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Context of 'Late 2005: FISA Court Learns of More Warrant Applications Based on Illegally Obtained Evidence'

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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

FISC Presiding Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.FISC Presiding Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. [Source: Washington Post]James Baker, counsel for intelligence policy in the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (no relation to the former Secretary of State James A. Baker), informs the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that the government has, at least twice, improperly used excluded evidence from NSA domestic wiretaps to obtain warrants from FISC. Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the senior FISC judge, is angered by this as both she and her predecessor, Royce Lambeth, have insisted that no evidence obtained from warrantless wiretaps can be used to obtain warrants for further surveillance from FISC. The Justice Department assured them that the administration would never attempt to secure warrants in such a manner. By using the excluded information, the Justice Department rendered useless the federal screening system put in place to keep such evidence from reaching FISC, which did not want to receive it due to the questionable legality of the domestic surveillance program (see December 15, 2005). Kollar-Kotelly’s complaint about the use of tainted evidence results in a brief suspension of the NSA wiretapping program. But the practice will continue (see 2005). [Washington Post, 2/9/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, James Baker, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, National Security Agency, Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, Bush administration (43), Royce Lambeth, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Thomas Tamm.Thomas Tamm. [Source: Newsweek]Thomas Tamm, a veteran Justice Department prosecutor with a high-level security clearance, is finishing up a yearlong post with the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), a Justice Department unit handling wiretaps of suspected terrorists and spies. As his stint is coming to a close, Tamm learns of the existence of a highly classified National Security Agency (NSA) program that is electronically eavesdropping on American citizens—domestic wiretapping. He later learns that “the program,” as it is referred to by those few who know of it at all, is called “Stellar Wind.”
Concealment from FISA Judges - Tamm learns that the NSA program is being hidden from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, a panel of federal judges who by law must approve and supervise such surveillance for intelligence purposes. OIPR lawyers ask the FISA Court for permission to implement national-security wiretaps. But, Tamm learns, some wiretaps—signed only by Attorney General John Ashcroft—are going to the chief FISA Court judge and not the other ten judges on the FISA panel. The “AG-only” requests are extraordinarily secretive, and involve information gleaned from what is only referred to as “the program”—Stellar Wind. Only a very few White House and US intelligence officials know the name and the nature of “the program.” Stellar Wind involves domestic wiretaps on telephones and computer e-mail accounts derived from, but not necessarily linked to, information secured from captured al-Qaeda computers and cell phones overseas. With the voluntary cooperation of American telecommunications companies (see 1997-August 2007 and After, February 2001, February 2001, and February 2001 and Beyond), the NSA program also collects vast amounts of personal data about US citizens’ phone and e-mail communications. The program also collects an enormous amount of financial information from the Treasury Department (see February 28, 2006), all collected as part of the NSA’s “data mining” efforts (see Late 1999 and After September 11, 2001).
Program Is 'Probably Illegal,' Says DOJ Official - Tamm, suspicious about the unusual requests, asks his supervisors about the program, and is told to drop the subject. “[N]o one wanted to talk about it,” he will recall. Tamm asks one of his supervisors, Lisa Farabee, “Do you know what the program is?” Farabee replies: “Don’t even go there.… I assume what they are doing is illegal.” Tamm is horrified. His first thought, he will later recall, is, “I’m a law enforcement officer and I’m participating in something that is illegal?” Tamm soon finds out from deputy OIPR counsel Mark Bradley that the chief FISA judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, is raising unwanted questions about the warrant requests (see 2004 and 2005), and “the AG-only cases are being shut down.” Bradley adds, “This may be [a time] the attorney general gets indicted.”
Request for Guidance Turned Down - For weeks, Tamm agonizes over what to do. He seeks guidance from a former colleague, Sandra Wilkinson, who now works on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The two have coffee in the Senate cafeteria, and Tamm asks Wilkinson to ask if anyone on the committee knows anything about “the program.” Weeks go by without a response, and Tamm sends Wilkinson an e-mail from his OIPR computer—an e-mail that will later alert the FBI to Tamm’s interest in Stellar Wind. During a second conversation, Wilkinson refuses to give Tamm any information. “Well, you know, then,” he replies, “I think my only option is to go to the press.”
Contacting the New York Times - Tamm finally decides to contact the New York Times’s Eric Lichtblau, who has written several stories on the Justice Department that impressed Tamm. By this point he has transferred out of OIPR and back into a Justice Department office that would allow him to return to the courtroom. Tamm calls Lichtblau from a pay phone near the US District Courthouse in Washington. “My whole body was shaking,” he will recall. He identifies himself only as “Mark” (his middle name), and arranges to meet Lichtblau at a bookstore near the Justice Department. (In his 2008 book Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice, Lichtblau describes Tamm as “a walk-in” source who was “agitated about something going on in the intelligence community.” Lichtblau will describe Tamm as wary and “maddeningly vague,” but as they continue to meet—usually in bookstores and coffee shops in the Capitol District—Tamm’s “credibility and his bona fides became clear and his angst appears sincere. Eighteen months later, after finally overriding a request and warning from President Bush not to print the story (see December 6, 2005), the Times reports on the existence of the NSA program (see December 15, 2005). [Ars Technica, 12/16/2008; Newsweek, 12/22/2008]

Entity Tags: Mark Bradley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Eric Lichtblau, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, Bush administration (43), ’Stellar Wind’, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Lisa Farabee, Senate Judiciary Committee, Thomas Tamm, Sandra Wilkinson, Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, New York Times, US Department of the Treasury, National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the presiding judge over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), warns the Justice Department that if it does not stop using evidence collected with warrantless wiretaps to obtain warrants to continue surveillance, her court will be more reluctant to grant warrants for surveillance. Kollar-Kotelly has complained about this before (see 2004). Though both Kollar-Kotelly and her predecessor, Judge Royce Lambeth, express concerns to senior officials that Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program is inherently unconstitutional, neither judge feels that they have the authority to rule on the president’s power to order such surveillance. Instead, they work to preserve the integrity of the FISA process. Eventually, the judges reach a compromise with government lawyers: any case using evidence from warrantless wiretaps that is to be presented to the judges for FISA warrants to continue monitoring the same suspects will be “tagged,” and that evidence will not be used to obtain warrants. Those cases, numbering less than ten a year, are to be presented only to the presiding judge. Lambeth and Kollar-Kotelly both feel that the process will work primarily because of the trust they have developed in James Baker, the Justice Department’s liaison to FISC. Part of the problem stems from contradictory statements and claims from the administration; after the wiretapping program began (see After September 11, 2001, NSA chief Michael Hayden and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft made it clear in private meetings with the judges that President Bush wanted to gain all possible information on any potential terrorist attacks, and that such information-gathering must by necessity go beyond the FISA court’s probable-cause requirement. But more recent assertions by Hayden and Ashcroft’s successor, Alberto Gonzales (see December 19, 2005, claiming that NSA analysts do not listen to domestic calls unless they already have some evidence that one of the parties to the call has links to terrorism, contradict earlier administration claims to the judges. Kollar-Kotelly suspects that the entire truth of the matter is not being presented to her and the FISC. Her suspicions are validated when her court is, in spite of administration reassurances, again presented with warrant applications based on illegally obtained evidence (see Late 2005). [Washington Post, 2/9/2006]

Entity Tags: Royce Lambeth, US Department of Justice, National Security Agency, John Ashcroft, Alberto R. Gonzales, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, George W. Bush, James Baker, Michael Hayden

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the presiding judge over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), learns from Justice Department liaison James Baker that at least one more government application for a FISA surveillance warrant is based on illegally obtained evidence. Kollar-Kotelly has warned the Justice Department about this practice in the past (see 2004 and 2005). This time, administration officials claim that the evidence in question is presented due to an error by a low-level Defense Department employee. Kollar-Kotelly asks Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to ensure that such an “error” does not happen again. [Washington Post, 2/9/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, James Baker, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, US Department of Defense, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

New York Times headline from article revealing NSA surveillance.New York Times headline from article revealing NSA surveillance. [Source: CBS News]The New York Times reveals that after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush granted the National Security Agency (NSA) secret authorization to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the US without going through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to obtain legal warrants (see Early 2002. The administration justifies its actions by claiming such eavesdropping, which includes wiretapping phones and reading e-mails, is necessary to find evidence of terrorist activities, and says the nation needs the program after the 9/11 attacks exposed deficiencies in the US intelligence community’s information gathering process, and because of what they characterize as the “handcuffing” of US intelligence agencies by restrictive laws. The Times has had the article for over a year; the White House prevailed on the Times not to publish its findings for that time, arguing that publication would jeopardize continuing investigations and warn potential terrorists that they were under scrutiny. Many believe that the White House wanted to delay the publication of the article until well after the 2004 presidential elections. The Times delayed publication for over a year, and agreed to suppress some information that administration officials say could be useful to terrorists. (Less than two weeks before the article is published, Bush tries to convince the Times not to print the article at all: see December 6, 2005.) Two days after the Times publishes its article, Bush will acknowledge the order, and accuse the Times of jeopardizing national security (see December 17, 2005). The NSA program eavesdrops without warrants on up to 500 people in the US at any given time, officials say; the overall numbers have likely reached into the thousands. Overseas, up to 7,000 people suspected of terrorist ties are being monitored. Officials point to the discovery of a plot by Ohio trucker and naturalized US citizen and alleged al-Qaeda supporter Iyman Faris to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches as evidence of the program’s efficacy. They also cite the disruption of an al-Qaeda plot to detonate fertilizer bombs outside of British pubs and train stations by the program. But, officials say, most people targeted by the NSA for warrantless wiretapping have never been charged with a crime, and many are targeted because of questionable evidence and groundless suspicion. Many raise an outcry against the program, including members of Congress, civil liberties groups, immigrant rights groups, and others who insist that the program undermines fundamental Constitutional protections of US citizens’ civil liberties and rights to privacy. Several other government programs to spy on Americans have been challenged, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)‘s surveillance of US citizens’ library and Internet usage, the monitoring of peaceful antiwar protests, and the proposed use of public and private databases to hunt for terrorist links. In 2004, the Supreme Court overturned the administration’s claim that so-called “enemy detainees” were not entitled to judicial review of their indefinite detentions. Several senior officials say that when the warrantless wiretapping program began, it operated with few controls and almost no oversight outside of the NSA itself. The agency is not required to seek the approval of the Justice Department or anyone else outside the FISA court for its surveillance operations. Some NSA officials wanted nothing to do with a program they felt was patently illegal, according to a former senior Bush administration official. Internal concerns about the program prompted the Bush administration to briefly suspend the program while Justice Department officials audited it and eventually provided some guidelines for its operations. A complaint from Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the federal judge who oversees the FISA Court, helped spur the suspension, according to officials. Kollar-Kotelly questioned whether information obtained under the program was being improperly used as the basis for FISA wiretap warrant requests from the Justice Department. Some government lawyers say that the Justice Department may have deliberately misled Kollar-Kotelly and the FISA court about the program in order to keep the program under wraps. The judge insisted to Justice Department officials that any material gathered under the program not be used in seeking wiretap warrants from her court. The question also arose in the Faris case, when senior Justice Department officials worried that evidence obtained by warrantless wiretapping by the NSA of Faris could be used in court without having to lie to the court about its origins. [New York Times, 12/15/2005]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, Iyman Faris, National Security Agency, New York Times, Al-Qaeda, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and NSA chief Lieutenant General Michael Hayden conduct their own “briefing” on the recently revealed NSA wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005) with the White House press corps. Gonzales and Hayden make the following points:
bullet Gonzales says that he will not discuss the internal workings of the still-classified program, only what he calls its “legal underpinnings.”
bullet He claims that the program, which he calls “the most classified program that exists in the United States government,” is legal because President Bush authorized it, and says that the idea that “the United States is somehow spying on American citizens” is wrong: it is “[v]ery, very important to understand that one party to the communication has to be outside the United States.”
bullet He says that for the NSA to eavesdrop on a US citizen’s telephone or e-mail communications, “we have to have a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al-Qaeda, affiliated with al-Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with al-Qaeda, or working in support of al-Qaeda.” The wiretapping program is an essential part of the administration’s war against terror, he says.
bullet He goes on to claim that “the authorization to use force, which was passed by the Congress in the days following September 11th, constitutes” legal grounds for “this kind of signals intelligence.” [White House, 12/19/2005] The White House signed Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) into law on September 18, 2001 (see September 14-18, 2001. [White House, 9/18/2001]
Hayden Claims Supreme Court Backing - While he admits that the Congressional authorization to use force against international terrorism does not specifically mention any kind of electronic surveillance, he refers the listeners to the Supreme Court case concerning alleged US terrorist Yaser Esam Hamdi (see June 28, 2004), in which the Court ruled that Hamdi had the legal right to challenge his detention. “[T]he United States government took the position that Congress had authorized that detention in the authorization to use force, even though the authorization to use force never mentions the word ‘detention.’ And the Supreme Court, a plurality written by Justice O’Connor agreed. She said, it was clear and unmistakable that the Congress had authorized the detention of an American citizen captured on the battlefield as an enemy combatant for the remainder—the duration of the hostilities. So even though the authorization to use force did not mention the word, ‘detention,’ she felt that detention of enemy soldiers captured on the battlefield was a fundamental incident of waging war, and therefore, had been authorized by Congress when they used the words, ‘authorize the President to use all necessary and appropriate force.’ For the same reason, we believe signals intelligence is even more a fundamental incident of war, and we believe has been authorized by the Congress. And even though signals intelligence is not mentioned in the authorization to use force, we believe that the Court would apply the same reasoning to recognize the authorization by Congress to engage in this kind of electronic surveillance.”
Bush 'Very Concerned' With Protecting Civil Liberties - Gonzales insists, Bush “is very concerned about the protection of civil liberties, and that’s why we’ve got strict parameters, strict guidelines in place out at NSA to ensure that the program is operating in a way that is consistent with the President’s directives.” He adds, “[W]e feel comfortable that this surveillance is consistent with requirements of the Fourth Amendment. The touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness, and the Supreme Court has long held that there are exceptions to the warrant requirement in—when special needs outside the law enforcement arena. And we think that that standard has been met here.”
Wiretapping Essential in Catching Terrorists - Hayden reiterates how important the wiretapping is to catching terrorists and stopping potential attacks against US targets, though he and Gonzales both refuse to say what, if any, terrorist plots or what terror suspects might have been captured through the NSA wiretapping program. Hayden does say, “This program has been successful in detecting and preventing attacks inside the United States.…I can say unequivocally, all right, that we have got information through this program that would not otherwise have been available,” though he refuses to cite specifics. He admits that there have been some errors in surveilling innocent US citizens, though he refuses to give any details, and says those errors were quickly corrected.
Administration Not Required to Go Through FISA - Gonzales, who is the main speaker in the briefing, reiterates that while the administration continues to seek warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court, “we are not legally required to do, in this particular case, because the law requires that we—FISA requires that we get a court order, unless authorized by a statute, and we believe that authorization has occurred.” He justifies the administration’s refusal to use the FISA court for obtaining warrants by insisting that NSA officials “tell me that we don’t have the speed and the agility that we need, in all circumstances, to deal with this new kind of enemy. You have to remember that FISA was passed by the Congress in 1978. There have been tremendous advances in technology… since then.” Hayden adds, “I don’t think anyone could claim that FISA was envisaged as a tool to cover armed enemy combatants in preparation for attacks inside the United States. And that’s what this authorization under the President is designed to help us do.”
'Balancing' of Civil Liberties, National Security - Hayden says the warrantless wiretapping program is part of “a balancing between security and liberty,” a more “aggressive” operation “than would be traditionally available under FISA. It is also less intrusive. It deals only with international calls. It is generally for far shorter periods of time. And it is not designed to collect reams of intelligence, but to detect and warn and prevent about attacks. And, therefore, that’s where we’ve decided to draw that balance between security and liberty.”
Media Leaks Damaging to National Security - Gonzales refuses to talk about when any members of Congress were briefed on the program or what they were told, but he does imply that there will be some sort of leak investigation as to how the New York Times found out about the program: “[T]his is really hurting national security, this has really hurt our country, and we are concerned that a very valuable tool has been compromised. As to whether or not there will be a leak investigation, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
No Evidence of Compromised National Security - When asked whether he can cite any evidence that the revelation of the program’s existence has actually compromised anything—“Don’t you assume that the other side thinks we’re listening to them? I mean, come on,” one reporter says—Gonzales responds, rather confusingly, “I think the existence of this program, the confirmation of the—I mean, the fact that this program exists, in my judgment, has compromised national security, as the President indicated on Saturday.”
Easier to Sidestep FISA Instead of Seek Congressional Approval - He does admit that the administration decided to sidestep the FISA court entirely instead of attempt to work with Congress to rewrite the FISA statutes because “we were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible” to amend the law to the White House’s satisfaction. Gonzales says those who are concerned about the program being excessively intrusive or a threat to American civil liberties simply “don’t understand the specifics of the program, they don’t understand the strict safeguards within the program.… Part of the reason for this press brief today is to have you help us educate the American people and the American Congress about what we’re doing and the legal basis for what we’re doing.” He adds that any legal experts who believe the program is illegal are basing their judgments “on very limited information.”
Tough Questioning - One reporter asks an unusually tough series of questions to Gonzales: “Do you think the government has the right to break the law?”, to which Gonzales replies, “Absolutely not. I don’t believe anyone is above the law.” The reporter then says, “You have stretched this resolution for war into giving you carte blanche to do anything you want to do,” to which Gonzales replies cryptically, “Well, one might make that same argument in connection with detention of American citizens, which is far more intrusive than listening into a conversation.” The reporter insists, “You’re never supposed to spy on Americans,” and Gonzales deflects the responsibility for the decision back onto the Supreme Court.
Administration Will Tell Nation What It Needs to Know - Gonzales says the administration has no intention of releasing any of the classified legal opinions underpinning the program, and this press briefing is one of the methods by which the administration will “educat[e] the American people…and the Congress” to give them what they need to know about the program. [White House, 12/19/2005]

Entity Tags: White House press corps, Michael Hayden, Al-Qaeda, National Security Agency, Alberto R. Gonzales, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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