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Profile: Mike McConnell
Mike McConnell was a participant or observer in the following events:
The NSA asks Qwest, a major US telecommunications firm and a cutting-edge provider of high-tech wireless and Internet connectivity, to reveal information about its customers and their phone calls. Qwest’s CEO, Joe Nacchio, refuses after meeting with NSA officials and deciding that the program is illegal without court orders (see February 27, 2001). The NSA refuses to seek court authorization for its wiretaps and electronic surveillance. The NSA will renew its request from Qwest after the 9/11 attacks, and will also ask the firm to help it track suspected terrorists. Other telecommunications firms such as Verizon, AT&T, and BellSouth, will comply with the NSA’s requests (see February 2001 and Beyond).
Fears of a 'Digital Pearl Harbor' - According to a former White House official, the NSA’s primary purpose before 9/11 is to watch for computer hackers and foreign-government agents trying to hack into the government’s computer information systems, particularly those within the Defense Department. Government officials fear a “digital Pearl Harbor” if hackers were ever to seize control of those systems or other key US infrastructures. The former official will say in 2007 that the NSA’s proposal to Qwest is, “Can you build a private version of Echelon and tell us what you see?” Echelon is the NSA’s enormous signals intelligence (SIGINT) network used by the agency and its counterparts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Britain. Qwest is constructing a high-speed network for phone and Internet traffic, and the NSA wants Qwest to keep records of its customers’ transactions for it. The NSA, another source will say, wants to analyze call, e-mail, and other transmissions’ traffic patters for signs of suspicious activity. The White House official will say that telecom firms such as Qwest “have an enormous amount of intelligence-gathering” capability. They don’t have to target individual customers to “look for wacky behavior,” or “groups communicating with each other in strange patterns.” Such information could augment intelligence that the NSA and other agencies were gathering from other sources, and enable the NSA to collect the information it wants without violating laws prohibiting it and other intelligence agencies from directly gathering data on US citizens.
Ill Will from NSA - Nacchio’s refusal to go along with the NSA’s request garners it some ill will among the US intelligence community, the former White House official will say. Nacchio will contend that because of his refusal, the NSA denied Qwest a lucrative government contract. A former high-level intelligence official will add that other telecom companies had little problem agreeing to the NSA’s requests. Nacchio believes that the NSA’s request is illegal under the Telecommunications Act without court orders; the former White House official will acknowledge that it might violate the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act. After 9/11, that law will be amended by the USA Patriot Act to give the government more room to monitor US citizens.
Qwest, Other Telecom Firms Cooperative with Other Agencies - Qwest is apparently less reluctant to share other information with the Pentagon. Qwest began sharing its technology and information as far back as 1997 (see 1997). In May 2001, Commerce Secretary Don Evans will tell the Senate Appropriations Committee that his department helped persuade Qwest to “share proprietory information with the Defense Department to evaluate the vulnerability of its network.” Qwest, which serves the Rocky Mountain and West Coast regions of the country, covers the areas that house some of the military’s most important command-and-control facilities, including the US Strategic Command. In the 1990s, Qwest began actively pursuing contracts with the Defense Department to build more modern, private, secure networks for defense and intelligence agencies. [National Journal, 11/2/2007]
Meetings with Bush Officials - In court documents filed in 2006 to challenge his prosecution for insider trading and, in heavily redacted form, released to the public in 2007, Nacchio will indicate that telecom executives met frequently with Bush administration officials before 9/11, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, NSA Director Michael Hayden, and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. Many telecom firms are working closely with the government to develop highly classified operations, including joint networks to which the government will have unfettered access. The future director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, works with telecom firms to expand the cooperation between the telecom industry and the federal government. [Salon, 10/15/2007]
Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, US Department of Defense, Bush administration (43), Verizon Communications, AT&T, US Department of Commerce, Senate Appropriations Committee, US Strategic Command, BellSouth, Donald L. Evans, Echelon, Richard A. Clarke, Qwest, Mike McConnell, National Security Agency, Joe Nacchio, Paul Wolfowitz
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The US intelligence community begins monitoring Lawrence Wright, a journalist and author who writes on counterterrorism. In addition to his articles for the New Yorker, in 2006 Wright publishes The Looming Tower, an account of the run-up to 9/11 which discloses the names of mid-level officials who performed badly. [Wright, 2006; New Yorker, 1/21/2008] Apparently, the surveillance begins when Wright calls a relative of al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The relative, an architect in Cairo, had asked Wright if he knew whether all of al-Zawahiri’s children were dead after Wright published a profile of al-Zawahiri in the New Yorker. A source with the FBI (wrongly) told Wright that they were and that the information was not secret, so Wright passes the news on to the architect over the telephone. An intelligence community source will tell Wright that he later reads a transcript of this call. Wright will later say that he is surprised by this, because he thinks his part of the call should be anonimized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as he is a US citizen. Before the publication of his book in 2006, Wright is visited at his home by FBI officials on the local Joint Terrorism Task Force. The officials ask him about calls he makes to a solicitor in Britain who is representing Islamist radicals Wright interviews for his book. During the visit, the FBI agents express the belief that it is Wright’s daughter who made the calls. It is unclear to Wright why they think this, as none of the home phones is in her name. Wright is troubled by this and around late 2007 will ask Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell about it. McConnell will say that the call to the architect “shoud be” monitored and that Wright’s identity would have been deleted originally, as it could only be made available to the intelligence community after a legitimate request for it. “So here’s what I think—I’m guessing,” McConnell will say. “You called a bad guy, the system listened, tried to sort it out, and they did an intel report because it had foreign intelligence value. That’s our mission.” McConnell adds that the FBI would have to have had probable cause and a warrant to tap his phone and that he does not know how Wright’s daughter’s name could have come up. [New Yorker, 1/21/2008]
The US intelligence community begins plumbing the data they have compiled on Iran’s nuclear weapons program in an attempt to shore up the Bush administration’s premature conclusion that Iran is on the verge of producing a nuclear weapon. Instead, their conclusions are that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003. In the process, White House aides begin a program of “deep dives,” or special briefings for President Bush to meet with not only his advisers but the actual analysts who study Iranian intelligence data, in an attempt to allow Bush to “get his hands dirty” with real intelligence and not just pre-digested summaries. Bush is dismayed at the lack of solid intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program and asks for more. When the intelligence community does provide more, it finds more and more evidence that Iran had shut down its nuclear weapons program years before. Those conclusions will be released in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) a year later (see December 3, 2007).
Troubling Conclusions, White House Spin - Bush and his top officials don’t like the findings; if true, the reports disprove the entirety of the administration’s push to define Iran as an imminent threat to the Middle East. White House officials are initially skeptical, believing that the intelligence community might be a victim of Iranian disinformation. The intelligence agencies create a special “red team” of analysts to thoroughly test and, if possible, discredit the information. They are unable to do so. “They tried to figure out what exactly it would take to perpetrate that kind of deception, how many people would be involved, how they would go about doing it, when it would have been set up and so forth,” says one intelligence official. Analysts “scrubbed and rescrubbed” more than 1,000 pieces of evidence but conclude Iran’s program really had been shut down. Faced with that conclusion, the White House decides to focus on the findings that confirm their suspicions—that Iran did have a secret weapons program that could be restarted again. No one in the White House suggests that Bush tone down his rhetoric or change his policies towards Iran. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell decides to keep the new findings secret, the same position adopted by Vice President Cheney (see October 2006 and November 10, 2007). Only the Israelis are told of the new findings; Congress, the US’s European allies, and the UN’s monitoring agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are told nothing. McConnell will reluctantly change his mind out of a fear of leaks and possible charges of a coverup. That decision may come back to haunt the administration, particularly with the ill-will it will create among the US’s allies. Former State Department nonproliferation official Robert Einhorn says, “The administration is going to pay a price for not allowing allies in on it at an earlier date. The French had carried the administration’s water on this issue and really went out on a limb to get the European Union to adopt tough sanctions. And now the rug has been pulled out from under them.”
New NIE Draft Sparks Controversy - An NIE the year before (see August 2, 2005) had led the US to conclude that Iran was actively working on a nuclear weapons program. Congressional Democrats, not entirely convinced by the NIE’s conclusions and increasingly resistant to Bush’s push for confrontation with Iran, asks for a new NIE. Bush wants the new NIE to confirm his accusations and, in one official’s words, “get more information on Iran so we know what they’re up to.” The 2005 NIE had been based largely on information about Iran’s “Project 1-11,” a program that Iran is apparently pursuing to retrofit a ballistic missile to carry nuclear warheads (see Summer 2004). But no new information on Project 1-11 has been secured in three years, and the administration insists on new confirmations. “They just wouldn’t budge,” one agency official recalls. A new draft is completed in June, provoking heated discussions among agency and administration officials. CIA director Michael Hayden and NSA director Keith Alexander begin directing their agencies to closely monitor Iranians who were involved in their country’s nuclear program. Soon, communications intercepts from key Iranian officials indicate that the program had been mothballed in 2003. Some of the officials discuss their belief that the program may never be restarted.
Evolving NIE - As the draft NIE evolves, McConnell, with the assistance of his deputies Thomas Fingar and Donald Kerr, both national security veterans, lay down ground rules. One official later says that McConnell “quickly got the mantra down: ‘We must make a clear distinction between what we know and don’t know and what we judge to be the case.’” The internal debate over the NIE is sharp and often contentious. McConnell will finally inform Bush of the new conclusions—that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003—in August (see December 5, 2007 and December 3-4, 2007). In September, House and Senate intelligence committee members are informed as well. A September draft radically differs from the June version, based in large part on the communications intercepts and the exhaustive analysis on the data possessed by the CIA and NIE. The chief analysts are grilled by Hayden and his deputy Stephen Kappes, but the analyses stand up. Cheney, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and other key officials will be given a preliminary briefing on the new NIE on November 15; Bush, finalizing a Middle East peace conference in which he will try to rally Middle Eastern countries against Iran, is not officially told of the new NIE until November 28. Bush immediately tells Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (see November 26-28, 2007), and Cheney appraises Israeli Foreign Minister Ehud Barak. Discussions about whether or not to keep the NIE secret lead to McConnell’s decision to make a declassified version public. A top intelligence official says, “We knew it would leak, so honesty required that we get this out ahead, to prevent it from appearing to be cherry picking.” [Washington Post, 12/8/2007]
Entity Tags: Keith Alexander, Ehud Barak, Don Kerr, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ehud Olmert, International Atomic Energy Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Einhorn, National Security Agency, Mike McConnell, Michael Hayden, Stephen Kappes, Thomas Fingar, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
Ryan Crocker [Source: CBC]In preparation for his expected announcement of a new “surge” of 21,500 combat troops for Iraq (see January 10, 2007), President Bush puts together a new team of advisers and officials to oversee his administration’s Iraq policy. The new team includes:
Zalmay Khalilzad as the ambassador to the United Nations. Khalilzad, the only Middle East native in a senior position in the administration, is the former ambassador to both Afghanistan and Iraq (see November 2003), a well-known neoconservative who formerly held a position with the oil corporation Unocal. He will replace interim ambassador John Bolton, an abrasive neoconservative who could never win confirmation in the post from the US Senate.
Ryan Crocker is the leading candidate to replace Khalilzad as the US ambassador to Iraq. Crocker, who speaks fluent Arabic, is currently the ambassador to Pakistan.
Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte will become the top deputy to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Negroponte, a controversial veteran of US foreign operations in Latin America and the Middle East, has also served as the US ambassador to Iraq. Rice is widely viewed as in dire need of a savvy, experienced deputy who can assist her both in handling the sprawling State Department bureaucracy, and focus her efforts to handle diplomatic efforts in the Middle East as well as in other regions.
Retired Admiral Mike McConnell, who headed the National Security Agency under former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, will replace Negroponte as DNI.
Admiral William Fallon, head of the US Pacific Command, will replace General John Abizaid as commander of the US forces in the Middle East. Abizaid has drawn media attention in recent months for his muted criticism of the Bush administration’s Iraqi policies.
Army General David Petraeus will replace General George Casey as the chief military commander in Iraq. Petraeus once headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces. Like Abizaid, Casey has been skeptical about the need for more US forces in Iraq. [USA Today, 1/5/2007; CBS News, 1/5/2007]
Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Unocal, United Nations, William Fallon, Ryan C. Crocker, George Herbert Walker Bush, George Casey, David Petraeus, John Negroponte, John P. Abizaid, George W. Bush, Mike McConnell, Condoleezza Rice, US Department of State
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
Mike McConnell. [Source: US Defense Department]Retired Vice Admiral Mike McConnell is sworn in as the new Director of National Intelligence (DNI), replacing John Negroponte. [White House, 2/20/2007] Negroponte will become the Deputy Secretary of State under Condoleezza Rice, a position that has been vacant since July 2006, when the previous deputy, Robert Zoellick, left to take a position with the Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs. Negroponte is felt to be a voice of experience in the State Department, and one that will help the oft-faltering Rice in her duties. [Associated Press, 1/5/2007]
Cheney, Negroponte, and the Iran NIE - One of the major factors in the White House’s decision to replace Negroponte is Vice President Dick Cheney’s insistence that the administration release a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that supports Cheney’s aggressive policy towards Iran, and does not include any dissenting views. Cheney, who has for months suppressed the draft NIE on Iran because he does not want any views other than his own to be included in the NIE (see November 10, 2007), was displeased with Negroponte; Negroponte angered Cheney and other neoconservatives when, in April 2006, he told reporters that the US intelligence community believes Iran is “a number of years off” from being “likely to have enough fissile material to assemble into or to put into a nuclear weapon, perhaps into the next decade.” Though Negroponte was merely echoing the position of the 2005 NIE on Iran, he came under fierce attack from Cheney allies inside and outside the administration. Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph publicly contradicted Negroponte, calling Iran’s nuclear program near the “point of no return,’ an Israeli concept referring to the mastery of industrial-scale uranium enrichment. And neoconservative Frank Gaffney, a protege of former defense adviser Richard Perle, called Negroponte’s position on Iran’s nuclear program “absurd.” Cheney himself approached McConnell about accepting the position. McConnell is far more amenable to White House influence than Negroponte. On February 27, he will tell the Senate Armed Services Committee that he is “comfortable saying it’s probable” that the alleged export of explosively formed penetrators to Shi’ite insurgents in Iraq was linked to the highest leadership in Iran. Negroponte, along with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, have refused to go that far. And the 2005 NIE on Iran estimated that it would take Iran five to ten years to produce a nuclear weapon, another position that Cheney opposes. [Inter Press Service, 11/10/2007]
Admiral Mike McConnell, the new director of national intelligence. [Source: Salon]Saudi Arabia is funding the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, according to Congressional testimony by the new director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell. The Sunni insurgency is considered far more dangerous, at this point, to US troops than are the Shi’ite insurgents of the Mahdi Army and other groups, some of whom are funded by Iran. McConnell’s testimony highlights government worries that Iraq’s civil war could turn into a direct confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, by Iraqi proxies, with US troops caught in the middle. Brian Jenkins, a military expert with the Rand Corporation, says, "What we already are seeing in Iraq is an emerging proxy war between Saudi-backed Sunnis and Iranian-backed Shia." While Iran has been considered, in recent years, an opponent of the US in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has had a long and close relationship with both the US government and the Bush family. In his testimony before Congress, McConnell is reluctant to identify the Saudis as the source of funding for the Sunni insurgents and only does so after tough questioning from Carl Levin (D-MI). McConnell and his deputy, Thomas Fingar, later qualify McConnell’s Senate testimony by saying that they cannot be sure whether the Saudi money is actually coming from the Saudi government. They also refuse to clarify whether the Saudis are supporting al-Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq (al-Qaeda being a Sunni organization) or homegrown Iraqi Sunni insurgents. A largely ignored section of the December 2006 report by the Iraq Study Group noted, "Funding for the Sunni insurgency comes from private individuals within Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States even as those governments help facilitate US military operations in Iraq by providing basing and overflight rights and by cooperating on intelligence issues." Steven Simon, a senior member of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, says Saudi funding of the Sunni insurgency "is one of those things that we dare not speak its name." He continues, "There is a renewed desire to protect the US-Saudi bilateral relationship. So you don’t want to draw public attention to things they are doing that many observers might regard as counter to American interests." [Hearst News, 3/4/2007]
Bush administration officials tell Senate Intelligence Committee members that they will not promise to continue seeking warrants for surveillance on US citizens, as the administration agreed to do in January 2007. They insist that President Bush has the Constitutional authority to decide whether or not to order the NSA to conduct surveillance without warrants if he desires. The secret wiretapping program was revealed to the public just weeks before the agreement (see December 15, 2005), and immediately drew tremendous outcries of criticism from civil libertarians, from lawmakers from all across the political spectrum, and from much of the public. Since the January agreement, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court has issued warrants for domestic wiretaps after being given evidence showing some kind of probable cause to justify the proposed surveillance. Previously, the wiretapping program had ignored the FISA restrictions. Now Bush officials, most notably the new director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, are saying that Bush has the authority under Article II of the Constitution to order warrantless wiretaps on US citizens.
Invoking Presidential Authority - In Senate testimony on this day, Russ Feingold (D-WI) asks McConnell if he is willing to promise that the administration will no longer ignore the law and the court when monitoring citizens. McConnell replies, “Sir, the president’s authority under Article II is in the Constitution. So if the president chose to exercise Article II authority, that would be the president’s call.” McConnell is echoing previous arguments made by Bush and other officials, who have said that Bush has the power to order wiretaps without court review, both under the Constitution and under the September 2001 Congressional authorization to use military force against al-Qaeda. McConnell says that the administration is conducting surveillance against Americans only with court warrants, and has no plans “that we are formulating or thinking about currently” to resume domestic wiretapping without warrants. “But I’d just highlight,” he adds, “Article II is Article II, so in a different circumstance, I can’t speak for the president what he might decide.” [New York Times, 5/2/2007] Article II is the section of the Constitution that delineates the powers of the executive branch, and establishes the fundamental “separation of powers” doctrine that governs American democracy. Constitutional expert Steve Mount notes that the “Constitution is deliberately inefficient; the “Separation of Powers devised by the framers of the Constitution was designed to do one primary thing: to prevent the majority from ruling with an iron fist.” [Mount, 1995]
White House Seeking Congressional Authorization - While the administration continues to argue that it has the power to eavesdrop on US citizens without warrants, it also continues to seek Congressional legislation affirming and perhaps expanding that power. The White House justifies that hoped-for legislation by pointing to national security and the war on terrorism, as well as the challenges posed by new communications technologies such as e-mail and wireless communications. White House officials have consistently refused to go into specifics as to what communications gaps they feel need plugging. And they have consistently ignored Congressional requests for information and documents related to the NSA’s domestic spy program, now being called the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” by White House officials and their Republican colleagues. Many Congressional Democrats say they would be reluctant to support any such legislation until they receive the information they have requested. “To this day, we have never been provided the presidential authorization that cleared that program to go or the attorney general-Department of Justice opinions that declared it to be lawful,” says Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). “Where’s the transparency as to the presidential authorizations for this closed program? That’s a pretty big ‘we’re not going to tell you’ in this new atmosphere of trust we’re trying to build.” [New York Times, 5/2/2007]
A 2007 map showing Pakistan’s tribal areas. Regions dominated by Islamist militants are highlighted in pink. [Source: New York Times]A summary of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) entitled “The Terrorist Threat to the US Homeland” is declassified. The NIE, a unified assessment from all 16 US intelligence agencies, says that al-Qaeda has, in the words of the Post, “reestablished its central organization, training infrastructure, and lines of global communication over the past two years, putting the United States in a ‘heightened threat environment‘…” The last NIE on terrorism worldwide was completed in April 2006 and indicated that al-Qaeda’s fortunes were declining (see April 2006). The main reason the new NIE gives for al-Qaeda’s resurgence is the establishment of a safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region near the Afghanistan border. Its link with the affiliate group Al-Qaeda in Iraq has also helped “energize” militants and aided recruitment and funding. The NIE’s release comes just days after a similar report by the National Counterterrorism Center entitled “Al-Qaeda Better Positioned to Strike the West” (see July 11, 2007), and also just days after the Pakistani government broke peace deals with Islamist militants in the tribal region (see July 11-Late July, 2007). Edward Gistaro, national intelligence officer for transnational threats and the primary author of the NIE, says in a press briefing, “Over the past 18 to 24 months, safe haven in Pakistan has become more secure.” He says it has allowed al-Qaeda to develop of a new tier of leadership in the form of “lieutenants… coming off the bench,” to replace the leaders who have been captured or killed. On the same day the NIE is released, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell says of al-Qaeda, “They’re working as hard as they can in positioning trained operatives here in the United States.… They have recruitment programs to bring recruits into… Pakistan, particularly those that speak the right language, that have the right skills, that have the right base that they could come to the United States, fit into the population… and carry out acts.” [Washington Post, 7/18/2007]
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell asks Congress to allow the government to monitor overseas phone calls without warrants. In a letter to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), McConnell says that Congress must “act immediately” to change the law, which he says now requires burdensome court orders that hinder the administration’s efforts to combat terrorism. McConnell is advocating a raft of changes in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) proposed by the Bush administration; Congress is studying the law pending any possible amendments. McConnell writes that “clarifications are urgently needed” in the law to enable the use of “our capabilities to collect foreign intelligence about foreign targets overseas without requirements imposed by an out-of-date FISA statute,” and says he has “deep concern[s]” about the nation’s ability to counter terrorist threats. At issue are overseas phone calls between two international sources, but which travel through US-based terminals or switches. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the ranking Republican on the committee, is also pushing for the changes in FISA, calling the proposals “simple fix[es]” that would expedite the US’s ability to monitor terrorist organizations without adversely affecting US civil liberties. But fellow committee member John Tierney (D-MI) disagrees, saying that FISA “already allows for foreign-to-foreign communications to be intercepted” but that the administration “has chosen to say that it wants a warrant nonetheless.” [Washington Post, 7/28/2007]
In a letter to Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell acknowledges that President Bush “authorized the National Security Agency to undertake various intelligence activities designed to protect the United States from further terrorist attack.” Many of these “intelligence activities,” the nature of which has never been made public, were authorized under the same secret executive order Bush used to authorize the NSA’s domestic warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002). McConnell says that the only aspects of the variety of programs that can be acknowledged or discussed are those already revealed by the New York Times in its expose of the NSA warrantless surveillance program (see December 15, 2005). McConnell adds, “It remains the case that the operational details even of the activity acknowledged and described by the President have not been made public and cannot be disclosed without harming national security.” McConnell also acknowledges that the marketing moniker “Terrorist Surveillance Program” was adopted in early 2006, after the revelations of the NSA program hit the media. [Mike McConnell, 7/31/2007 ]
The Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007), an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA—see 1978), is introduced in Congress. With limited debate and no committee hearings, it passes both houses with substantial majorities. [US Senate, 8/5/2007; Boston Globe, 8/6/2007; House Judiciary Committee, 9/18/2007 ] Congressional Democrats quickly capitulate on the bill, submitting to what the Washington Post later calls “a high-pressure campaign by the White House to change the nation’s wiretap law, in which the administration capitalized on Democrats’ fears of being branded weak on terrorism and on Congress’s desire to act on the issue before its August recess.” [Washington Post, 8/5/2007] Indeed, one Republican senator, Trent Lott, warns during the initial debate that lawmakers should pass the law quickly and get out of Washington before they could be killed in a terrorist attack (see August 2, 2007). McConnell tells the Senate, “Al-Qaeda is not going on vacation this month.” And Democrat Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), a supporter of the bill, told his colleagues: “We’re at war. The enemy wants to attack us. This is not the time to strive for legislative perfection.” [Slate, 8/6/2007]
Some Democrats Unhappy - One Democratic lawmaker responds angrily: “There are a lot of people who felt we had to pass something. It was tantamount to being railroaded.” Many House Democrats feel betrayed by the White House; Democratic leaders had reached what they believed was a deal on the bill with the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, only to have the White House throw out the deal and present a new list of conditions at the last minute. Both McConnell and the White House deny that any such deal was reached. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says, “I think the White House didn’t want to take ‘yes’ for an answer from the Democrats.” Representative Jerrold Nadler (R-NY) says lawmakers were “stampeded by fear-mongering and deception” into voting for the bill. Fellow House Democrat Jane Harman (D-CA) warns that the PAA will lead to “potential unprecedented abuse of innocent Americans’ privacy.” [Washington Post, 8/5/2007] The ACLU’s Caroline Fredrickson has a succinct explanation of why the Democrats folded so quickly: “Whenever the president says the word terrorism, they roll over and play dead.” [Slate, 8/6/2007]
AT&T Whistleblower: Democratic Leadership Colluded in Passing PAA - AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and December 15-31, 2005) will later write that the Democrats played a far more active role in getting the PAA passed than others acknowledge. He will quote a 2008 column by liberal civil liberties advocate Glenn Greenwald, who will write: “[I]n 2006, when the Congress was controlled by [then-Senate Majority Leader] Bill Frist [R-TN] and [then-House Speaker] Denny Hastert [R-IL], the administration tried to get a bill passed legalizing warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty, but was unable. They had to wait until the Congress was controlled by [House Majority Leader] Steny Hoyer [D-MD], [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi [D-CA], and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-NV] to accomplish that.” According to Klein, once the Democrats took control of Congress in January 2007, they engaged in “pure theater, posturing as opponents of the illegal NSA program while seeking a way to protect the president.” The few principled Democrats to actively oppose the legislation, such as Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), were, Klein will write, “hamstrung by their own leadership.” The PAA passage was accompanied by refusals from the Democratic leaders of “the relevant Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, which were now led by Democrats such as [John D.] Rockefeller, [Dianne] Feinstein (see February 1-6, 2006), and [Patrick] Leahy in the Senate, and John Conyers and Sylvestre Reyes in the House,” who “quickly decided not to launch any serious investigations into the NSA spying.” Klein will later add that at the time of the PAA passage, he was unaware of how thoroughly Democrats had been briefed on the NSA program (see October 1, 2001, October 11, 2001, October 25, 2001 and November 14, 2001, July 17, 2003, and March 10, 2004), “and thus were in on the secret but took no action to stop it.” [Salon, 6/19/2008; Klein, 2009, pp. 86-87]
Entity Tags: Trent Lott, Mike McConnell, Protect America Act, Joseph Lieberman, Mitch McConnell, Jane Harman, Jerrold Nadler, Caroline Fredrickson, Bush administration (43), Jan Schakowsky, House Intelligence Committee
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Aziz Huq. [Source: American Prospect]Aziz Huq, an author and the director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, writes that the Protect America Act (PAA-see August 5, 2007) came about as a result of what he calls “the most recent example of the national security waltz, a three-step administration maneuver for taking defeat and turning it into victory.” Step one is a court defeat for the administration, for example regarding detainees at Guantanamo (see June 28, 2004), or the overruling of military commissions in 2006 (see June 30, 2006). The second step, which comes weeks or months later, is an announcement that the ruling has created a security crisis and must be “remedied” through immediate legislation. The third and final step is the administration pushing legislation through Congress, such as the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 15, 2005) or the Military Commissions Act, that, Huq writes, “not only undoes the good court decision but also inflicts substantial damage to the infrastructure of accountability.”
Step One: FISC Refuses to Approve NSA's Surveillance Program - In January 2007, the administration announced that it was submitting the NSA’s domestic surveillance program to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the secret court that issues FISA warrants for surveillance (see May 1, 2007). This was due to pending court cases threatening to rule the program in violation of FISA and the Fourth Amendment; the administration wanted to forestall, or at least sidestep, those upcoming rulings. In June, FISC refused to approve parts of the NSA program that involved monitoring overseas communications that passed through US telecom switches. Since a tremendous amount of overseas communications are routed through US networks, this ruling jeopardized the NSA’s previous ability to wiretap such communications virtually at will without a warrant. The administration objected to the NSA having to secure such warrants.
Step Two: The Drumbeat Begins - Months later, the drumbeat for new legislation to give the NSA untrammeled rights to monitor “overseas” communications, which not only traveled through US networks, but often began or ended with US citizens, began with appearances in the right-wing media by administration supporters, where they insisted that the FISC ruling was seriously hampering the NSA’s ability to garner much-needed intelligence on terrorist plots against the US. The White House and Congressional Republicans drafted legislation giving the NSA what it wanted, and presented it during the last week of the Congressional session, minimizing the time needed for scrutiny of the legislation as well as reducing the time available for meaningful debate.
Step Three: Passing a Law With Hidden Teeth - The legislation that would become the Protect America Act was carefully written by Bush officials, and would go much farther than giving the NSA the leeway it needed to wiretap US citizens. Instead, as Huq writes, “the Protect America Act is a dramatic, across-the-board expansion of government authority to collect information without judicial oversight.” Democrats believed they had negotiated a deal with the administration’s Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, to limit the law to addressing foreign surveillance wiretaps, but, Huq writes, “the White House torpedoed that deal and won a far broader law.” The law removes any real accountability over domestic surveillance by either Congress or the judiciary. Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi says that the PAA provides “unlimited access to currently protected personal information that is already accessible through an oversight procedure.” The law is part of the administration’s continual attempts to “eviscerat[e]” the checks and balances that form the foundation of US democracy.
Ramifications - The law includes the provision that warrantless surveillance can be “directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States.” Huq writes that this is a tremendously broad and vague standard that allows “freewheeling surveillance of Americans’ international calls and e-mails.” He adds: “The problem lies in the words ‘directed at.’ Under this language, the NSA could decide to ‘direct’ its surveillance at Peshawar, Pakistan—and seize all US calls going to and from there.… Simply put, the law is an open-ended invitation to collect Americans’ international calls and e-mails.” The law does not impose any restrictions on the reason for surveillance. National security concerns are no longer the standard for implementing surveillance of communications. And the phrase “reasonably believe” is uncertain. The provisions for oversight are, Huq writes, “risibly weak.” Surveillance need only be explained by presentations by the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General to FISC, which has little room to invalidate any surveillance, and furthermore will not be informed of any specific cases of surveillance. As for Congress, the Attorney General only need inform that body of “incidents of noncompliance” as reported by the administration. Congress must rely on the administration to police itself; it cannot demand particulars or examine documentation for itself. The law expires in six months, but, Huq notes, that deadline comes up in the middle of the 2008 presidential campaign, with all the pressures that entails. And the law allows “the NSA to continue wielding its new surveillance powers for up to a year afterward.” The law, Huq writes, “does not enhance security-related surveillance powers. Rather, it allows the government to spy when there is no security justification. And it abandons all but the pretense of oversight.” [Nation, 8/7/2007]
In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell admits, “9/11 should have and could have been prevented; it was an issue of connecting information that was available.” [ABC News, 9/18/2007] The reason he gives for this is: “There was a terrorist. He was a foreigner. He was in the United States [note: presumably he is referring to Khalid Almihdhar]. He was planning to carry out the 9/11 attacks. What the 9/11 Commission and the Joint Inquiry found is that person communicated back to al-Qaeda overseas and we failed to detect it.” [US Congress, 9/18/2007] However, it is unclear which portions of the 9/11 Commission and Congressional Inquiry reports he thinks he is referring to. The 9/11 Commission report contains two brief mentions of these calls to and from the US, but does not say whether they were detected or not, although it does say that other calls made outside the US by the 9/11 hijackers were detected. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 87-8, 181, 222] The Congressional Inquiry report says that the calls between Almihdhar in the US and the al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen were intercepted and analyzed by the NSA, which distributed reports to other intelligence agencies about some of them. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ] The FBI had requested the NSA inform it of calls between the number Almihdhar talked to, an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen, and the US (see Late 1998), but the NSA did not do so (see (Spring 2000)). A variety of explanations are offered for this after 9/11 (see Summer 2002-Summer 2004 and March 15, 2004 and After).
Vice President Cheney’s office has been holding up the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran for over a year, while pressuring the intelligence community to remove dissenting judgments on Iran’s nuclear program, two former CIA officers now reveal. So far the intelligence community has not bowed to Cheney’s pressure, and the White House has apparently decided to release the “unsatisfactory” draft NIE—but not make its key findings public. NIEs are the product of the 16 US intelligence agencies, and usually focus on a single nation or issue. According to one former CIA officer, the Iran NIE was ready to be published a year ago, but was delayed then because the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, wanted the NIE to reflect a consensus on key conclusions, especially on Iran’s nuclear program (see February 20, 2007). The US intelligence community is split on its view of Iran’s nuclear program, with less independent-minded analysts willing to embrace Cheney’s alarmist positions, and others rejecting that view. The first draft was unacceptable to the White House; according to the former CIA officer, “They refused to come out with a version that had dissenting views in it.” Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi agrees with the unnamed officer’s assessment. “The White House wants a document that it can use as evidence for its Iran policy,” Giraldi says. Giraldi wrote in October 2006 that the Iran NIE was being held up by Cheney’s office, which objected to its findings on both Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s putative role in arming Iraq. The White House then chose to delay any decision on the internal release of the NIE until after the November 2006 Congressional elections (see October 2006). In April 2007, Thomas Fingar, the chairman of the National Intelligence Council, said that the report would be delayed while the intelligence community evaluated “new reporting” from the International Atomic Energy Agency and other sources, as well as “reexamining old evidence.” According to the two former CIA officers, Fingar’s statement sent a powerful signal to the intelligence community that the White House wanted the NIE to be specific, focused, and alarming in its conclusions. In past weeks, officials involved in producing the NIE have been “throwing their hands up in frustration” over the refusal of the administration to allow the estimate to be released, according to the former intelligence officer. [Inter Press Service, 11/10/2007]
George W. Bush, apparently taken somewhat aback by the US intelligence community’s findings released on December 3, 2007, that Iran halted its work on a nuclear bomb four years ago (see December 3, 2007), claims that he only learned about the findings on November 28. The intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) has been in production for some 18 months. According to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were first given initial briefings in either August or September. [White House, 11/28/2007; Washington Post, 12/4/2007] Bush tells reporters he wasn’t even aware of the evidence showing Iran had halted its nuclear program, “I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was [Director of National Intelligence] Mike McConnell [who] came in and said, ‘We have some new information.’ He didn’t tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze.… And it wasn’t until last week that I was briefed on the NIE that is now public.” A clearly incredulous reporter follows up by asking, “I understand what you’re saying about when you were informed about the NIE. Are you saying at no point while the rhetoric was escalating, as World War III was making it into conversation—at no point, nobody from your intelligence team or your administration was saying, ‘Maybe you want to back it down a little bit?’” Bush answers, “No—I’ve never—nobody ever told me that.” [CNN, 12/4/2007] From Hadley’s words, the date that Bush knew of the NIE findings may be much earlier. Hadley tells reporters attempting to pin him down on the exact date when Bush was told of the findings, “[W]hen was the president notified that there was new information available? We’ll try and get you a precise answer. As I say, it was, in my recollection, is in the last few months. Whether that’s October—August-September, we’ll try and get you an answer for that.” All told, Hadley says that Bush was told of the findings within “the last few months” five different times during the press conference. [Think Progress, 12/3/2007] By December 5, the White House will begin refusing to answer the question at all. White House spokesman Tony Fratto will tell reporters, “I don’t have anything on that.… I can’t give you more detail on what Director McConnell said to the President.” [White House, 12/5/2007]
Bush Either 'Lying' or 'Stupid' - Many find Bush’s claim hard to accept. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) notes that he and ranking committee member Kit Bond (R-MO) received a briefing on the NIE’s intelligence “several months ago,” and says, “I was really struck when the president said that he only got the final judgments on Tuesday.” He cannot imagine that he and Bond received information months in advance of Bush. Rockefeller says he “can’t believe” that McConnell’s indication of new information didn’t prevent Bush from “talking about a nuclear holocaust.” [PBS, 12/4/2007] Former National Security Council official Flynt Leverett says the White House is probably being dishonest about what Bush knew and when he knew it. “I can’t imagine that McConnell… would tell the president about this and not tell him what the information actually said,” Leverett observes. [CNN, 12/5/2007] Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) says, “What’s shocking today is that apparently he knew about this estimate a month or more before he made those statements. I don’t think that shows a responsible use of intelligence.” [Reuters, 12/5/2007] And MSNBC talk show host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican Congressman, says flatly, “We are left with only two options here. Either the President of the United States is lying to the American people about what happened during that meeting, or the President of the United States is stupid.” [MSNBC, 12/5/2007]
Cheney Not Hampered by Lack of Intelligence - If Bush was indeed ignorant of the intelligence findings, as he asserts, it is not likely that his vice president labored under the same lack of information, judging from the fact that Cheney’s office has been involved in trying to suppress the NIE for over a year (see October 2006).
Entity Tags: Mike McConnell, Joseph Scarborough, Stephen J. Hadley, John D. Rockefeller, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jack Reed, Bush administration (43), Flynt Leverett, George W. Bush, Senate Intelligence Committee, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, Tony Fratto
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
The White House confirms that President Bush was told in August 2007 that Iran’s nuclear weapons program “may be suspended,” the conclusion of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) (see December 3, 2007). The White House’s admission is a direct contradiction of Bush’s assertion that he only learned of the NIE in late November (see December 3-4, 2007 and November 26-28, 2007). Press secretary Dana Perino says Bush was not told in August of the specifics behind the information about Iran’s nuclear program. Perino says that Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Mike McConnell told Bush in August that the new information might cause the intelligence community to revise its assessment of the Iranian program, but analysts still needed to complete their review before making a final judgment. However, Perino says there is no conflict between her statement and Bush’s insistence that he knew nothing about the substance of the intelligence assessment until late November, because Bush “wasn’t given the specific details” of the revised estimate. Perino’s account raises questions about why, if Bush knew the intelligence community believed Iran’s nuclear weapons program was in abeyance, two months later, he was still giving dire warnings about Iran being a threat to cause “World War III” if not halted (see October 20, 2007). Perino offers an explanation of those warnings, saying, “The president didn’t say we’re going to cause World War III. He was saying he wanted to avoid World War III.” Perino says it is unfair to question Bush’s veracity: “If anyone wants to call the president a liar, they are misreading the situation for their own political purposes. The liar is [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad [the president of Iran], and he has a lot of explaining to do.”
Reaction - Joseph Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls Bush’s explanation unbelievable. “I refuse to believe that,” Biden says. “If that’s true, he has the most incompetent staff in modern American history, and he’s one of the most incompetent presidents in modern American history.” [CNN, 12/5/2007] Four former CIA officials call Bush’s claim of ignorance about the Iran intelligence “preposterous.” Melvin Goodman, a 24-year CIA veteran, calls Bush’s claim “unbelievable.” He is joined by Ray McGovern, another CIA veteran who routinely briefed George H. W. Bush during his two terms as vice president; Larry Johnson, the former deputy of the State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism; and Bruce Riedel, a former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asian offices. McGovern is almost contemptuous of Bush’s claim: “The notion that the head of National Intelligence whispered in Bush’s ear, ‘I’ve got a surprise for you and it’s really important, but I’m not going to tell you about it until we check it out’—the whole thing is preposterous.” Riedel says that Bush “either chose to ignore what he heard or his director of national intelligence is not doing his job.” He doubts McConnell failed to do his part. “To me it is almost mind boggling that the president is told by the DNI that we have new important information on Iran and he doesn’t ask ‘what is that information?’” Riedel adds. It is not McConnell’s responsibility to tell Bush to “stop hyperventilating about the Iranian threat,” he says, but instead the job of National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Bush’s other policy advisers to keep “their eye on the intelligence and to take into account new information as it comes along.” Johnson says that the information used in the NIE would have been available months before it was released to the public, and would have automatically been included in the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB). Bush would have been told of the intelligence findings, as would Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Goodman and McGovern agree with Johnson’s statement. [Huffington Post, 12/5/2007] A deconstruction of Bush’s own statements over the last several months indicates that Bush changed his wording in early August, most likely because he was informed about the intelligence findings over Iran (see December 5, 2007).
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Dana Perino, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Bruce Riedel, Stephen J. Hadley, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mike McConnell, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Larry C. Johnson, Joseph Biden, Condoleezza Rice, Ray McGovern, Robert M. Gates, Melvin A. Goodman
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
Michael McConnell, the director of national intelligence, writes an op-ed for the New York Times pushing for Congressional immunity for US telecommunications firms over their cooperation with the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. Under August’s Protect America Act, McConnell writes, the country is “safer” from terrorist attacks while the privacy of US citizens is protected (see August 5, 2007). The government has “greater understanding of international [al-]Qaeda networks, and the law has allowed us to obtain significant insight into terrorist planning.” But the Act expires in two months, and McConnell wants it re-enacted and significantly expanded “if we are to stay ahead of terrorists who are determined to attack the United States.” Echoing the arguments of Bush administration officials, McConnell attacks the “outdated” Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as significantly hindering the government’s “ability to collect timely foreign intelligence.” McConnell complains: “Our experts were diverted from tracking foreign threats to writing lengthy justifications to collect information from a person in a foreign country, simply to satisfy an outdated statute that did not reflect the ways our adversaries communicate. The judicial process intended to protect the privacy and civil liberties of Americans was applied instead to foreign intelligence targets in foreign countries. This made little sense, and the Protect America Act eliminated this problem.” McConnell calls for new legislation that would obviate the need for intelligence agencies such as the NSA to seek warrants to monitor US citizens’ telephone and e-mail communications: “The intelligence community should spend its time protecting our nation, not providing privacy protections to foreign terrorists and other diffuse international threats.” He also calls for retroactive immunity for “private parties”—i.e. the US telecommunications companies—that are subject to lawsuits over their cooperation with the NSA in monitoring US communications. “The intelligence community cannot go it alone,” he writes. “Those in the private sector who stand by us in times of national security emergencies deserve thanks, not lawsuits.” Two days later, new Attorney General Michael Mukasey will write a virtually identical op-ed for the Los Angeles Times (see December 12, 2007). [New York Times, 12/10/2007]
The Bush administration begins a push to get Congress to pass legislation to protect telecommunications companies from lawsuits over their assistance with the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. This is part of the administration’s long and sometimes uneasy partnership with the telecom industry to conduct a wide range of secret anti-terrorism surveillance operations. The firms fear further lawsuits and more public exposure, and some have refused outright to cooperate (see February 27, 2001 and 1990s).
Fiber Optics - Twenty years ago, the NSA had little difficulty in monitoring telephone communications because older technology relied on broadcast signals carried by microwave towers and satellite relays; the agency used its own satellite dishes to cull the signals. But fiber optic communications are much more difficult to tap, forcing the agency to seek the cooperation of the telecoms to monitor their signals.
Relationship - “It’s a very frayed and strained relationship right now, and that’s not a good thing for the country in terms of keeping all of us safe,” says an industry official in favor of immunity for the telecoms. “This episode has caused companies to change their conduct in a variety of ways.” Both the director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, and the new Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, write virtually identical op-eds in recent days calling for passage of legislation to grant immunity to the telecoms and remove the need to obtain warrants to wiretap Americans’ communications (see December 10, 2007 and December 12, 2007).
Two Bills - Currently, two bills are before Congress: one largely crafted by Republicans and passed on by the Senate Intelligence Committee that would grant retroactive immunity to the telecoms, and another from the House Judiciary Committee that would not. The White House says President Bush will veto any legislation that does not grant immunity to the telecoms. [New York Times, 12/16/2007]
A map of recent Predator strikes in Pakistan’s tribal zones. (1) is the March 16, 2008 attack, (2) is the February 28, 2008 attack, and (3) is the January 29, 2008 attack that killed Abu Laith al-Libi. [Source: Washington Post]On January 9, 2008, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and CIA Director Michael Hayden visit Pakistan and meet with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Pakistani army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Pakistan agrees to allow the US to increase its use of Predator drones to strike at al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal region. [New York Times, 2/22/2008] At least three Predator attacks follow in the next months (see January 29, 2008, February 28, 2008, March 16, 2008) after a year of few or no attacks. Previously, Musharraf had issues with such strikes, but now the US has his unofficial tacit approval. Newsweek reports that the US now has “virtually unrestricted authority to hit targets in the border areas.” The US has pushed for more strikes partly because al-Qaeda has been launching more attacks from the tribal regions. But also, US officials are concerned that Musharraf is losing power and the new leaders will be more hostile to US operations in Pakistan. [Newsweek, 3/22/2008] Some of the Predator attacks are launched from secret CIA bases near the Pakistani towns of Islamabad and Jacobabad. The bases are first publicly mentioned in February 2008, and next to nothing is known about them. [New York Times, 2/22/2008; Washington Post, 3/27/2008]
Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell says that the 9/11 hijackers could not be monitored in the US because they did not commit any crimes. He says in a speech: “[I]f Mohamed Atta had been in Pakistan and we were tracking him, some way to track him—he went to Turkey, went to Europe, got over to Canada, we’d track him as foreign intelligence target, and he crosses into the United States, he’s now a US person; he gets all of the rights and privileges that you get. He’s invisible to your intelligence community. As long as he doesn’t break the law, law enforcement can’t conduct surveillance because they don’t have a probable cause. Al-Qaeda recognized that and that is why 9/11 happened in my view.” [Director of National Intelligence, 1/17/2008 ] The 9/11 hijackers committed various offenses for which they could have been arrested in the US, such as lying on visa application forms (see August 29, 2001), overstaying their visas (see January 18, 2001, May 20, 2001 and January 10, 2001), driving without a license (note: a warrant for Mohamed Atta’s arrest was even issued in the summer of 2001—see June 4, 2001), and having a known role in blowing up the USS Cole, thereby murdering 17 US servicemen (see Around October 12, 2000). The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was also specifically designed so that the FBI and other agencies could monitor agents of foreign powers in the US even if they did not commit a crime (see 1978).
CIA Director Michael Hayden and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testify to a Senate committee that US officials had indeed waterboarded three terrorist suspects (see May 2002-2003, Mid-May 2002 and After, (November 2002), and After March 7, 2003). Hayden and McConnell, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, say that while the CIA banned the use of waterboarding (see Between May and Late 2006), the agency might authorize it again if circumstances warranted. Hayden says that the CIA found it necessary to waterboard the three suspects—alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida, and al-Qaeda manager Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri—because the US believed they had information about an imminent attack, and because it needed information about al-Qaeda immediately. “Those two circumstances have changed,” says Hayden. McConnell calls waterboarding a “lawful technique” that could be used again if needed. Hayden says the CIA has held fewer than 100 detainees, and of those, less than a third were put through what he calls “enhanced techniques.” Hayden also admits that “private contractors” took part in subjecting detainees to those “enhanced techniques,” which many call torture. He says he is not sure if any contractors were involved in waterboarding anyone. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) calls for an immediate Justice Department investigation into whether waterboarding is a criminal act. [Wall Street Journal, 2/6/2008] Two days later, Attorney General Michael Mukasey announces his decision not to investigate the US’s use of waterboarding (see February 7, 2008).
Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Abu Zubaida, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Al-Qaeda, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mike McConnell, Senate Intelligence Committee, Michael Mukasey, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
In House testimony, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Lieutenant General Michael Maples of the Defense Intelligence Agency say that they stand by their agencies’ decisions not to waterboard detainees. Two days before, CIA Director Michael Hayden and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testified that the CIA had used waterboarding and might do so again (see February 5, 2008). The Pentagon has banned its employees from using the tactic, and the FBI has stated, “its investigators do not use coercive tactics when interviewing terror suspects.” Rush Holt (D-NJ) asks Mueller and Maples why their agencies do not use coercive interrogation: “Do you never interrogate people who have critical information?” Mueller responds: “Our protocol is not to use coercive techniques. That is our protocol. We have lived by it. And it is sufficient and appropriate for our mission here in the United States.… We believe in the appropriateness of our techniques to our mission here in the United States.” Maples adds: “The Army Field Manual guides our efforts and the efforts of the armed forces.… We believe that the approaches that are in the Army Field Manual give us the tools that are necessary for the purpose under which we are conducting interrogations.” The field manual bans the use of coercion against detainees. [Think Progress, 2/7/2008] The same day, Attorney General Michael Mukasey announces his decision not to investigate the US’s use of waterboarding (see February 7, 2008).
Admiral Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, admits during a radio interview that the main issue over the renewal of the Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007) is not the security and safety of the nation, but the need to extend liability immunity to the nation’s telecommunications firms. In recent days, President Bush has said that unnamed terrorists are planning attacks on the US that will make 9/11 “pale by comparison,” and the only way to stop those attacks is to renew the PAA with new provisions that will grant telecommunications firms such as BellSouth, Verizon, and AT&T retroactive immunity from prosecution. Those firms are accused of illegally aiding the government in electronically monitoring the telephone and e-mail conversations of US citizens (see February 5, 2006). The PAA expires on February 16, but the government can operate under its provisions for another year. McConnell tells a National Public Radio reporter that the biggest issue surrounding the legislation is liability protection for the telecom firms. “We can’t do this mission without their help,” he says. “Currently there is no retroactive liability protection for them. They’re being sued for billions of dollars.” They did not break the law, McConnell asserts, but the lawsuits are curtailing their willingness to cooperate with the government. “The Senate committee that passed the bill examined the activities of the telecom companies and concluded they were not violating the law,” he says. By not extending retroactive immunity, McConnell says, “we’d lose the capability to protect the country.” [National Public Radio, 2/15/2008] Two days later, McConnell echoes his unusually frank admission. Interviewed on Fox News, he says: “Let me make one other point just—very important. The entire issue here is liability protection for the carriers. And so the old law and extended law are an expired law if we don’t have retroactive liability protection for the carriers. They are less inclined to help us, and so their support.… And therefore, we do not have the agility and the speed that we had before to be able to move and try to capture [terrorists’] communications to thwart their planning.” He also implies that the argument against granting immunity—if the telecoms’ actions were legal in the first place then they wouldn’t need immunity—is valid. Interviewer Chris Wallace says: “Isn’t the central issue here that you’ve lost your power to compel telecommunications companies to cooperate with you and also your ability to offer them legal immunity? Again, the Democrats would say, ‘Look, if the cooperation is legal, they don’t need legal immunity.’” McConnell replies: “Exactly right. The issue now is there’s uncertainty because the law has expired and the law of August, the Protect America Act, allowed us to compel—compel—support from a private carrier. That’s now expired.… [T]he private sector, although willingly helped us [sic] in the past, are now saying, ‘You can’t protect me. Why should I help you?’” Interestingly, after all of the talk of imminent terror attacks, when Wallace asks, “Do you believe al-Qaeda is more of a threat now than any time since 9/11?” McConnell says flatly: “No. Following 9/11, al-Qaeda’s leadership and operatives were degraded probably two-thirds or three-quarters.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) responds that the administration’s attempt to tie the renewal of the PAA into the threat of future terrorist attacks is “wrong, divisive and nothing but fear-mongering.” Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) adds that McConnell’s “latest comments show yet again the shamelessness of the administration’s tactics.” [Fox News, 2/17/2008]
The Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) expires today. Congress has refused to pass a reauthorization of the legislation that contains a provision to grant retroactive immunity to US telecommunications firms to protect them from lawsuits arising from their previous cooperation with government eavesdroppers (see February 5, 2006). President Bush has warned for days that by refusing to reauthorize the bill, Congress is leaving the US “more in danger of attack.” The surveillance elements of the PAA will continue in force for another year after its passage even as the PAA itself expires, so the government’s capability to use electronic surveillance against suspected terrorists and citizens alike continues unabated through August 2008.
Republican Reaction - House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) warns, “This is a grave problem, and the Democrat leaders ought to be held accountable for their inaction.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says, “The companies have been waiting for six months for retroactive liability” protection. “They are under pressure from their directors, pressure from their shareholders, and you’re jeopardizing the entire existence of the company by continuing to do this.”
Democratic Reaction - But House Democrats seem to be in no mood to give in to Bush’s rhetoric. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says Bush is “misrepresenting the facts on our nation’s electronic-surveillance capabilities.” “There is no risk the program will go dark,” says Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Many Democrats accuse the administration of putting the interests of telecom firms over national security—accusations that intensify after Bush’s Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, admitted that the real issue behind the reauthorization is the immunity for telecoms (see February 15-17, 2008). Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says that the entire argument is “nothing more than a scare tactic designed to avoid legal and political accountability and keep Americans in the dark about the administration’s massive lawbreaking.” House member Tim Walz (D-MN) says, “Coming from a military background, I sure don’t downplay that there are threats out there, but the president’s demagoguery on this is the equivalent of the boy crying wolf.” And Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), the head of the House Democratic Caucus, says bluntly: “This is not about protecting Americans. The president just wants to protect American telephone companies.”
Previous Depiction - When the law was signed into effect August 5, 2007, it was portrayed by the White House as “a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate needs of the intelligence community to protect the country.” Now it is being portrayed by Bush officials as the cornerstone of the nation’s terrorist-surveillance program. The issue is sure to resurface when Congress returns from a week-long break in late February. [Associated Press, 2/14/2008; Washington Post, 2/16/2008]
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and Attorney General Michael Mukasey pen a letter to Silvestre Reyes (D-TX, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, claiming that because the Democratically led Congress has allowed the Protect America Act (PAA) to expire (see February 16, 2008), the government is losing critically needed intelligence on potential terrorist threats. McConnell and Mukasey do not include any evidence of the claim in their letter. In the six days since the PAA expired, the two write, some of the government’s “partners” in intelligence operations—US telecommunications firms—have “reduced [their] cooperation” in the government’s warrantless wiretapping program. The two officials do not name which firms they say have cut back on their cooperation. The telecom firms are more reluctant to continue their cooperation with the government because they do not have retroactive legal immunity from civil and criminal charges for their cooperation in the past. The Bush administration and Congressional Republicans allowed the PAA to expire rather than approve an extension of the law that did not include an immunity clause (see February 23, 2008). In their letter, McConnell and Mukasey claim that since the Protect America Act lapsed, telecom firms “have delayed or refused compliance with our requests to initiate new surveillances of terrorist and other foreign intelligence targets under existing directives issued pursuant to the Protect America Act.” They add, “Although most partners intend to cooperate for the time being, they have expressed deep misgivings about doing so in light of the uncertainty and have indicated that they may well cease to cooperate if the uncertainty persists.” McConnell and Mukasey write that if Congress does not extend immunity to the telecom firms, the firms will continue to be reluctant to cooperate with the surveillance program: “This uncertainty may well continue to cause us to miss information that we otherwise would be collecting.” A day later, the two retract their claim (see February 23, 2008). Reyes and other Democrats have accused the administration of exaggerating the claims of threats to national security because of their refusal to grant the telecoms immunity; some have accused the administration of “fearmongering” and employing “scare tactics.” [Newsweek, 2/22/2008; Newsweek, 2/22/2008; Politico, 2/22/2008]
Democrats Take 'Strong Offense' to Charges - In a joint statement, Reyes, Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), and other Democrats respond to McConnell and Mukasey’s letter: “Further politicizing the debate, the administration today announced that they believe there have been gaps in security since the Protect America Act expired. They cannot have it both ways; if it is true that the expiration of the PAA has caused gaps in intelligence, then it was irresponsible for the president and congressional Republicans to openly oppose an extension of the law. Accordingly, they should join Democrats in extending it until we can resolve our differences.” [Newsweek, 2/22/2008] Reyes says: “President Bush has just been spoiled dealing with the Republican-controlled Congress before. I take strong offense at the president’s comments that somehow we’re less safe because the Protect America Act expired.” [Politico, 2/22/2008]
Republicans Refuse to Discuss Legislation - Democratic staffers in the House and Senate Intelligence Committees meet today to discuss how to iron out difference between the two chambers’ version of the proposed extension of the PAA; Republican aides refuse to attend. [Associated Press, 2/23/2008] Democrats also charge that, contrary to administration claims of wanting to work with Congress to pass an acceptable update to the law, the White House has refused to supply lawmakers with documents they have requested pertaining to the extension. [Politico, 2/22/2008]
Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell write to Silvestre Reyes, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, about their desire to see the Protect America Act renewed. In the letter, they mention the failure to exploit NSA intercepts of calls between the 9/11 hijackers in the US and al-Qaeda’s main global communications hub, which apparently had the potential to thwart the 9/11 plot (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). They write: “[O]ne of the September 11th hijackers communicated with a known overseas terrorist facility while he was living in the United States. Because that collection was conducted under Executive Order 12333, the intelligence community could not identify the domestic end of the communication prior to September 11, 2001, when it could have stopped that attack.” [US Department of Justice and Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 2/28/2008 ] Executive Order 12333 became law in 1981 and governed general activities by the US intelligence community. [US President, 12/4/1981] The order did allow the NSA to disseminate information about US persons to law enforcement officials in the event of an impending terrorist act. [US Congress: House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, 4/12/2000] The letter does not give more detailed reasons why Mukasey and McConnell think the NSA could not have traced the calls and informed the FBI of the two hijackers’ presence in the US (see (Spring 2000)). [US Department of Justice and Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 2/28/2008 ] Similar incorrect statements have been made by numerous intelligence officials since December 2005, when the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program was revealed (see December 17, 2005).
A day after the director of national intelligence and the attorney general warned that the government is losing critical intelligence on terrorist activities because Congress had not reauthorized the Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007), the same two officials now admit that the government is receiving the same intelligence as it did before the PAA expired (see February 16, 2008 and February 22, 2008). Mike McConnell and Michael Mukasey now admit that the nation’s telecommunications firms are still cooperating with the government’s warrantless wiretapping program. “We learned last night after sending [the original] letter that… new surveillances under existing directives issued pursuant to the Protect America Act will resume, at least for now,” Mukasey and McConnell say in a statement. “We appreciate the willingness of our private partners to cooperate despite the uncertainty.” But in the same letter, McConnell and Mukasey contradict themselves, saying, “Unfortunately, the delay resulting from this discussion impaired our ability to cover foreign intelligence targets, which resulted in missed intelligence information.” No one in the White House will give specifics of what intelligence data may have been missed, or how serious it may have been. A Democratic Congressional official says he is skeptical that anything was missed because the law permits continued monitoring of terrorists and their associates regardless of the PAA’s expiration. “This is serious backpedaling by the DNI,” the Democratic official says of McConnell. “He’s been saying for the last week that the sky is falling, and the sky is not falling.” The American Civil Liberties Union’s Caroline Fredrickson, whose organization is suing a number of telecoms for information about the government’s warrantless wiretapping program, says, “In an attempt to get sweeping powers to wiretap without warrants, Republicans are playing politics with domestic surveillance legislation.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/24/2008]
President Bush again demands that Congress reinstate the Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007), with new provisions providing the nation’s telecommunications industry retroactive legal immunity from criminal and civil prosecution for possible crimes committed in the administration’s domestic wiretapping program (see May 12, 2006). Bush says that without such immunity, US telecom firms will be reluctant to help the administration spy on potential terrorists. The PAA is a central part of the legislative update of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (see 1978) which mandates that any wiretaps must receive the approval of the FISA Court. Bush insists that he will veto an update to FISA without the immunity provisions, even as he asserts the country is at risk of further terrorist attacks without the FISA updates, and after letting the PAA lapse without signing an extension of the legislation into law. However, Bush blames Congress for not passing the FISA update with an immunity clause: “Congress’ failure to pass this legislation was irresponsible,” he says. “In other words, the House’s refusal to act is undermining our ability to get cooperation from private companies. And that undermines our efforts to protect us from terrorist attack.” He explains why the Democrats don’t want his bill: “House leaders are blocking this legislation, and the reason can be summed up in three words: class action lawsuits.” A spokesman for Congressional Democrats retorts: “They cannot have it both ways. If it is true that the expiration of the [surveillance law] has caused gaps in intelligence, then it was irresponsible for the president and Congressional Republicans to openly oppose an extension of the law.”
Democrats Put Trial Lawyers Before National Security? - Bush says: “The Senate bill would prevent plaintiffs’ attorneys from suing companies believed to have helped defend America after the 9/11 attacks. More than 40 of these lawsuits have been filed, seeking hundreds of billions of dollars in damages from these companies.… It is unfair and unjust to threaten these companies with financial ruin only because they are believed to have done the right thing and helped their country.” The lawsuits (see June 26, 2006) seek damages based upon violations of FISA, the Wiretap Act, the Communications Act, and the Stored Communications Act, among other laws. Bob Edgar of Common Cause says neither money nor punishment is the issue: “Innocent Americans who have had their rights violated by the telecoms deserve their day in court. If these companies did nothing wrong, then they have nothing to fear.” Bush is apparently attempting to refocus the issue as an attack on trial lawyers—traditionally a group supportive of Democrats—in saying: “Members of the House have a choice to make: They can empower the trial bar—or they can empower the intelligence community. They can help class action trial lawyers sue for billions of dollars—or they can help our intelligence officials protect millions of lives. They can put our national security in the hands of plaintiffs’ lawyers—or they can entrust it to the men and women of our government who work day and night to keep us safe.” House member John Conyers (D-MI) calls such characterizations “irresponsible” and “inaccurate.” [CBS News, 2/23/2008]
Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) pens a blistering op-ed for the conservative National Review that accuses House Democrats of allowing the Protect America Act to expire (PAA—see February 16, 2008) and thereby endangering the country by leaving it unprotected against terrorist attacks. This is the same argument President Bush and Republicans have advanced in recent days in favor of continued warrantless wiretapping (see February 23, 2008). Hoekstra calls the Democrats’ action “unprecedented irresponsibility.” The “burdensome paperwork, government lawyers, and court orders” that implementing wiretaps will now engender, Hoekstra writes, “could mean the difference in stopping a terrorist plot or saving the life of an American soldier.” Hoekstra quickly turns to another key agenda for reauthorizing the PAA—providing retroactive immunity from lawsuits for American telecommunications firms. He echoes the arguments of Bush and other officials such as Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell (see February 22, 2008) by writing that without such immunity, “these companies obviously will be reluctant to cooperate with the government in the future.” But Hoekstra takes the argument even farther, equating the Democrats’ refusal to reauthorize the PAA with their support from trial lawyers, who “have contributed more $1.5 million to Democrat coffers.” He then says that US intelligence agents will suffer because, he asserts, “many of [them] have been forced to take out professional liability insurance to protect them from the actions of the Democratic Congress.” Hoekstra claims that Democrats consistently favor working to investigate global warming over protecting the nation. [National Review, 2/25/2008] Hoekstra continues the attack the next day with a piece in the Wall Street Journal co-authored with his House colleague Lamar Smith (R-TX) and his Senate colleague Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO). The three open this column with the rhetorical question, “Are Americans as safe today as they were before Congress allowed the Protect America Act to expire on Feb. 16?” and answer it with much the same arguments that Hoekstra advanced the day before. “We are less safe today and will remain so until Congress clears up the legal uncertainty for companies that assist in collecting intelligence for the government—and until it gives explicit permission to our intelligence agencies to intercept, without a warrant, foreign communications that pass through the US,” they claim. They also echo the claim asserted by McConnell and Mukasey that the nation’s intelligence community has lost valuable intelligence because of the lapse in legislation—without acknowledging that McConnell and Mukasey withdrew that claim within hours (see February 23, 2008). [Wall Street Journal, 2/26/2008]
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testifies before Congress that the security situation in Afghanistan is “deteriorating.” He estimates that the official Afghan government led by Hamid Karzai controls only about 30 percent of Afghanistan, while the Taliban controls 10 percent and the rest is controlled by various tribes and warlords. He says that the key to the Taliban’s success “is the opportunity for safe haven in Pakistan.” Karzai’s government denies McConnell’s claims. However, various think tank reports echo McConnell’s conclusions. One report headed by former NATO commander Gen. James L. Jones concludes that “urgent changes” are immediately required to “prevent Afghanistan becoming a failed state.” [Guardian, 2/29/2008]
According to a later book by New York Times reporter David Sanger, in May 2008, US intelligence records General Ashfaq Kayani, head of Pakistan’s military, referring to militant leader Jalaluddin Haqqani as “a strategic asset.” Haqqani heads a group of militants in Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region, that is known as the Haqqani network. It is considered a semi-independent branch of the Taliban. The surveillance was ordered to confirm suspicions that the Pakistani military is still secretly supporting the Taliban, even though the US gives aid to help fight the Taliban. The transcript of Kayani’s comments is passed to Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell. US intelligence will later intercept calls from Pakistani military units to Haqqani, warning him of an imminent Pakistani military operation in the tribal region designed to make it appear to the US that Pakistan is taking action against militant groups. An unnamed source will later explain, “It was something like, ‘Hey, we’re going to hit your place in a few days, so if anyone important is there, you might want to tell them to scram.’” Further US surveillance will reveal a plot between the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and Haqqani to bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008). Pakistani officials deny they are supporting Haqqani. [London Times, 2/17/2009] An unnamed senior Pakistani intelligence official also called Haqqani an asset in 2006 (see 2006).
Saad bin Laden. [Source: Asharqal Awsat]Saad bin Laden, son of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, escapes from virtual house arrest in Iran. He and several other bin Laden family members had been held there since 2001 (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001), along with some al-Qaeda members (see Spring 2002). The exact date of the escape, apparently in or shortly after late 2008, is unclear. [Times (London), 12/23/2009] However, the US will learn of it no later than mid-January 2009, when Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell will say Saad “has left Iran.… He’s probably in Pakistan.” Some US sources will suggest that Saad is linked to some terror attacks and that he has been a go-between for al-Qaeda and the Iranians. [Wall Street Journal, 1/16/2009] However, his relatives with whom he was detained in Iran will claim he has no involvement in terrorism due to his house arrest, and that he escaped in order to find his mother. [Times (London), 12/23/2009] Saad will reportedly be assassinated by the CIA at some time in 2009 (July 22, 2009).
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