct ‘deep packet inspection,’ examining Internet traffic as it passes through the 10-gigabit-per-second cables at the speed of light.” [Wired News, 2/15/2012] Also, Binney’s remark to Jane Mayer that the NSA was “putting pen registers on everyone in the country” indicates the broad scope of the program. [New Yorker, 5/23/2011]

Entity Tags: Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), US Department of Justice, National Security Agency, George W. Bush, Michael Hayden, Al-Qaeda, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, House Intelligence Committee, Nancy Pelosi, Ronald Reagan

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Steven Bradbury.Steven Bradbury. [Source: Mark Wilson / Getty Images]Steven Bradbury is nominated by President Bush to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). He will continue in that position on an acting basis into 2008, even though Congressional Democrats refuse to confirm him for the job, and even though his continuation in the post violates the Vacancies Reform Act, which precludes non-confirmed appointees for holding their positions for over 210 days (see October 16, 2007). [Washington Times, 9/20/2007; New York Times, 10/4/2007; TPM Muckraker, 10/19/2007] Bradbury takes over from Jack Goldsmith, who resigned the position under fire (see June 17, 2004).
Arm of the White House - Bradbury has a long history of supporting the White House’s agenda of expansive executive power. He came to the Justice Department after clerking with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and mentoring under former Whitewater special counsel Kenneth Starr. [New York Times, 10/4/2007] A co-founder of the Federalist Society [International Herald Tribune, 10/15/2007] , he is as staunchly conservative as any Bush appointee, but unlike some of the more outspoken of his colleagues, he comes across as low-key, pragmatic, and non-confrontational. As a Justice Department lawyer, Bradbury proved himself in line with the neoconservative views of Vice President Dick Cheney and Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington. Former State Department senior official Philip Zelikow recalls Bradbury as being “fundamentally sympathetic to what the White House and the CIA wanted to do.” Bradbury was brought in to the OLC in part to rein in that office, which under its previous head Jack Goldsmith became the hub of the internal opposition to Bush’s policies of “enhanced interrogation” and domestic surveillance (see Late 2003-2005). In 2005, Bradbury signs two secret Justice Department memos giving broad authorization and legal justification for the CIA’s torture of terrorist suspects (see February 2005 and Late 2005),. Bradbury works closely with then-White House counsel and current attorney general Alberto Gonzales to bring the Justice Department back into line with White House demands. Conservative legal scholar Douglas Kmiec, who headed the OLC under former presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush, says he believes the intense pressures from the current administration’s campaign against terrorism has warped the OLC’s proper role. “The office was designed to insulate against any need to be an advocate,” Kmiec says. Now the OLC has “lost its ability to say no.… The approach changed dramatically with opinions on the war on terror. The office became an advocate for the president’s policies.”
Probation - Bradbury was first considered for the job after Gonzales, newly confirmed as attorney general, rejected the idea of promoting Daniel Levin, the acting head of the OLC after Goldsmith’s departure. Gonzales considered Levin unsuitable for the job because of his independence and support for Goldsmith’s dissents. Instead, Gonzales chose Bradbury for the job. But the White House was uncertain of Bradbury’s reliability, and so placed him on a sort of “internal trial,” monitored by Gonzales’s replacement at the White House, Harriet Miers. Miers judged Bradbury’s loyalty to the president and his willingness to work with Gonzales in justifying White House policy decisions. Bradbury reportedly understands that his “probation” is intended for him to show just how compliant and supportive he is of the White House, and he soon wins the confidence of the White House by completely aligning himself with Addington. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
'Sordid criminal conspiracy' - Harper’s Magazine commentator and lawyer Scott Horton will write in November 2007 that it is obvious “Bradbury was picked for one reason: to provide continuing OLC cover for the torture conspirators.… The Justice Department’s strategy has been to cloak Bradbury’s torture memoranda in secrecy classifications and then to lie aggressively about their very existence.… This episode demonstrates once more the intimate interrelationship between the policies of torture, secrecy, and the right to lie to the public and the courts in the interests of shielding the Bush administration from public embarrassment. And once more the Justice Department is enlisted not in the enforcement of the law, but rather in a sordid criminal conspiracy.” [Harper's, 11/7/2007]

Entity Tags: Kenneth Starr, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Security Agency, Philip Zelikow, US Department of Justice, Steven Bradbury, Scott Horton, Vacancies Reform Act, James B. Comey Jr., Jack Goldsmith, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Harper’s Magazine, Clarence Thomas, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Daniel Levin, Alberto R. Gonzales, Harriet E. Miers, Geneva Conventions, Douglas Kmiec, David S. Addington, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) opens an internal investigation into the department’s role in approving the Bush administration’s domestic warrantless wiretapping program. OPR counsel Marshall Jarrett informs Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) of the investigation into the program, initiated after the 9/11 attacks by the National Security Agency and authorized via a secret executive order from President Bush shortly thereafter (see Early 2002). Jarrett writes that the OPR probe will include “whether such activities are permissible under existing law.” Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos says the inquiry will be quite limited: “They will not be making a determination on the lawfulness of the NSA program but rather will determine whether the department lawyers complied with their professional obligations in connection with that program.” Scolinos calls the OPR probe “routine.” Hinchey says he welcomes the probe, which may determine “how President Bush went about creating this Big Brother program.” [Washington Post, 2/16/2006] The OPR inquiry is derailed after the NSA, with Bush’s authorization, refuses to give routine security clearances to OPR lawyers that would allow them to examine the relevant documents (see May 9, 2006).

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Tasia Scolinos, H. Marshall Jarrett, National Security Agency, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Maurice Hinchey, Office of Professional Responsibility

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Bush personally intervenes in a Justice Department attempt to investigate the NSA’s domestic surveillance program (see May 9, 2006), refusing to grant the Justice Department’s investigators routine security clearances so they can proceed with the investigation. Bush’s intervention is later admitted by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 18, 2006. Bush’s action to block the granting of clearances to the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is unprecedented, and astonishes many legal experts. As a result of his decision, the OPR has no choice but to drop the investigation (see May 9, 2006). The OPR investigation would not have determined whether the surveillance program was illegal or unconstitutional; rather, the office would have investigated “allegations of misconduct involving department attorneys that relate to the exercise of their authority to investigate, litigate, or provide legal advice,” according to the office’s policies and procedures. [Associated Press, 5/11/2006; USA Today, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006; National Journal, 3/15/2007]
Stopping Gonzales from Being Investigated - The press later learns that had the probe gone forward, Gonzales himself would have been a prime target of inquiry. It is unclear if Bush knows the OPR investigation would have focused on Gonzales. The probe would have focused on Gonzales’s role in authorizing the eavesdropping program while he was White House counsel, as well as his subsequent oversight of the program as attorney general. Before Bush shuts down the probe, OPR investigators were preparing to question two crucial witnesses—Jack Goldsmith, the former chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and James A. Baker, the counsel for the department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. Both Goldsmith and Baker had raised questions about the propriety and legality of numerous aspects of the wiretapping program. The OPR would have also examined documents detailing Gonzales’s participation in the program. [National Journal, 3/15/2007]
OPR Chief Counsel Protests Decision - Upon Gonzales’s admission of Bush’s action, OPR chief counsel H. Marshall Jarrett responds: “Since its creation some 31 years ago, OPR has conducted many highly sensitive investigations involving executive branch programs and has obtained access to information classified at the highest levels. In all those years, OPR has never been prevented from initiating or pursuing an investigation.” Jarrett notes in other memos that clearances had previously been granted to lawyers and agents from the Justice Department and the FBI who were assigned to investigate the original leak of the NSA program’s existence to the media. He also writes that numerous other investigators and officials, including members of Congress and the members of a federal civil liberties board, had been granted access to or been briefed on the program. On March 21, he will write to Gonzales’s deputy, “In contrast, our repeated requests for access to classified information about the NSA program have not been granted.” Gonzales will defend the president’s decicion by saying, in a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), that Bush “decided that protecting the secrecy and security of the program requires that a strict limit be placed on the number of persons granted access to information about the program for non-operational reasons. Every additional security clearance that is granted for the [program] increases the risk that national security might be compromised.” In other words, granting the OPR investigators routine security clearances, as has been done countless times in the last three decades as well as in the instances noted by Jarrett, would have jeopardized national security, according to Gonzales’s reasoning. [Associated Press, 5/11/2006; USA Today, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006] “It is very difficult to understand why OPR was not given clearance so they could conduct their investigation,” Specter will say. “Many other lawyers in the Department of Justice had clearance.” [Boston Globe, 7/19/2006]
OPR Investigators Seeking Information Already in Justice Department's Possession - The questions surrounding the refusal to grant security clearances deepen when it is learned that the OPR investigators were only seeking information and documents relating to the NSA’s surveillance program that were already in the Justice Department’s possession, according to two senior government officials. The only classified information that OPR investigators were seeking was what had already been given to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, Gonzales, and other department attorneys in their original approval and advice on the program, the two senior government officials say. OPR’s request was limited to documents such as internal Justice Department communications and legal opinions, and didn’t extend to secrets that are the sole domain of other agencies. [National Journal, 5/29/2006]
OPR No; Private Citizens Yes - Jarrett will also note in his March 21 letter that, while Bush refused security clearances to OPR investigators, five “private individuals” who serve on Bush’s “Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board have been briefed on the NSA program and have been granted authorization to receive the clearances in question.” Private citizens, especially those who serve only part-time on governmental panels, have traditionally been considered higher security risks than full-time government employees, who can lose their jobs or even be prosecuted for leaking to the press. Jarrett says that in contrast to the private individuals on Bush’s advisory board, OPR’s “repeated requests for access to classified information about the NSA have not been granted. As a result, this office, which is charged with monitoring the integrity of the department’s attorneys and with ensuring that the highest standards of professional ethics are maintained, has been precluded from performing its duties.” Michael Shaheen, who headed the OPR from its inception until 1997, will say that his staff “never, ever was denied a clearance” and that OPR under his leadership had conducted numerous investigations involving the activities of various attorneys general. “No attorney general has ever said no to me,” Shaheen says. [National Journal, 7/18/2006]
Inquiry Opened - The Justice Department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine, will open a preliminary inquiry into how the FBI has used the NSA’s surveillance data, which has often been obtained without judicial warrants and is considered by many legal experts to be illegal. Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who led the Congressional calls for an investigation of the NSA, says Bush’s decision is an example of “an administration that thinks it doesn’t have to follow the law.” [Washington Post, 7/19/2006] “We can’t have a president acting in a dictatorial fashion,” he says. [USA Today, 7/18/2006]
'Abusing' Their Offices? - Bruce Fein, a Republican constitutional lawyer who served in Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department, compares Gonzales unfavorably to Elliot Richardson, who resigned in 1973 rather than obey then-President Nixon’s order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. “If he was like Elliot Richardson, he’d say, ‘Mr. President, I quit,’” Fein observes. [Think Progress, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006] In 2007, law professor and legal ethics expert Charles Wolfram will say that if Gonzales did not inform the president that he might be a target of the OPR investigation, then he ill-served Bush and abused “the discretion of his office” for his own benefit. However, Wolfram will continue, if Gonzales did inform Bush that the probe might harm Gonzales, then “both [men] are abusing the discretion of their offices.” [National Journal, 3/15/2007]
Defending Bush's Decision - Bush officials dismiss the attempted investigation, and the criticisms by Fein, Hinchey, and others, as politically motivated. White House press secretary Tony Snow says the NSA wiretapping program is adequately supervised by internal oversight procedures, including periodic reviews by Gonzales. [Think Progress, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006] “The Office of Professional Responsibility was not the proper venue for conducting that,” Snow says. He adds that Bush’s denial of the security clearances is warranted because “in the case of a highly classified program, you need to keep the number of people to it tight for reasons of national security, and that was what he did.” [National Journal, 3/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Maurice Hinchey, John Ashcroft, James Baker, Michael Shaheen, US Department of Justice, Office of Professional Responsibility, National Security Agency, Ronald Reagan, Jack Goldsmith, H. Marshall Jarrett, Elliot Richardson, George W. Bush, Alberto R. Gonzales, Archibald Cox, Glenn Fine, Arlen Specter, Charles Wolfram, Bruce Fein, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Senate Judiciary Committee, Tony Snow

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Maurice Hinchey.Maurice Hinchey. [Source: Washington Post]A Justice Department investigation into the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program ends before it begins, because the NSA will not grant Justice Department lawyers routine security clearances. The investigation had been opened in February 2006 (see February 2, 2006) when Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) asked the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) to investigate the NSA’s warrantless surveillance of US citizens (see After September 11, 2001). Without security clearances, investigators could not examine NSA lawyers’ role in the program. OPR counsel H. Marshall Jarrett writes in a letter to Hinchey: “We have been unable to make any meaningful progress in our investigation because OPR has been denied security clearances for access to information about the NSA program. Without these clearances, we cannot investigate this matter and therefore have closed our investigation.” Jarrett and his office have made routine requests for security clearances since January, to no avail. The OPR’s investigation would have focused strictly on whether Justice Department lawyers violated ethical rules, and would not have examined the entire NSA program. Hinchey says, “This administration thinks they can just violate any law they want, and they’ve created a culture of fear to try to get away with that.” [Associated Press, 5/11/2006] Hinchey writes to Jarrett, regarding the failure to grant clearances: “We are perplexed and cannot make sense of your denial of these security clearances. Our request did not ask OPR to give us the intricate details of the NSA program; we understand that such a request would not even be within OPR’s jurisdiction. There appear to be no reasonable grounds for blocking this investigation. Not only does your denial of their request for a security clearance not make sense, it is unprecedented.” Hinchey will try, and fail, to get a bill through the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee to force the White House, Justice Department, and Defense Department to turn over to Congress all documents related to the closure of the OPR probe. He will write in a letter to President Bush, “If the NSA program is justified and legal, as you yourself have indicated, then there is no reason to prevent this investigation from continuing.” [US House of Representatives, 7/18/2006] In June 2006, it will be revealed that Bush personally made the decision not to grant the OPR investigators security clearances (see Late April 2006).

Entity Tags: Office of Professional Responsibility, Maurice Hinchey, US Department of Justice, George W. Bush, H. Marshall Jarrett, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Three top Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Russell Feingold (D-WI) send a letter to President Bush urging him to withdraw acting Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) head Steven Bradbury from consideration for the position. Since Bradbury’s ascension to the post on an acting basis over two years ago (see June 23, 2005), Democrats have blocked him from being given confirmation hearings and formally becoming the head of the office. The senators write that they are troubled by Bradbury’s support for the administration’s position on aggressive interrogation of terror suspects and the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. They note that Bradbury was involved in the denial of security clearances to members from the Office of Professional Responsibility who attempted to investigate the program (see Late April 2006). “With Alberto Gonzales’s resignation,” the letter reads, “there may be an opportunity to undo some of the damage done during his tenure. It is doubtful that progress will be possible without new leadership at OLC.” Durbin says in a press conference, “I think we need new leadership at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.… OLC is a small office, but it really has a lot of power, especially in this administration.” [Senate Judiciary Committee, 10/16/2007 pdf file; Think Progress, 10/16/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Senate Judiciary Committee, Steven Bradbury, Russell D. Feingold, Terrorist Surveillance Program, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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