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Context of 'January 5, 2006: Neutral Congressional Analysis Questions Legality of NSA Wiretapping Program'

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John Yoo, the Justice Department’s (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) deputy assistant attorney general, sends a classified memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft justifying warrantless surveillance of US persons. The National Security Agency (NSA)‘s domestic surveillance authorized by President Bush (see October 4, 2001, Early 2002, and December 15, 2005) will come to be publicly referred to as the President’s Surveillance Program (PSP). This is not the first Yoo memo supporting warrantless surveillance (see September 25, 2001), but a 2009 report on the PSP jointly issued by the inspectors general (IGs) of the Department of Defense (DOD), DOJ, CIA, National Security Agency (NSA), and Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) will refer to it as “[t]he first OLC opinion directly supporting the legality of the PSP.” The IGs’ report will quote from and comment on the memo, noting that “deficiencies in Yoo’s memorandum identified by his successors in the Office of Legal Counsel and the Office of the Deputy Attorney General later became critical to DOJ’s decision to reassess the legality of the program in 2003.” According to the IGs’ report, Yoo asserts that warrantless surveillance is constitutional as long as it is “reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment, which only protects against “unreasonable searches and siezures.” On this point, the IGs’ report will note that Yoo’s successors were troubled by his failure to discuss the Supreme Court’s decision in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952), which found the president’s wartime authority to be limited. His memo does acknowledge that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) “purports to be the exclusive statutory means for conducting electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence,” but asserts that it is only a “safe harbor for electronic surveillance” because it cannot “restrict the president’s ability to engage in warrantless searches that protect the national security.” Yoo also writes that Congress has not “made a clear statement in FISA that it sought to restrict presidential authority to conduct warrantless searches in the national security area.” The IGs’ report will state that Yoo’s successors considered this problematic because Yoo has omitted discussion of the fact that FISA explicitly authorizes the president to conduct warrantless surveillance during the first 15 days following a declaration of war by Congress, which they considered an expression of Congress’s intent to restrict warrantless surveillance to a limited period of time and specific circumstances. The IGs’ report will also state that Yoo’s memo discusses “the legal rationale for Other Intelligence Activities authorized as part of the PSP,” and that Yoo concludes, “[W]e do not believe that Congress may restrict the president’s inherent constitutional powers, which allow him to gather intelligence necessary to defend the nation from direct attack.” The IGs’ report will say that “Yoo’s discussion of some of the Other Intelligence Activities did not accurately describe the scope of these activities,” and that Yoo’s successors considered his discussion of these other activities to be “insufficient and presenting a serious impediment to recertification of the program as to form and legality.” [Inspectors General, 7/10/2009, pp. pp. 11-13]
Memo's Existence Revealed by ACLU Lawsuit - On December 15, 2005, the New York Times will report that Bush authorized an NSA warrantless domestic surveillance program after the 9/11 attacks (see December 15, 2005). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will request records pertaining to the program under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and then sue the Justice Department for the release of records. The existence of Yoo’s November 2 memo will first be revealed in an October 19, 2007 deposition filed by then head of the OLC Steven Bradbury in response to the ACLU lawsuit, which says that it “[concerns] the legality of certain communications intelligence activities.” After the 2009 release of the IGs’ report the ACLU will notify the court and the government will agree to reprocess four OLC memos, including Yoo’s November 2 memo. This memo and a May 6, 2004 memo by Yoo’s OLC successor Jack Goldsmith that disputes many of Yoo’s conclusions will be released in heavily redacted form on March 18, 2011. [ACLU.org, 2/7/2006; United States District Court of DC, 10/19/2007; American Civil Liberties Union, 3/19/2011]
Constitutional Experts Dispute Yoo's Legal Rationale - Numerous authorities on the law will question or reject the legal bases for warrantless domestic surveillance. In 2003, Yoo will leave the OLC. Goldsmith will begin a review of the PSP, after which he will conclude it is probably illegal in some respects and protest, within the executive branch, its continuation (see Late 2003-Early 2004 and December 2003-June 2004). Following the public disclosure of its existence, a January 5, 2006 report by the Congressional Research Service will find it to be of dubious legality (see January 5, 2006). On January 19, 2006, the DOJ will issue a 42-page white paper laying out the legal bases for the program (see January 19, 2006). These bases will be reviewed and rejected by 14 constitutional scholars and former government officials in a joint letter to Congress on February 2, 2006. [al [PDF], 2/2/2006 pdf file] The American Bar Association will adopt a resolution on February 13, 2006 that rejects DOJ’s arguments and calls on Congress to investigate the program. [Delegates, 2/13/2006 pdf file] On August 17, 2006, in the case ACLU v. NSA, US district judge Anna Diggs Taylor will reject the government’s invocation of the “state secrets privilege” and its argument that plaintiffs’ lack standing due to their being unable to prove they were surveilled, and will rule that warrantless surveillance is in violation of “the separation of powers doctrine, the Administrative Procedures Act, the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the FISA, and Title III” (see August 17, 2006). Taylor’s ruling will be overturned on appeal, on the grounds that the plaintiffs lack standing as they cannot prove that surveillance has occurred. In another case, Al Haramain v. Barack Obama, the government will make the same arguments, but US district judge Vaughn Walker will reject these and conclude in 2010 that illegal surveillance occurred (see March 31, 2010). [Al-Haramain v. Obama, 3/31/2010]

Entity Tags: Steven Bradbury, Vaughn Walker, Ronald Dworkin, George W. Bush, John C. Yoo, American Bar Association, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), American Civil Liberties Union, John Ashcroft, Anna Diggs Taylor, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Sometime in early 2002, President Bush signs a secret executive order authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to wiretap phone conversations and read e-mails to and from US citizens. The order extends an operation set into motion at least as early as October 2001 to begin wiretapping US citizens’ phones in a response to the 9/11 attacks. When the program is revealed by the US media in late 2005 (see December 15, 2005), Bush and his officials will say the program is completely legal, though it ignores the requirements of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that requires the government to obtain court-issued warrants to mount surveillance against US citizens. They will insist that only those suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda are monitored, and only when those individuals make or receive international communications. [New York Times, 12/15/2005; Washington Post, 12/22/2005; Newsweek, 12/22/2008] Bush’s order authorizes the NSA to monitor international telephone conversations and international e-mails of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of US citizens without court warrants, in an effort to track what officials call “dirty numbers” linked to al-Qaeda. When the program is finally revealed by the New York Times over three years later (see December 15, 2005), officials will say that the NSA still seeks warrants to monitor domestic communications. But there is little evidence of this (see, for example, Spring 2001). The presidential order is a radical shift in US surveillance and intelligence-gathering policies, and a major realignment for the NSA, which is mandated to only conduct surveillance abroad. Some officials believe that the NSA’s domestic eavesdropping crosses constitutional limits on legal searches. “This is really a sea change,” a former senior official who specializes in national security law will say in December 2005. “It’s almost a mainstay of this country that the NSA only does foreign searches.” [New York Times, 12/15/2005] Some sources indicate that NSA domestic surveillance activities, such as data-mining, the use of information concerning US persons intercepted in foreign call monitoring, and possibly direct surveillance of US persons, took place prior to 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Al-Qaeda, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The 9/11 Commission, officially titled the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, holds its first meeting in Washington. The commission has $3 million and only a year and a half to explore the causes of the attacks. By comparison, a 1996 federal commission to study legalized gambling was given two years and $5 million. [Associated Press, 1/27/2003] Two months later the Bush administration grudgingly increases the funding to $12 million total (see March 26, 2003). [Associated Press, 1/27/2003] A few days later, Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton says, “The focus of the commission will be on the future. We want to make recommendations that will make the American people more secure.… We’re not interested in trying to assess blame, we do not consider that part of the commission’s responsibility.” [United Press International, 2/6/2003]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, 9/11 Commission, Bush administration (43), Lee Hamilton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush’s rationale for authorizing warrantless surveillance against US citizens is of questionable legality and “may represent an exercise of presidential power at its lowest ebb,” according to a Congressional analysis. The Congressional Research Service (CRS), the independent and nonpartisan research bureau of the legislature, answers the question raised around the nation since the revelation of the secret program by the New York Times (see Early 2002): did Bush break the law when he ordered the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on US citizens without court orders or judicial oversight? The CRS report does not give a definitive yes or no answer to that question, but finds Bush’s legal rationale dubious at best. That rationale “does not seem to be as well-grounded” as administration lawyers have claimed, and the report finds that, despite assertions to the contrary by Bush and administration officials, Congress did not authorize warrantless wiretaps when it gave the executive branch the authority to wage war against al-Qaeda in the days after the 9/11 attacks. Unsurprisingly, Bush administration officials criticize the report. But some Republicans and Democrats find the report’s conclusions persuasive, and hold up the report as further evidence that Bush overextended his authority by authorizing the wiretaps. For instance, Republican Thomas Kean, the former chairman of the 9/11 commission (see January 27, 2003, says he doubts the program’s legality. Kean, who has not spoken publicly about the program until now, says the 9/11 commission was never told about the program, and he strongly doubts its legality. “We live by a system of checks and balances, and I think we ought to continue to live by a system of checks and balances,” Kean says. [Congressional Research Service, 1/5/2006 pdf file; New York Times, 1/6/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, 9/11 Commission, Congressional Research Service, New York Times, National Security Agency, Thomas Kean

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Justice Department (DOJ) issues a 42-page “white paper” detailing its arguments that the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program (see February 2001, Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, Early 2002, September 2002, Late 2003-Early 2004, April 19-20, 2004, June 9, 2005, June 9, 2005, December 15, 2005, December 17, 2005, December 19, 2005, December 24, 2005, January 5, 2006, January 18, 2006, January 18, 2006, January 23, 2006, and January 30, 2006) is legal. The DOJ reiterates two previous arguments (see December 19, 2005 and December 21-22, 2005)—that Congress implicitly authorized the program in 2001 when it authorized the Bush administration to begin military actions against al-Qaeda (see September 14-18, 2001), and that the president has the authority as commander in chief to conduct such a program—even though these arguments have been thoroughly refuted (see January 9, 2006) and overridden by the Supreme Court’s recent Hamdan v. Rumsfeld ruling (see December 15, 2005 and July 8, 2006). In its paper, the DOJ declares that if necessary, it will attack the legality of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in order to stop that law from “imped[ing]” the president’s power to order domestic surveillance. In essence, according to columnist and civil liberties lawyer Glenn Greenwald, the DOJ is asserting that the president’s powers are limitless as long as he or she declares a given action necessary to battle terrorism. “Because the president has determined that the NSA activities are necessary to the defense of the United States from a subsequent terrorist attack in the armed conflict with al-Qaeda, FISA would impermissibly interfere with the president’s most solemn constitutional obligation—to defend the United States against foreign attack,” the DOJ claims. Neither Congress nor the court system has the right to limit or even review the president’s powers, according to the DOJ. Greenwald calls the DOJ’s argument “a naked theory of limitless presidential power.” In fact, Greenwald argues, the DOJ is asserting that FISA itself is unconstitutional, because no law can in any way limit the president’s power to conduct foreign policy or protect the nation’s security. The document is part of a larger Bush administration defense of the USA Patriot Act, and part of the administration’s push to convince Congress to reauthorize that legislation. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sends the document to Congress. Justice Department official Steven Bradbury says, “When it comes to responding to external threats to the country… the government would like to have a single executive who could act nimbly and agilely.” [US Department of Justice, 1/19/2006 pdf file; Glenn Greenwald, 1/20/2006; Washington Post, 1/20/2006]
Dubious Legality - The program has already been found to be of questionable legality by two reports recently released by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (see January 5, 2006 and January 18, 2006). And author James Bamford, a US intelligence expert who has written extensively about the NSA, says that the Justice Department’s arguments are specious in light of Congress’s clear intent in its 1978 passage of FISA to block warrantless wiretapping, and its demonstrated lack of intent to allow any such operations within US borders in the October 2001 legislation. “You could review the entire legislative history in the authorization to use military force and I guarantee you won’t find one word about electronic surveillance,” he says. “If you review the legislative history of FISA, you will find Attorney General Griffin Bell testifying before the intelligence committee saying this was specifically passed to prevent a president from claiming inherent presidential powers to do this again.” [Washington Post, 1/20/2006]
Self-Contradictory Justifications - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write of the “shaky foundation” supporting the administration’s “two-pronged attacks on critics of the wiretapping program and the Patriot Act,” which some officials have claimed authorizes the program. “Beneath the simplistic rhetoric, the administration’s position was self-contradicting,” Savage will write. If Bush has the inherent presidential authority to order warrantless wiretapping, then he needs no authorization from the Patriot Act or any other legislation. But if Congress is endangering the nation by delaying in reauthorizing the Patriot Act and thusly not rendering the program legal, then the wiretapping program is illegal after all. The memo attempts to “paper… over” this problem by claiming that, while Bush has the inherent authority to do whatever he feels is necessary to protect the country, the Patriot Act’s extra police powers are still necessary in “contexts unrelated to terrorism.” Savage will write, “In other words, the administration’s own position, hidden in the fine print, was that the Patriot Act was superfluous and irrelevant to the war on terrorism—a somewhat absurd stance made necessary by their desire to say the wiretapping program was legal.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 315]
Failure to Address Probable Beginning of Program Before Attacks - The Justice Department says nothing about the program apparently beginning well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, James Bamford, Steven Bradbury, US Department of Justice, Griffin Bell, Senate Judiciary Committee, Glenn Greenwald, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Alberto R. Gonzales, Arlen Specter, George W. Bush, Congressional Research Service, Charlie Savage

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) tells reporters that he intends to push through legislation that would censure President Bush because of his domestic surveillance program (see February 2001, Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, Early 2002, September 2002, Late 2003-Early 2004, April 19-20, 2004, June 9, 2005, June 9, 2005, December 15, 2005, December 17, 2005, December 19, 2005, December 24, 2005, January 5, 2006, January 18, 2006, January 18, 2006, January 23, 2006, and January 30, 2006). “What the president did by consciously and intentionally violating the Constitution and laws of this country with this illegal wiretapping has to be answered,” Feingold tells an interviewer. “Proper accountability is a censuring of the president, saying, ‘Mr. President, acknowledge that you broke the law, return to the law, return to our system of government.‘… The president has broken the law and, in some way, he must be held accountable.… Congress has to reassert our system of government, and the cleanest and the most efficient way to do that is to censure the president. And, hopefully, he will acknowledge that he did something wrong.” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) calls Feingold’s proposal “a crazy political move.” The Senate Intelligence Committee, following the Bush administration’s lead, has rejected some Democrats’ call for a full investigation of the surveillance program (see February 1-6, 2006). Instead, the committee has adopted a Republican plan for a seven-member subcommittee to conduct oversight. Feingold says his censure motion is not “a harsh approach, and it’s one that I think should lead to bipartisan support.” Frist, however, says: “I think it, in part, is a political move because here we are, the Republican Party, the leadership in the Congress, supporting the president of the United States as commander in chief who is out there fighting al-Qaeda and the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and the people who have sworn—have sworn—to destroy Western civilization and all the families listening to us.… The signal that it sends that there is in any way a lack of support for our commander in chief who is leading us with a bold vision in a way that we know is making our homeland safer is wrong. And it sends a perception around the world.” Only once in history has a president been censured by Congress: Andrew Jackson in 1834. In the House, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) is exploring the idea of introducing impeachment legislation against Bush. [New York Times, 3/12/2006; Associated Press, 3/12/2006] Feingold says on the Senate floor: “The president has violated the law and Congress must respond. A formal censure by Congress is an appropriate and responsible first step to assure the public that when the president thinks he can violate the law without consequences, Congress has the will to hold him accountable.” Most Congressional Democrats want nothing to do with either Feingold’s or Conyers’s legislative ideas, and some Republicans seem to be daring Democrats to vote for the proposal. Vice President Dick Cheney tells a Republican audience in Feingold’s home state of Wisconsin, “Some Democrats in Congress have decided the president is the enemy.” Democratic leaders in the Senate thwart an immediate vote as requested by Frist, and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) says he is not sure the proposal will ever come to a vote. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says he does not support it and has not read it. Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) makes a similar assertion. In the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) refuses to support such a proposal, saying in a statement that she “understands Senator Feingold’s frustration that the facts about the NSA domestic surveillance program have not been disclosed appropriately to Congress. Both the House and the Senate must fully investigate the program and assign responsibility for any laws that may have been broken.” [Associated Press, 3/14/2006] Former Nixon aide John Dean testifies in support of Feingold’s censure motion (see March 31, 2006). However, the censure motion, lacking support from Democratic leaders and being used by Republicans as a means to attack Democrats’ patriotism, never comes to a vote. [Klein, 2009, pp. 84]

Entity Tags: Joseph Lieberman, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Bill Frist, Harry Reid, John Dean, Russell D. Feingold, Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Nancy Pelosi, John Conyers

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Retired AT&T technician and incipient whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009) issues his first press release, summarizing his knowledge of AT&T’s complicity with the National Security Agency (NSA) in that agency’s illegal domestic wiretapping program (see December 31, 2005). Klein has given documentation supporting his claims to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in support of that organization’s lawsuit against AT&T (see January 31, 2006). Klein’s press release tells of the NSA’s “secret room” in AT&T’s Folsom Street, San Francisco, facility (see January 2003) and reveals for the first time the NSA’s use of the Narus STA 6400 to comb through the wiretapped data (see January 16, 2004). The release reads in part: “Based on my understanding of the connections and equipment at issue, it appears the NSA is capable of conducting what amounts to vacuum-cleaner surveillance of all the data crossing the Internet—whether that be people’s email, Web surfing, or any other data. Given the public debate about the constitutionality of the Bush administration’s spying on US citizens without obtaining a FISA warrant (see December 18, 2005, December 20, 2005, December 21, 2005, December 21, 2005, December 25, 2005, January 5, 2006, January 10, 2006, January 18, 2006, January 18, 2006, and January 31, 2006), I think it is critical that this information be brought out into the open, and that the American people be told the truth about the extent of the administration’s warrantless surveillance practices, particularly as it relates to the Internet. Despite what we are hearing (see December 19, 2005, December 19, 2005, December 21-22, 2005, and January 19, 2006), and considering the public track record of this administration (see December 24, 2005, Early 2006, January 23, 2006, January 25-26, 2006, and February 2, 2006), I simply do not believe their claims that the NSA’s spying program is really limited to foreign communications or otherwise consistent with the NSA’s charter or with FISA. And unlike the controversy over targeted wiretaps of individuals’ phone calls, this potential spying appears to be applied wholesale to all sorts of Internet communications of countless citizens.” Klein issues the press release in part to give himself some publicity, and the protection from government harassment such publicity might entail (see February 11, 2006 and After). [Wired News, 4/7/2006; Wired News, 4/7/2006; Klein, 2009, pp. 66-67]

Entity Tags: Electronic Frontier Foundation, AT&T, Bush administration (43), National Security Agency, Mark Klein

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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