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Attorney General Alberto Gonzales comes under fire from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the National Security Agency’s domestic warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005. Testimony from the day before by former deputy attorney general James Comey (see May 15, 2007) showed that White House and Justice Department officials were, and still are, deeply divided over the legality and efficacy of the program. But Gonzales has said repeatedly, both under oath before Congress and in other venues, that there is little debate over the NSA surveillance program, and almost all administration officials are unified in support of the program. In February 2006, he told the committee, “There has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed. There have been disagreements about other matters regarding operations, which I cannot get into.” Gonzales’s veracity has come under question before, and many senators are disinclined to believe his new testimony. Committee Democrats point out that Comey’s testimony flatly contradicts Gonzales’s statements from that February session. A letter from Senators Russ Feingold, Charles Schumer, Edward Kennedy, and Richard Durbin asks Gonzales, “In light of Mr. Comey’s testimony yesterday, do you stand by your 2006 Senate and House testimony, or do you wish to revise it?” And some Senate Republicans are now joining Democrats in calling for Gonzales’s removal. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) says, “The American people deserve an attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of our country, whose honesty and capability are beyond question. Attorney General Gonzales can no longer meet this standard. He has failed this country. He has lost the moral authority to lead.” White House press secretary Tony Snow says of Hagel’s statement, “We disagree, and the president supports the attorney general.” Hagel joins three other Republican senators, John Sununu, Tom Coburn, and presidential candidate John McCain, and House GOP Conference Chairman Adam Putnam, in calling for Gonzales’s firing. Former Senate Intelligence Commitee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) says that Gonzales should consider resigning, a stance echoed by fellow Republican senators Arlen Specter and Gordon Smith. [Associated Press, 5/17/2007] Gonzales’s defenders say that his testimony to the committee, while legalistic and narrowly focused, is technically accurate, because the NSA program also involves “data mining” of huge electronic databases containing personal information on millions of US citizens, and that program is not exactly the same as the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” as the NSA’s wiretapping program is now called by White House officials (see Early 2004). But Feingold disagrees. “I’ve had the opportunity to review the classified matters at issue here, and I believe that his testimony was misleading at best.” [New York Times, 7/29/2007]

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) publishes a set of three non-classified documents secured from telecommunications giant AT&T by former AT&T technician and current whistleblower Mark Klein. Klein has used the documents to prove his assertions that AT&T colluded with the National Security Agency to illegally eavesdrop on Americans’ telephone and Internet communications (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009). The EFF has sued AT&T for violating its customers’ privacy, and Klein and the documents are key elements of its case (see February 23-28, 2006). After years of opposing their public disclosure and attempting to force their return (see April 6-8, 2006), AT&T acquiesced to the documents’ disclosure earlier this week after the EFF threatened to take the corporation to a federal appeals court. The documents were released in part by Wired News over a year ago against AT&T’s wishes (see May 17, 2006), and PBS also made them public as a part of a Frontline documentary. The Justice Department considered classifying the documents, then rejected the idea (see Late March - April 4, 2006). According to EFF’s Cindy Cohn, AT&T agreed to the disclosure of those portions to escape the embarrassment of arguing that documents available on the Internet for more than a year were secret. Wired’s Ryan Singel writes: “There are no surprises in the AT&T documentation… which consist of a subset of the pages already published by Wired News. They include AT&T wiring diagrams, equipment lists, and task orders that appear to show the company tapping into fiber-optic cables at the point where its backbone network connects to other ISPs at a San Francisco switching office. The documents appear to show the company siphoning off the traffic to a room packed with Internet-monitoring gear.” The EFF also releases a formerly sealed, signed declaration by Klein (see February 23-28, 2006) and a written analysis of the documentation by Internet expert J. Scott Marcus (see March 29, 2006). Marcus’s analysis, which had previously remained largely under court-ordered seal, is “the most interesting” of the releases, Singel writes. Marcus said the AT&T technical configuration allowed the NSA to conduct “surveillance and analysis of Internet content on a massive scale, including both overseas and purely domestic traffic,” and found it probable that AT&T had “15 or 20” secret facilities around the country, not just the few facilities of which Klein was aware. AT&T, with the Justice Department, is trying to prevent EFF’s lawsuit from continuing, insisting that such a trial would expose “state secrets” (see April 28, 2006 and May 13, 2006). Judge Vaughn Walker has already considered and dismissed that claim (see July 20, 2006); AT&T and the government hope an appeals court will find in their favor. Cohn tells Singel she hopes the documents will show the public that their case is based in fact and not speculation, and that the government’s claim of a national security risk is overblown: “It really paints them into a corner, how unreasonable their claims of state secrets are. I’m hoping [the document release] demonstrates we are right and know what we are talking about and that we don’t need much more to win our case. We are much closer than people think.” [Wired News, 6/13/2007]

Entity Tags: J. Scott Marcus, Cindy Cohn, AT&T, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mark Klein, National Security Agency, Wired News, Ryan Singel, US Department of Justice, Vaughn Walker

Category Tags: Freedom of Speech / Religion, Privacy, Media Involvement and Responses, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Most of the lawsuits filed against the US government and against a number of private telecommunications firms alleging illegal wiretapping of US citizens and foreign organizations (see January 31, 2006) are hampered by what legal experts call a “Catch 22” process: lawyers for the Justice Department and for the firms that are alleged to have cooperated with the government in wiretapping citizens and organizations argue that the lawsuits have no merits because the plaintiffs cannot prove that they were direct victims of government surveillance. At the same time, the lawyers argue that the government cannot reveal if any individuals were or were not monitored because the “state secrets privilege” (see March 9, 1953) allows it to withhold information if it might damage national security. Lawyer Shayana Kadidal, who is representing the Center for Constitutional Rights in another lawsuit on behalf of Guantanamo Bay detainees, says, “The government’s line is that if you don’t have evidence of actual surveillance, you lose on standing.”
One Lawsuit Has Evidence of Surveillance - But the lawsuit filed by Saudi charitable organization the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (see February 28, 2006) is different, because the plaintiffs have an actual classified US document that they say proves their allegations. Kadidal says that because of that document, “[T]his is the only one with evidence of actual surveillance” and therefore has a much stronger chance of going forward. The Justice Department will not confirm, or deny, if anyone from Al Haramain was monitored either under the Terrorist Surveillance Program or any other government operation, but plaintiff lawyer Jon Eisenberg tells a judge in July 2007: “We know how many times [my client has] been surveilled. There is nothing left for this court to do except hear oral arguments on the legality of the program.”
Extraordinary Measures to Keep Document 'Secure' - Though the Justice Department has repeatedly argued that the Treasury Department document at the heart of the case is harmless and unrelated to NSA surveillance, it is taking extraordinary measures to keep it secure—it is held under strict government seal and remains classified as top secret. Even the plaintiff’s lawyers are no longer allowed to see the document, and have been forced to file briefs with the court based on their memories of the document. [Wired News, 3/5/2007]
Expert: Government Cannot Stop Case - The government probably does not have enough to derail the Al Haramain case, according to law professor Curtis Bradley. In August 2007, Bradley observes, “The biggest obstacle this litigation has faced is the problem showing someone was actually subjected to surveillance,” but the lawsuit “has a very good chance to proceed farther than the other cases because it’s impossible for the government to erase [the lawyers’] memories of the document.” [Associated Press, 8/5/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Shayana Kadidal, Jon Eisenberg, Curtis Bradley, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (Oregon branch), National Security Agency, Center for Constitutional Rights

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Alberto Gonzales testifies before Congress.Alberto Gonzales testifies before Congress. [Source: Associated Press]Attorney General Alberto Gonzales lied to Congress during Congressional hearings over the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act (see March 9, 2006). In testimony before Congress, Gonzales asserted that he knew nothing of any abuses of National Security Letters (NSLs), documents that require employers, librarians, and others to turn over information on their employees and patrons to the government, and further require that those served with NSLs remain silent about them and the information being given over. But internal FBI documents made available on this day reveal that Gonzales indeed had been briefed about such abuses. (The Justice Department is fighting two court cases from plaintiffs seeking to halt the indiscriminate and allegedly unconstitutional use of NSLs to demand information about US citizens that, by law, should remain private.) George Christian, a Connecticut librarian who fought the FBI over its demand for information about his library patrons (see July 13, 2005 and April 11, 2007), says, “Having experienced first-hand the impact of the government’s abuse of surveillance powers, it is particularly disheartening to learn more and more about the deceit surrounding that abuse. I and my colleagues were fortunate enough to have the gag order against us lifted, but thousands more believed to have received national security letters are not so lucky, and must suffer the injustice in silence. It’s bad enough that these abuses occur, but salt is added to the wound when the top law enforcement agent in the country knows about the abuses, does nothing to correct them, and then plays ignorant when confronted with them.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 7/10/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, George Christian, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Alberto R. Gonzales

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, National Security Letters, Other Surveillance

Wired News reporter Ryan Singel examines the documents released as part of the FBI’s probe into the possibly illegal use of National Security Letters (NSLs) by its agents (see Before Mid-March, 2007). Singel finds that all of the letters originate from the same room in the FBI’s Washington headquarters, Room 4944. Almost all of them refer to a “Special Project,” and the only name on any of the letters is Larry Mefford. At the time the letters were written, Mefford was the Executive Assistant Director in charge of the Counterterrorism/Counterintelligence Division. His job primarily focused on preventing domestic terror attacks. Having Mefford’s name on the letters adds another layer of interest, Singel writes: “… Mefford’s name is on documents that requested personal information on Americans. Some of those requests included information known to be false to the agents signing them. That’s a federal crime, according to one former FBI agent.” It is unclear what the “Special Project” is, outside of its existence within the FBI’s Communications Analysis Unit (CAU), which issued the NSLs in question. Why some of the NSLs requested over two pages of phone numbers as part of a single request is also unclear. Singel observes, “The documents also show that these ‘exigent letters’—essentially end runs around the rules set up to keep the FBI from trampling on citizens rights—weren’t devised by some rogue Jack Bauer-style agent [a reference to the popular TV action drama 24.]. The form letters originated from inside FBI Headquarters and in some cases, bear the name of a senior level FBI official who should have been aware of the letters’ legal grey status and possibility for abuse.” [Wired News, 7/10/2007]

Entity Tags: Counterterrorism/Counterintelligence Division (FBI), Communications Analysis Unit (FBI), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Larry Mefford, Ryan Singel

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Continuity of Government, Government Acting in Secret, National Security Letters

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee concerning his 2004 visit to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room to pressure Ashcroft into signing a recertification of the NSA’s secret domestic wiretapping program (see March 10-12, 2004). Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey has already testified before the same committee (see May 15, 2007) that Gonzales, then White House counsel, and then-chief of staff Andrew Card tried to pressure Ashcroft, then just hours out of emergency surgery, to overrule Comey, who was acting attorney general during Ashcroft’s incapacitation. Gonzales and Card were unsuccessful, and Comey, along with Ashcroft, FBI director Robert Mueller, and others, threatened to resign if the program wasn’t brought into line with the Constitution. But today Gonzales tells a quite different story. Gonzales tells the committee that he and Card only went to Ashcroft because Congress itself wanted the program to continue (see March 10, 2004), and he and Card merely intended to “inform” Ashcroft about Comey’s decision, and not to try to get Ashcroft to overrule Comey. Many of the senators on the committee are amazed at Gonzales’s contention that Congress wanted Comey overruled. And they are equally appalled at Gonzales’s seemingly cavalier explanation that he and Card were not, as Comey has testified, trying to pressure a sick man who “wasn’t fully competent to make that decision” to overrule his deputy in such a critical matter: Gonzales’s contention that “there are no rules” governing such a matter does not carry much weight with the committee. Many senators, including Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), simply do not believe Gonzales’s explanations; she says that to secure Ashcroft’s reversal was “clearly the only reason why you would go see the attorney general in intensive care.” Gonzales replies that he and Card were operating under what he calls “extraordinary circumstances,” in which “we had just been advised by the Congressional leadership, go forward anyway, and we felt it important that the attorney general, general Ashcroft, be advised of those facts.” Only later in the hearing does Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) force Gonzales to admit that he was indeed carrying a reauthorization order from the White House, something that he likely would not have had if he were not there to secure Ashcroft’s signature. [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007] Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says in his opening statement that Gonzales has “a severe credibility problem,” and continues, “It is time for the attorney general to fully answer these questions and to acknowledge and begin taking responsibility for the acute crisis of leadership that has gripped the department under his watch.” He goes on to note that the Bush administration has squandered the committee’s trust “with a history of civil liberty abuses and cover-ups.” Gonzales garners little trust with his own opening, which states in part, “I will not tolerate any improper politicization of this department. I will continue to make efforts to ensure that my staff and others within the department have the appropriate experience and judgment so that previous mistakes will not be repeated. I have never been one to quit.” [USA Today, 7/24/2007]
'I Don't Trust You' - Arlen Specter (R-PA) is another senator who questions Gonzales’s veracity. “Assuming you’re leveling with us on this occasion,” he says, “…I want to move to the point about how can you get approval from Ashcroft for anything when he’s under sedation and incapacitated—for anything.” Gonzales replies, “Senator, obviously there was concern about General Ashcroft’s condition. And we would not have sought nor did we intend to get any approval from General Ashcroft if in fact he wasn’t fully competent to make that decision. But General—there are no rules governing whether or not General Ashcroft can decide, ‘I’m feeling well enough to make this decision.’” Gonzales adds that the fact that Comey was acting attorney general was essentially irrelevant, as Ashcroft “could always reclaim that. There are no rules.” “While he’s in the hospital under sedation?” Specter asks incredulously. [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007] “It seems to me that it is just decimating, Mr. Attorney General, as to both your judgment and your credibility. And the list goes on and on.” [USA Today, 7/24/2007] After Gonzales’s restatement of his version of events, Specter observes tartly, “Not making any progress here. Let me go to another topic.” Gonzales goes on to say that he and Card visited Ashcroft hours after they had informed the so-called “Gang of Eight,” the eight Congressional leaders who are sometimes briefed on the surveillance program, that Comey did not intend to recertify the program as legal, “despite the fact the department had repeatedly approved those activities over a period of over two years. We informed the leadership that Mr. Comey felt the president did not have the authority to authorize these activities, and we were there asking for help, to ask for emergency legislation.” Gonzales claims that the Congressional leaders felt that the program should be reauthorized with or without Comey’s approval, and that since it would be “very, very difficult to obtain legislation without compromising this program…we should look for a way ahead.” Gonzales confirms what Comey has already said, that Ashcroft refused to overrule Comey. “…I just wanted to put in context for this committee and the American people why Mr. Card and I went. It’s because we had an emergency meeting in the White House Situation Room, where the congressional leadership had told us, ‘Continue going forward with this very important intelligence activity.’” Feinstein is also obviously impatient with Gonzales’s testimony, saying, “And I listen to you. And nothing gets answered directly. Everything is obfuscated. You can’t tell me that you went up to see Mr. Comey for any other reason other than to reverse his decision about the terrorist surveillance program. That’s clearly the only reason you would go to see the attorney general in intensive care.” Gonzales says that he and Card were only interested in carrying out the will of the Congressional leadership: “Clearly, if we had been confident and understood the facts and was inclined to do so, yes, we would have asked him to reverse [Comey’s] position.” When Feinstein confronts Gonzales on the contradictions between his own testimony’s and Comey’s, Gonzales retreats, claiming that the events “happened some time ago and people’s recollections are going to differ,” but continues to claim that the prime purpose of the visit was merely to inform Ashcroft of Comey’s resistance to reauthorizing the program. Like some of his fellows, Leahy is reluctant to just come out and call Gonzales a liar, but he interrupts Gonzales’s tortured explanations to ask, “Why not just be fair to the truth? Just be fair to the truth and answer the question.” [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007] Leahy, out of patience with Gonzales’s evasions and misstatements, finally says flatly, “I don’t trust you.” [CNN, 7/24/2007]
Whitehouse Grills Gonzales - Whitehouse wants to know if the program “was run with or without the approval of the Department of Justice but without the knowledge and approval of the attorney general of the United States, if that was ever the case.” Gonzales says he believes the program ran with Ashcroft’s approval for two years before the hospital incident: “From the very—from the inception, we believed that we had the approval of the attorney general of the United States for these activities, these particular activities.” It is now that Gonzales admits, under Whitehouse’s questioning, that he indeed “had in my possession a document to reauthorize the program” when he entered Ashcroft’s hospital room. He denies knowing anything about Mueller directing Ashcroft’s security detail not to let him and Card throw Comey out of the hospital room, as Comey previously testified. Whitehouse says, “I mean, when the FBI director considers you so nefarious that FBI agents had to be ordered not to leave you alone with the stricken attorney general, that’s a fairly serious challenge.” Gonzales replies that Mueller may not have known that he was merely following the wishes of the Congressional leadership in going to Ashcroft for reauthorization: “The director, I’m quite confident, did not have that information when he made those statements, if he made those statements.” [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007; CNN, 7/24/2007]
'Deceiving This Committee' - Charles Schumer (D-NY), one of Gonzales’s harshest critics, perhaps comes closest to accusing Gonzales of out-and-out lying. Schumer doesn’t believe Gonzales’s repeated assertions that there was little or no dissent among White House and Justice Department officials about the anti-terrorism programs, and what little dissent there is has nothing to do with the domestic surveillance program. “How can you say you haven’t deceived the committee?” Schumer asks. Gonzales not only stands by his claims, but says that the visit to Ashcroft’s hospital bed was not directly related to the NSA program, but merely “about other intelligence activities.” He does not say what those other programs might be. An exasperated Schumer demands, “How can you say you should stay on as attorney general when we go through exercises like this? You want to be attorney general, you should be able to clarify it yourself.” [Associated Press, 7/24/2007] Specter does not believe Gonzales any more than Schumer does; he asks Gonzales tartly, “Mr. Attorney General, do you expect us to believe that?” [CNN, 7/24/2007] In his own questioning, Whitehouse says that he believes Gonzales is intentionally misleading the committee about which program caused dissent among administration officials. Gonzales retorts that he can’t go into detail in a public hearing, but offers to provide senators with more information in private meetings. [Associated Press, 7/24/2007] Gonzales’s supporters will later claim that Gonzales’s characterization of little or no dissent between the White House and the Justice Department is technically accurate, because of differences between the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program and that agency’s data mining program, but Senate Democrats do not accept that explanation (see Early 2004, May 16, 2007).
Executive Privilege Undermines Congressional Oversight? - Specter asks Gonzales how there can be a constitutional government if the president claims executive privilege when Congress exerts its constitutional authority for oversight. Gonzales refuses to answer directly. “Senator, both the Congress and the president have constitutional authorities,” Gonzales says. “Sometimes they clash. In most cases, accommodations are reached.” “Would you focus on my question for just a minute, please?” Specter retorts. Gonzales then replies, “Senator, I’m not going to answer this question, because it does relate to an ongoing controversy in which I am recused,” eliciting a round of boos from the gallery. [CNN, 7/24/2007]
Mueller Will Contradict Gonzales - Mueller will roundly contradict Gonzales’s testimony, and affirm the accuracy of Comey’s testimony, both in his own testimony before Congress (see July 26, 2007) and in notes the FBI releases to the media (see August 16, 2007).
Impeach Gonzales for Perjury? - The New York Times writes in an op-ed published five days after Gonzales’s testimony, “As far as we can tell, there are three possible explanations for Mr. Gonzales’s talk about a dispute over other—unspecified—intelligence activities. One, he lied to Congress. Two, he used a bureaucratic dodge to mislead lawmakers and the public: the spying program was modified after Mr. Ashcroft refused to endorse it, which made it ‘different’ from the one Mr. Bush has acknowledged. The third is that there was more wiretapping than has been disclosed, perhaps even purely domestic wiretapping, and Mr. Gonzales is helping Mr. Bush cover it up. Democratic lawmakers are asking for a special prosecutor to look into Mr. Gonzales’s words and deeds. Solicitor General Paul Clement has a last chance to show that the Justice Department is still minimally functional by fulfilling that request. If that does not happen, Congress should impeach Mr. Gonzales.” [New York Times, 7/29/2007] A Washington Post editorial from May 2007 was hardly more favorable to Gonzales: “The dramatic details should not obscure the bottom line: the administration’s alarming willingness, championed by, among others, Vice President Cheney and his counsel, David Addington, to ignore its own lawyers. Remember, this was a Justice Department that had embraced an expansive view of the president’s inherent constitutional powers, allowing the administration to dispense with following the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Justice’s conclusions are supposed to be the final word in the executive branch about what is lawful or not, and the administration has emphasized since the warrantless wiretapping story broke that it was being done under the department’s supervision. Now, it emerges, they were willing to override Justice if need be. That Mr. Gonzales is now in charge of the department he tried to steamroll may be most disturbing of all.” [Washington Post, 5/16/2007]

Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Washington Post, Robert S. Mueller III, Arlen Specter, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, “Gang of Eight”, Paul Clement, Sheldon Whitehouse, New York Times, Dianne Feinstein, Patrick J. Leahy, Charles Schumer, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David S. Addington, John Ashcroft, National Security Agency, James B. Comey Jr.

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) disputes Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s characterization of the March 10, 2004 Congressional briefing (see March 10, 2004) regarding the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002) as about other surveillance programs, and not the NSA program now referred to as the Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP). Gonzales testified earlier today (see July 24, 2007) that the briefing did not cover the NSA program, but Rockefeller says that it did. Rockefeller was at that meeting, then serving as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Rockefeller confirms that the Congressional leaders at the briefing, known colloquially as the “Gang of Eight,” had no idea about the tremendous dispute over the legality of the wiretapping program. He also says, again in contradiction to Gonzales’s testimony, that they were never asked to draft legislation that would make the wiretapping program legal. As to the topic of discussion, Rockefeller says, “As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one” intelligence program. Rockefeller says at the end of the briefing, most of the lawmakers were still unclear about the nature and extent of the program, nor were they clear as to the White House’s plans for the program. “They were not telling us what was really going on,” Rockefeller says. Asked if he believed that Gonzales had purposely misled the Judiciary Committee today, Rockefeller replies, “I would have to say yes.” [Politico (.com}, 7/24/2007] He calls Gonzales’s testimony “untruthful.” [New York Times, 7/24/2007]
Other Democrats Bolster Rockefeller's Recollections - Other Democrats present at the briefing add their voices to Rockefeller’s. Jane Harman (D-CA), then the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, says Gonzales is inaccurate in his characterizations of the briefing, and that the program under discussion could have only been the NSA wiretapping operation. “That doesn’t make any sense to me,” Harman says. The NSA program was “the only program we were ever briefed about.” Harman and Rockefeller both say that this and later briefings about the program were quite limited in scope. “We were briefed on the operational details—period—not the legal underpinnings,” Harman says. [Roll Call, 7/25/2007] Harman adds that Gonzales was apparently being deliberately deceptive in trying to characterize the program as something other than the NSA operation. “The program had different parts, but there was only one program,” she says. Gonzales was, she says, “selectively declassifying information to defend his own conduct,” an action Harman calls improper. [New York Times, 7/24/2007] Harman says that Gonzales should not even have revealed that there had been such a classified briefing, especially revealing such a meeting in order to defend his own contradictory testimonies. “He doesn’t have the authority to do that,” she says. [Roll Call, 7/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Terrorist Surveillance Program, Senate Judiciary Committee, National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, John D. Rockefeller, House Intelligence Committee, Alberto R. Gonzales, “Gang of Eight”, Jane Harman, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Other Surveillance

New documents contradict Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s recent sworn testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, indicating that Gonzales may have committed perjury before the panel.
Lied About Congressional Briefing - In testimony before the committee (see July 24, 2007), Gonzales told senators that a March 10, 2004 emergency briefing with the so-called “Gang of Eight,” comprised of the Republican and Democratic leaders of the two houses of Congress and the ranking members of both houses’ intelligence committees (see March 10, 2004), did not concern the controversial NSA warrantless domestic surveillance program, but instead was about other surveillance programs which he was not at liberty to discuss. But according to a four-page memo from the national intelligence director’s office, that briefing was indeed about the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” or TSP, as it is now being called by White House officials and some lawmakers. The memo is dated May 17, 2006, and addressed to then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. It details “the classification of the dates, locations, and names of members of Congress who attended briefings on the Terrorist Surveillance Program,” wrote then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte. The DNI memo provides further evidence that Gonzales has not been truthful in his dealings with Congress, and gives further impetus to a possible perjury investigation by the Senate. So far, both Gonzales and Justice Department spokesmen have stood by his testimony. The nature of the March 2004 briefing is important because on that date, Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card tried to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, while Ashcroft was recuperating from emergency surgery in the hospital, to reauthorize the domestic wiretapping program over the objections of acting Attorney General James Comey, who had refused to sign off on the program due to its apparent illegality (see March 10-12, 2004). Comey’s own testimony before the Senate has already strongly contradicted Gonzales’s earlier testimonies and statements (see May 15, 2007). The entire imbroglio illustrates just how far from legality the NSA wiretapping program may be, and the controversy within the Justice Department it has produced. Gonzales flatly denied that the March 2004 briefing was about the NSA program, telling the panel, “The dissent related to other intelligence activities. The dissent was not about the terrorist surveillance program.”
Grilled By Senators - Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) pressed Gonzales for clarification: “Not the TSP? Come on. If you say it’s about other, that implies not. Now say it or not.” Gonzales replied, “It was not. It was about other intelligence activities.” Today, with the DNI documents in hand, Schumer says, “It seemed clear to just about everyone on the committee that the attorney general was deceiving us when he said the dissent was about other intelligence activities and this memo is even more evidence that helps confirm our suspicions.” Other senators agree that Gonzales is not telling the truth. “There’s a discrepancy here in sworn testimony,” says committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT). “We’re going to have to ask who’s telling the truth, who’s not.” And committee Democrats are not the only ones who find Gonzales’s testimony hard to swallow. Arlen Specter (R-PA) told Gonzales yesterday, “I do not find your testimony credible, candidly.” The “Gang of Eight” members disagree about the content of the March briefing. Democrats Nancy Pelosi, Jay Rockefeller, and Tom Daschle all say Gonzales’s testimony is inaccurate, with Rockefeller calling Gonzales’s testimony “untruthful.” But former House Intelligence chairman Porter Goss and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, both Republicans, refuse to directly dispute Gonzales’s claims. [Associated Press, 7/25/2007]
Mueller Will Contradict Gonzales - Three weeks later, notes from FBI director Robert Mueller, also present at the Ashcroft meeting, further contradict Gonzales’s testimony (see August 16, 2007).

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Patrick J. Leahy, Tom Daschle, Senate Judiciary Committee, US Department of Justice, Porter J. Goss, Nancy Pelosi, John Ashcroft, John D. Rockefeller, John Negroponte, Andrew Card, Arlen Specter, Bill Frist, Charles Schumer, “Gang of Eight”, James B. Comey Jr., Dennis Hastert, Alberto R. Gonzales

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Other Surveillance

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]

Entity Tags: John Tierney, Bush administration (43), Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, House Intelligence Committee, Mike McConnell, Peter Hoekstra, Silvestre Reyes

Category Tags: Other Legal Changes, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002), which many believe to be illegal. Mueller directly contradicts testimony given the day before by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see July 24, 2007), where Gonzales claimed that “there has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed.” Mel Watt (D-NC) asks Mueller, “Can you confirm that you had some serious reservations about the warrantless wiretapping program that kind of led up to this?” Mueller replies, “Yes.” Later, Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) asks about the now-notorious visit by Gonzales and then-chief of staff Andrew Card to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room, where they tried to pressure the heavily sedated Ashcroft to reauthorize the program (see March 10-12, 2004). Gonzales testified that he and Card visited Ashcroft to discuss “other intelligence matters,” and not the NSA surveillance program. Jackson-Lee asks, “Did you have an understanding that the conversation was on TSP?” referring to the current moniker of the NSA operation, the “Terrorist Surveillance Program.” Mueller replies, “I had an understanding that the discussion was on an NSA program, yes.” Jackson-Lee says, “I guess we use ‘TSP,’ we use ‘warrantless wiretapping,’ so would I be comfortable in saying that those were the items that were part of the discussion?” Mueller agrees: “The discussion was on a national NSA program that has been much discussed, yes.” [Speaker of the House, 7/26/2007; New York Times, 7/26/2007]

Entity Tags: House Judiciary Committee, Alberto R. Gonzales, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Terrorist Surveillance Program, National Security Agency, Andrew Card, Mel Watt, John Ashcroft, Robert S. Mueller III

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Four Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee request that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales be investigated for perjury in light of his contradictory testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see July 24, 2007). “It has become apparent that the attorney general has provided at a minimum half-truths and misleading statements,” the four senators—Charles Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)—write in a letter to Solicitor General Paul Clement calling for a special counsel to investigate. “We ask that you immediately appoint an independent special counsel from outside the Department of Justice to determine whether Attorney General Gonzales may have misled Congress or perjured himself in testimony before Congress.” [Senate Judiciary Committee, 7/26/2007] (The letter is sent to Clement because he would be the one to decide whether to appoint a special counsel. Gonzales and outgoing Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty have recused themselves from any such investigation due to their own involvement in the incidents. The next person in line at the Justice Department, acting Associate Attorney General William Mercer, lacks the authority to make such a decision.) [CBS News, 7/26/2007] Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who did not sign the letter but supports the request for a special counsel, says, “I’m convinced that he’s not telling the truth.” The call for a special counsel follows earlier testimony by FBI director Robert Mueller that flatly contradicted Gonzales’s testimony (see July 26, 2007), though White House spokespersons denied that Mueller contradicted Gonzales.
White House Denies Perjury Allegation - White House press secretary Tony Snow says the apparent contradictions stem from Gonzales’s and Mueller’s restrictions in testifying in public about the classified program. “The FBI director didn’t contradict the testimony,” Snow says. “It is inappropriate and unfair to ask people to testify in public settings about highly classified programs. The president, meanwhile, maintains full confidence in the attorney general.” And Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse insists that Gonzales was referring during his testimony to a separate intelligence operation that has not yet been revealed, though numerous other sources have contradicted that position (see July 25, 2007). “The disagreement that occurred in March 2004 concerned the legal basis for intelligence activities that have not been publicly disclosed and that remain highly classified,” Roehrkasse says.
Further Instances of Misleading Testimony - Senate Democrats also assert that Gonzales has repeatedly given false and misleading testimony about the US attorney firings, has been part of a White House program to encourage White House aides to ignore Congressional subpoenas, has falsely claimed that he has never discussed the firings with other witnesses (including White House aide Monica Goodling, who recently testified that she discussed the firings with Gonzales), and other instances of deception. Schumer says, “There’s no wiggle room. Those are not misleading [statements]. Those are deceiving. Those are lying.” [Associated Press, 7/26/2007] Schumer says at a press conference later in the day, “The attorney general took an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Instead, he tells the half-truth, the partial truth and everything but the truth. And he does it not once, and not twice, but over and over and over again. His instinct is not to tell the truth but to dissemble and deceive.…I have not seen anything like it from a witness in the 27 years that I have been in Congress.” Feingold adds, “Based on what we know and the evidence about what happened in terms of the gang of eight and what he said in that sworn testimony in the committee, I believe it’s perjury.…Not just misleading—perjury.” [US Senate, 7/26/2007] Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) does not sign the letter asking for the investigation, and has instead sent his own letter to Gonzales giving him a week to resolve the inconsistencies in his testimony. “The burden is on him to clear up the contradictions,” Leahy says. Leahy is joined by ranking Republican committee member Arlen Specter (R-PA), who says the call for a special counsel is premature. Specter accuses Schumer of “throwing down the gauntlet and making a story in tomorrow’s newspapers.” [Associated Press, 7/26/2007] Specter has suggested that Gonzales resign instead of continuing as attorney general. [USA Today, 7/26/2007]
'Linguistic Parsing' - Justice Department aides acknowledge that Gonzales’s self-contradictory testimonies have caused confusion because of his “linguistic parsing.” [New York Times, 7/26/2007]

Entity Tags: Paul J. McNulty, Robert S. Mueller III, Senate Judiciary Committee, US Department of Justice, Tony Snow, Sheldon Whitehouse, William W. Mercer, Paul Clement, Patrick J. Leahy, Russell D. Feingold, Monica M. Goodling, Alberto R. Gonzales, Arlen Specter, Charles Schumer, Brian Roehrkasse, Harry Reid, National Security Agency, Dianne Feinstein

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin says he is “shocked” and “appalled” by the apparent perjury of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to Congress. Gonzales testified (see July 24, 2007) under oath about a 2004 visit to a hospitalized John Ashcroft by himself and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card to pressure Ashcroft, then the attorney general, to overrule the acting attorney general, James Comey, and reauthorize the National Security Agency’s domestic wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). Toobin says of Gonzales’s apparent perjury, “You know, it’s our job to be jaded and not to be shocked. But I’m shocked. I mean, this is such an appalling set of circumstances. And the Justice Department is full of the most honorable, decent, skilled lawyers in the country. And to be led by someone who is so repudiated by members of both parties is, frankly, just shocking.” Toobin explains the nature of Gonzales’s alleged lies: when Gonzales was first asked, under oath, if there was any dispute among Justice Department and White House officials over the NSA program, he denied any such debates had taken place (see May 16, 2007). But months later, Comey testified (see May 15, 2007) that there was so much dissension in the Justice Department concerning the program that the attempt to pressure the ailing Ashcroft to reauthorize the program brought the dissent to a head: Comey, Ashcroft, FBI director Robert Mueller, and other officials threatened to resign if the program was not brought into line. Comey flatly contradicted Gonzales’s version of events. (Weeks from now, Mueller will release five pages of his own notes from that 2004 hospital meeting that will confirm Comey’s veracity; see August 16, 2007.) After Comey’s testimony called Gonzales’s truthfulness into question, Gonzales changed his story. He told his Congressional questioners that there were in fact two different programs that were being discussed at Ashcroft’s bedside, one controversial and the other not. Mueller has also testified that there is only one program causing such dispute: the NSA warrantless surveillance program. Toobin says, “So, this week, what happened was, the Senators said, well, what do you mean? How could you say it was uncontroversial, when there was this gigantic controversy? And Gonzales said, oh, no, no, no, we’re talking about two different programs. One was controversial. One wasn’t. But Mueller said today it was all just one program, and Gonzales, by implication, is not telling the truth.” The White House contends that the apparent contradiction of Gonzales’s varying statements is explained by the fact that all such surveillance programs are so highly classified that Gonzales cannot go into enough detail about the various programs to explain his “confusing” testimony. But Toobin disputes that explanation: “Mueller didn’t seem confused. No one seems confused, except Alberto Gonzales.” [CNN, 7/26/2007; Raw Story, 7/27/2007]

Entity Tags: Andrew Card, Alberto R. Gonzales, James B. Comey Jr., Jeffrey Toobin, Robert S. Mueller III, John Ashcroft, US Department of Justice, National Security Agency

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Other Surveillance

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 pdf file]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Arlen Specter, Mike McConnell, George W. Bush, Terrorist Surveillance Program, New York Times

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Other Surveillance

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 pdf file] 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

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

During the Senate debate over the controversial Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007), Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) says that the threat from terrorism is so dire, and so imminent, that lawmakers should pass the law and then get out of Washington as soon as they can to save their own lives. (Congress goes into recess in a few days.) Lott says that Congress needs to pass the PAA, otherwise, “the disaster could be on our doorstep.” He continues, “I think it would be good to leave town in August, and it would probably be good to stay out until September the 12th.” Lott provides no information about any predictions of an imminent terrorist attack on Washington or anywhere else. [Roll Call, 8/2/2007]

Entity Tags: Protect America Act, Trent Lott

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Congressional Democrats attempt to short-circuit the Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007) currently under debate. They introduce their own bill, the Improving Foreign Intelligence Surveillance to Defend the Nation and the Constitution Act, that would address the administration’s concerns that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act imposed unwieldy limitations on the NSA’s ability to electronically monitor foreign communications that were transmitted through communications networks inside the US. The Democrats’ bill redefines “electronic surveillance” to allow the NSA to monitor such communications without a FISA warrant if it “reasonably believes” the targets of those communications to be outside the US. This would give the NSA new surveillance powers, so the Democrats’ bill provides for oversight by the FISA Court, audits by the Justice Department’s Inspector General, and restrictions on domestic surveillance. However, the Bush administration does not want the bill to become law. President Bush announces that he opposes the bill, and threatens to hold Congress in session past its August adjournment date until he can get the Protect America Act passed. The Democrats’ bill dies before ever coming up for a full vote in Congress. [US House of Representatives, 8/3/2007 pdf file; Slate, 8/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Bush administration (43), Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, US Department of Justice, National Security Agency, Protect America Act, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

The Center for National Security Studies (CNSS) issues a warning about the Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007). The PAA lets the NSA conduct warrantless surveillance against US citizens “without any meaningful judicial oversight,” the CNSS writes, and gives the NSA almost unlimited access to almost all international communications that originate in, pass through, or terminate with a US citizen, again without oversight. According to the CNSS, the administration refused to countenance any suggestion that the NSA should be restricted to focusing on foreigners, terrorist targets, or conducting surveillance that could be construed as necessary to national security, as well as refusing to allow any meaningful judicial or Congressional oversight. [Center for National Security Studies, 8/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Center for National Security Studies, National Security Agency, Protect America Act

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Mitch McConnell.Mitch McConnell. [Source: US Senate]President Bush signs the controversial Protect America Act (PAA) into law. The bill, which drastically modifies the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 (see 1978), was sponsored by two Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Christopher Bond (R-MO), but written by the Bush administration’s intelligence advisers. [US Senate, 8/5/2007; Washington Post, 8/5/2007] It passed both houses of Congress with little debate and no hearings (see August 1-4, 2007). “This more or less legalizes the NSA [domestic surveillance] program,” says Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies. [New York Times, 8/6/2007] Slate’s Patrick Radden Keefe adds ominously, “The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is now dead, and it’s never coming back.” [Slate, 8/6/2007] The PAA expires in six months, the only real concession Congressional Democrats were able to secure. Though the Bush administration and its allies in Congress insist that the law gives the government “the essential tools it needs” to conduct necessary surveillance of foreign-based terrorists while protecting Americans’ civil liberties, many Democrats and civil liberties organizations say the bill allows the government to wiretap US residents in communication with overseas parties without judiciary or Congressional oversight. Bush calls the bill “a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate shortcomings in the law” that needs to be expanded and made permanent by subsequent legislation. The administration says that the lack of judiciary oversight in the new law will be adequately covered by “internal bureaucratic controls” at the National Security Agency. [Associated Press, 8/5/2007; Washington Post, 8/5/2007]
Reining in FISA - The PAA allows FISA to return “to its original focus on protecting the rights of Americans, while not acting as an obstacle to conducting foreign intelligence surveillance on foreign targets located overseas.” Before the PAA, the White House says, FISA created unnecessary obstacles in allowing US intelligence to “gain real-time information about the intent of our enemies overseas,” and “diverted scarce resources that would be better spent safeguarding the civil liberties of people in the United States, not foreign terrorists who wish to do us harm.” The PAA no longer requires the government to obtain FISA warrants to monitor “foreign intelligence targets located in foreign countries” who are contacting, or being contacted by, US citizens inside US borders. FISA will continue to review the procedures used by US intelligence officials in monitoring US citizens and foreign contacts by having the attorney general inform the FISA Court of the procedures used by the intelligence community to determine surveillance targets are outside the United States.”
Allows Third Parties to Assist in Surveillance, Grants Immunity - The PAA also allows the director of national intelligence and the attorney general to secure the cooperation of “third parties,” particularly telecommunications firms and phone carriers, to “provide the information, facilities, and assistance necessary to conduct surveillance of foreign intelligence targets located overseas.” It provides these firms with immunity from any civil lawsuits engendered by such cooperation.
Short Term Legislation - The White House says that Congress must pass further legislation to give telecommunications firms permanent and retroactive immunity against civil lawsuits arising from their cooperation with the government’s domestic surveillance program. [White House, 8/6/2006]
Temporary Suspension of the Constitution? - Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says: “I’m not comfortable suspending the Constitution even temporarily. The countries we detest around the world are the ones that spy on their own people. Usually they say they do it for the sake of public safety and security.” [Washington Post, 8/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, National Security Agency, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Mitch McConnell, Al-Qaeda, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Kate Martin, Patrick Radden Keefe, Rush Holt, Protect America Act

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

The American Civil Liberties Union registers bitter disapproval of the newly passed Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007), which it disparagingly labels the “Police America Act.” It writes: “[The act] allows for massive, untargeted collection of international communications without court order or meaningful oversight by either Congress or the courts. It contains virtually no protections for the US end of the phone call or email, leaving decisions about the collection, mining and use of Americans’ private communications up to this administration.” The Attorney General can issue warrants for domestic surveillance of international communications without court review, and can order surveillance of people outside of the US for a year, all without any review by the FISA Court. The PAA “cut[s FISA] out of the process, leaving the executive branch unchecked.” Any telephone or e-mail communications from US citizens “caught up in the dragnet” can be examined at the government’s leisure, the ACLU says, without any privacy considerations or respect for Constitutional rights. The law leaves “the administration to decide how to collect, store, datamine and use Americans’ private communications.” The ACLU says that the court review provisions of the PAA are a sham. The Attorney General need not explain how US citizens’ communications are handled once they are intercepted. The FISA Court “will have no information about how extensive the breach of American privacy is, nor the authority to remedy it.” The provisions for Congressional oversight are equally meaningless, the ACLU says, because the Attorney General is not required to disclose any information about what domestic communications the government has intercepted or what is being done with those intercepts. [American Civil Liberties Union, 8/7/2007]

Entity Tags: American Civil Liberties Union, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Protect America Act

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Ryan Singel.Ryan Singel. [Source: Wired]According to Ryan Singel of Wired, the new Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) gives the Bush administration “the power to order the nation’s communication service providers—which range from Gmail, AOL IM, Twitter, Skype, traditional phone companies, ISPs, internet backbone providers, Federal Express, and social networks—to create possibly permanent spying outposts for the federal government.” He adds: “These outposts need only to have a ‘significant’ purpose of spying on foreigners, would be nearly immune to challenge by lawsuit, and have no court supervision over their extent or implementation. Abuses of the outposts will be monitored only by the Justice Department, which has already been found to have underreported abuses of other surveillance powers to Congress.” In addition, Singel says the PAA redefines any monitoring of US citizens’ telephone and Internet communications “reasonably believed” to be outside the country as not surveillance, allows telecommunications firms to target both foreign and domestic parties for surveillance, and forces those firms to give assistance in secret, without informing Congress or the targeted parties. [Wired News, 8/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Bush administration (43), US Department of Justice, Ryan Singel, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Protect America Act

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Aziz Huq.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]

Entity Tags: Mike McConnell, Detainee Treatment Act, Bush administration (43), Aziz Huq, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Military Commissions Act, National Security Agency, US Supreme Court, Philip Giraldi, Protect America Act

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Detainee Treatment Act

Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean considers the newly passed Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) a dire threat to American civil liberties. Dean writes that the ire of rank-and-file Democrats with their Congressional leadership is well earned, that the Democrats meekly lined up and voted it into law after some pro forma protestations. Dean notes that editorialists from around the country, and organizations as politically disparate as the ACLU (see August 6, 2007), the Cato Institute, and the John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011) all agree that the new law is a serious threat to civil liberties. They all agree that the law violates the Fourth Amendment while at the same time hides its operations under the rubric of national security secrecy. Dean notes, “Congress was not even certain about the full extent of what it has authorized because President Bush and Vice President Cheney refused to reveal it.”
Executive Power Grab - Dean writes that as much of a threat as the PAA is to citizens’ privacy, it is more threatening because it is another step in the Bush administration’s push for enhancing the powers of the executive branch at the expense of the legislative and judiciary branches, a move towards a so-called “unitary executive.” Bush and Cheney have worked relentlessly “to weaken or eliminate all checks and balances constraining the executive,” Dean writes, pointing to “countless laws enacted by the Republican-controlled Congresses during the first six years of the administration, and in countless signing statements added by the president interpreting away any constraints on the Executive.” The new law “utterly fails to maintain any real check on the president’s power to undertake electronic surveillance of literally millions of Americans. This is an invitation to abuse, especially for a president like the current incumbent.”
Repairing the Damage - Dean is guardedly optimistic about the Democrats’ stated intentions to craft a new law that will supersede the PAA, which expires in February 2008, and restore some of the protections the PAA voids. Any such legislation may be quickly challenged by the Bush administration, which wants retroactive legislative immunity from prosecution for both US telecommunications firms cooperating with the government in monitoring Americans’ communications, and for government officials who may have violated the law in implementing domestic surveillance. Dean writes: “[B]efore Congress caved and gave Bush power to conduct this surveillance, he and telecommunication companies simply opted to do so illegally. Now, Bush will claim, with some justification, that because Congress has now made legal actions that were previously illegal, it should retroactively clear up this nasty problem facing all those who broke the law at his command.” Dean writes that Democrats need only do one thing to “fix [this] dangerous law: [add] meaningful accountability.” He continues: “They must do so, or face the consequences. No one wants to deny the intelligence community all the tools it needs. But regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, no Congress should trust any president with unbridled powers of surveillance over Americans. It is not the way our system is supposed to work.” [FindLaw, 8/10/2007]

Entity Tags: John Birch Society, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Protect America Act, Cato Institute, American Civil Liberties Union, John Dean, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

AT&T attorney Michael Kellogg enters the courtroom.AT&T attorney Michael Kellogg enters the courtroom. [Source: Wired News]The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco hears two related cases: one a government appeal to dismiss a case brought against AT&T for its involvement in the National Security Agency (NSA)‘s domestic wiretapping program (see July 20, 2006), and the other a challenge to the government’s authority to wiretap overseas phone calls brought on behalf of a now-defunct Islamic charity, Al Haramain (see February 28, 2006). The AT&T lawsuit is brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (see January 31, 2006). Among the onlookers is AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), who has provided key documentation for the EFF lawsuit (see Early January 2006).
Government Lawyer: Court Should Grant 'Utmost Deference' to Bush Administration - Deputy Solicitor General Gregory Garre, arguing on behalf of the US government, tells Judge Harry Pregerson, one of the three judges presiding over the court, that allowing the EFF lawsuit against AT&T to go forward would result in “exceptionally grave harm to national security in the United States,” even though a previous judge has ruled otherwise (see July 20, 2006) and the government itself has admitted that none of the material to be used by EFF is classified as any sort of state secret (see June 23, 2006). Pregerson says that granting such a request would essentially make his court a “rubber stamp” for the government, to which Garre argues that Pregerson should grant the “utmost deference” to the Bush administration. Pregerson retorts: “What does utmost deference mean? Bow to it?” [Wired News, 8/15/2007] Klein will later accuse Garre of using “scare tactics” to attempt to intimidate the judges into finding in favor of AT&T and the government. [Klein, 2009, pp. 79]
Government Refuses to Swear that Domestic Surveillance Program Operates under Warrant - Garre says that the goverment’s domestic surveillance program operates entirely under judicial warrant; he says the government is not willing to sign a sworn affidavit to that effect. Reporter Kevin Poulsen, writing for Wired News, says that Garre’s admission of the government’s reluctance to swear that its domestic surveillance program operates with warrants troubles all three judges. AT&T attorney Michael Kellogg argues that AT&T customers have no proof that their communications are being given over to the government without warrants, and therefore the EFF lawsuit should be dismissed. “The government has said that whatever AT&T is doing with the government is a state secret,” Kellogg says. “As a consequence, no evidence can come in whether the individuals’ communications were ever accepted or whether we played any role in it.” EFF attorney Robert Fram argues that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows citizens to challenge electronic surveillance by permitting courts to hear government evidence in chambers. He is careful, Poulsen writes, to note that EFF does not want specific information on the NSA’s sources and methods, and says that EFF already has enough evidence to prove its assertion that AT&T compromised its customers’ privacy by colluding with the NSA’s domestic surveillance program.
Government Mocks Whistleblower's AT&T Documentation - Garre mocks Klein’s AT&T documents, saying that all they prove is that the NSA’s secret room in AT&T’s San Francisco facility (see Late 2002-Early 2003, January 2003, and October 2003) “has a leaky air conditioner and some loose cables in the room.” Fram counters that Klein’s documentation is specific and damning. It proves that the NSA housed a splitter cabinet in that secret room that “split” data signals, allowing the NSA to wiretap literally millions of domestic communications without the knowledge of AT&T customers (see February 2003, Fall 2003, Late 2003, and Late 2003). Fram says Klein’s documents, along with other non-classified documentation EFF has presented, proves “the privacy violation on the handover of the Internet traffic at the splitter into the secret room, which room has limited access to NSA-cleared employees. What is not part of our claim is what happens inside that room.” Klein’s documentation proves the collusion between AT&T and the NSA, Fram states, but Judge M. Margaret McKeown questions this conclusion. According to Poulsen, McKeown seems more willing to grant the government the argument that it must protect “state secrets” than Pregerson.
Government Argues for Dismissal of Al Haramain Case - As in the AT&T portion of the appeal hearing, the government, represented by Assistant US Attorney General Thomas Brody, argues for the Al Haramain lawsuit’s dismissal, saying, “The state secrets privilege requires dismissal of this case.” Even the determination as to whether Al Haramain was spied upon, he argues, “is itself a state secret.” The Top Secret government document that Al Haramain is using as the foundation of its case is too secret to be used in court, Brody argues, even though the government itself accidentally provided the charity with the document. Even the plaintiff’s memories of the document constitute “state secrets” and should be disallowed, Brody continues. “This document is totally non-redactable and non-segregable and cannot even be meaningfully described,” he says. A disconcerted Judge McKeown says, “I feel like I’m in Alice and Wonderland.” Brody concludes that it is possible the Al Haramain attorneys “think or believe or claim they were surveilled. It’s entirely possible that everything they think they know is entirely false.” [Wired News, 8/15/2007]
No Rulings Issued - The appeals court declines to rule on either case at this time. Klein will later write, “It was clear to everyone that this panel would, if they ever issued a ruling, deny the ‘state secrets’ claim and give the green light for the EFF lawsuit to go forward.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 79-81] Wired News’s Ryan Singel writes that the panel seems far more sympathetic to the EFF case than the Al Haramain case. The judges seem dismayed that the government fails to prove that no domestic surveillance program actually exists in the EFF matter. However, they seem far more willing to listen to the government’s case in the Al Haramain matter, even though McKeown says that the government’s argument has an “Alice in Wonderland” feel to it. Singel believes the government is likely to throw out the secret document Al Haramain uses as the foundation of its case. However, he writes, “all three judges seemed to believe that the government could confirm or deny a secret intelligence relationship with the nation’s largest telecom, without disclosing secrets to the world.… So seemingly, in the eyes of today’s panel of judges, in the collision between secret documents and the state secrets privilege, ‘totally secret’ documents are not allowed to play, but sort-of-secret documents—the AT&T documents—may be able to trump the power of kings to do as they will.” [Wired News, 8/15/2007] Wired News’s David Kravets notes that whichever way the court eventually rules, the losing side will continue the appeals process, probably all the way to the US Supreme Court. The biggest question, he says, is whether the NSA is still spying on millions of Americans. [Wired News, 8/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, US Supreme Court, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Bush administration (43), Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, AT&T, David Kravets, Ryan Singel, Thomas Brody, National Security Agency, Mark Klein, Kevin Poulsen, M. Margaret McKeown, Gregory Garre, Harry Pregerson, Robert Fram, Michael Kellogg

Category Tags: Freedom of Speech / Religion, Privacy, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Media Involvement and Responses, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Notes made by FBI Director Robert Mueller about the 2004 attempt by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-chief of staff Andrew Card to pressure ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft to reauthorize the secret NSA warrantless wiretapping program contradict Gonzales’s July testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the events of that evening (see March 10-12, 2004 and July 24, 2007). Gonzales’s testimony was already at odds with previous testimony by former deputy attorney general James Comey (see May 15, 2007). Gonzales testified that Ashcroft was lucid and articulate, even though Ashcroft had had emergency surgery just hours before (see March 10-12, 2004), and he and Card had merely gone to Ashcroft’s hospital room to inform Ashcroft of Comey’s refusal to authorize the program (see May 15, 2007). But Mueller’s notes of the impromptu hospital room meeting, turned over to the House Judiciary Committee today, portray Ashcroft as “feeble,” “barely articulate,” and “stressed” during and after the confrontation with Gonzales and Card. [US Department of Justice, 8/16/2007; Washington Post, 8/17/2007; Associated Press, 8/17/2007] Mueller wrote that Ashcroft was “in no condition to see them, much less make decision [sic] to authorize continuation of the program.” Mueller’s notes confirm Comey’s testimony that Comey requested Mueller’s presence at the hospital to “witness” Ashcroft’s condition. [National Journal, 8/16/2007]
Mueller Directed FBI Agents to Protect Comey - The notes, five pages from Mueller’s daily log, also confirm Comey’s contention that Mueller had directed FBI agents providing security for Ashcroft at the hospital to ensure that Card and Gonzales not be allowed to throw Comey out of the meeting. Gonzales testified that he had no knowledge of such a directive. Mueller’s notes also confirm Comey’s testimony, which held that Ashcroft had refused to overrule Comey’s decision because he was too sick to resume his authority as Attorney General; Ashcroft had delegated that authority to Comey for the duration of his hospital stay. Gonzales replaced Ashcroft as attorney general for President Bush’s second term. Representative John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, says that Mueller’s notes “confirm an attempt to goad a sick and heavily medicated Ashcroft to approve the warrantless surveillance program. Particularly disconcerting is the new revelation that the White House sought Mr. Ashcroft’s authorization for the surveillance program, yet refused to let him seek the advice he needed on the program.” (Ashcroft had previously complained that the White House’s insistence on absolute secrecy for the program had precluded him from receiving legal advice from his senior staffers, who were not allowed to know about the program.)
Notes Contradict Other Testimony - Mueller’s notes also contradict later Senate testimony by Gonzales, which he later “clarified,” that held that there was no specific dispute among White House officials about the domestic surveillance program, but that there was merely a difference of opinion about “other intelligence activities.” [New York Times, 8/16/2007; Washington Post, 8/17/2007] In his earlier Congressional testimony (see July 26, 2007), which came the day after Gonzales’s testimony, Mueller said he spoke with Ashcroft shortly after Gonzales left the hospital, and Ashcroft told him the meeting dealt with “an NSA program that has been much discussed….” [CNN, 7/25/2007] Mueller did not go into nearly as much detail during that session, declining to give particulars of the meeting in Ashcroft’s hospital room and merely describing the visit as “out of the ordinary.” [House Judiciary Committee, 7/26/2007; New York Times, 8/16/2007] Mueller’s notes show that White House and Justice Department officials were often at odds over the NSA program, which Bush has lately taken to call the “Terrorist Surveillance Program.” Other information in the notes, including details of several high-level meetings concerning the NSA program before and after the hospital meeting, are redacted.
Call for Inquiry - In light of Mueller’s notes, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has asked the Justice Department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine, to investigate whether Gonzales has misled lawmakers—in essence, committed perjury—in his testimony about the NSA program as well as in other testimony, particularly statements related to last year’s controversial firings of nine US attorneys. Other Democrats have asked for a full perjury investigation (see July 26, 2007). [Washington Post, 8/17/2007] Leahy writes to Fine, “Consistent with your jurisdiction, please do not limit your inquiry to whether or not the attorney general has committed any criminal violations. Rather, I ask that you look into whether the attorney general, in the course of his testimony, engaged in any misconduct, engaged in conduct inappropriate for a Cabinet officer and the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, or violated any duty.” [Associated Press, 8/17/2007]

Entity Tags: John Conyers, John Ashcroft, Robert S. Mueller III, James B. Comey Jr., US Department of Justice, Patrick J. Leahy, House Judiciary Committee, Senate Judiciary Committee, George W. Bush, Glenn Fine, Alberto R. Gonzales, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Andrew Card

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Jack Goldsmith’s ‘The Terror Presidency.’Jack Goldsmith’s ‘The Terror Presidency.’ [Source: Barnes and Noble.com]Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) from October 2003 through June 2004, is publishing a new book, The Terror Presidency, in which he details many of the controversies in which he found himself mired during his brief and stormy tenure. Goldsmith was viewed, along with his friend and fellow law professor John Yoo, as two of the department’s newest and brightest conservative stars; the two were called the “New Sovereigntists” by the prestigious political journal Foreign Affairs. But instead of adding his voice to others in the Bush administration who supported the expanding powers of the presidency at the cost of civil liberties, Goldsmith found himself at odds with Yoo, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and other White House and Justice Department officials. The OLC advises the president on the limits of executive power (and finds legal justifications for its actions as well), and Goldsmith became embattled in disputes with the White House over the Bush administration’s systematic attempts to push the boundaries of executive power almost from the onset of his term as OLC chief, especially in light of the administration’s responses to 9/11 and the threat of Islamist terrorism (see October 6, 2003). Goldsmith disagreed with the White House over issues surrounding the use of torture against terrorist suspects (see December 2003-June 2004), the NSA’s secret domestic wiretapping program (see June 17, 2004), the extra-constitutional detention and trial of enemy combatants (see January-June 2004), and other issues.
'Behind-the-Scenes Revolt' - After nine contentious months leading a small group of administration lawyers in what New York Times Magazine reporter Jeffrey Rosen calls a “behind-the-scenes revolt against what [Goldsmith] considered the constitutional excesses of the legal policies embraced by his White House superiors in the war on terror,” Goldsmith resigned. He says of his mindset at the end of his term, “I was disgusted with the whole process and fed up and exhausted.” Goldsmith chose to remain quiet about his resignation, and as a result, his silence was widely misinterpreted by media, legal, and administration observers. Some even felt that Goldsmith should be investigated for his supposed role in drafting the torture memos he had actually opposed. “It was a nightmare,” Goldsmith recalls. “I didn’t say anything to defend myself, except that I didn’t do the things I was accused of.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
Not a Whistleblower - Goldsmith, who now teaches law at Harvard, does not regard himself as a whistleblower. “This book is not about whistle blowing,” he says. “It’s about trying to explain to the public the enormous pressures and tensions inside the executive branch to keep Americans safe and about how that pressure bumps into the wall, and about the difficulties that everyone in the administration has and the pressure to do everything possible to keep Americans safe, and the intense pressure to comply with the law. And it’s an attempt to give a fair-minded and deeply sympathetic description of that tension, and I actually think there’s a structural problem in the presidency because of this, and I’m trying to explain the pressure the administration is under and why it did the things it did, and why it did things correctly in some circumstances and why it made mistakes.” He says he has learned some difficult lessons from his tenure in Washington: “I came away from my time in government thinking, as many people do, that there’s too much secrecy. Both too much secrecy inside the executive branch and between the executive branch and Congress. There’s obviously a trade-off and it’s hard to know when to draw the line. If issues and debates are too tightly drawn, and there’s too much secrecy, then two pathologies occur and we saw them occur in this administration. One is you don’t have the wide-range debate needed to help you avoid errors. Two is, it’s pretty well known that excessive secrecy leaves other people in the government to question what is going on when they get wind of it, and to leak it.” [Newsweek, 9/8/2007]
Bush, Administration Officials Going Too Far in Placing Politics Above Law - Goldsmith believes that Bush and his officials are their own worst enemies in their attempts to expand presidential power. Goldsmith, like his heroes Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, regards the law as secondary to political leadership. Bush’s indifference and even contempt for the political process has weakened his abilities as a wartime leader, in direct contrast to Lincoln and Roosevelt. “I don’t know if President Bush understood how extreme some of the arguments were about executive power that some people in his administration were making,” Goldsmith says. Since Bush is not a lawyer, “[i]t’s hard to know how he would know.” Bush’s refusal to work with Congress is in direct contradiction to Lincoln’s and Roosevelt’s approaches, and that refusal has damaged his administration’s ability to combat terrorism and achieve its agenda. Goldsmith writes that Bush has willfully ignored the axiom that the strongest presidential power is the power to persuade. “The Bush administration has operated on an entirely different concept of power that relies on minimal deliberation, unilateral action and legalistic defense,” Goldsmith writes. “This approach largely eschews politics: the need to explain, to justify, to convince, to get people on board, to compromise.” While Goldsmith agrees with the administration that the terrorist threat is extremely serious, and that the US must counter it aggressively, he quotes his conservative Harvard colleague Charles Fried that Bush “badly overplayed a winning hand.” Bush “could have achieved all that he wanted to achieve, and put it on a firmer foundation, if he had been willing to reach out to other institutions of government.” Instead, he says, Bush weakened the presidency he was so determined to strengthen. “I don’t think any president in the near future can have the same attitude toward executive power, because the other institutions of government won’t allow it. The Bush administration has borrowed its power against future presidents.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
Adding to Presidential Power - He adds, “Basically, the administration has the conception of executive power that suggests they clearly have a public agenda item of wanting to leave the presidency more powerful than they found it. Vice President Cheney was in the Ford White House at the dawn of the resurgent Congress after Watergate and Vietnam and he believed then that the 1970s restrictions put on the executive branch by Congress related to war and intelligence harm the presidency. So one of their agenda items before 9/11 was to keep the power of presidency and expand the power of the presidency to put it back to its rightful place.… They’ve certainly lost a lot of trust of Congress. And the Supreme Court really, I think, cut back on certain presidential prerogatives.… Future presidencies will face a culture of distrust and worry, I believe, because of the actions taken by the Bush administration. A lot of it was unnecessary.… So when you have those pressures [to battle terrorism and keep the nation safe] and then you run into laws that don’t allow you to do what you need to do, I think the prescription is that going it alone unilaterally with executive power is not as good as getting the other institutions on board through consensus and consultation.” [Newsweek, 9/8/2007]

Entity Tags: Charles Fried, Bush administration (43), Abraham Lincoln, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Jeffrey Rosen, Alberto R. Gonzales, George W. Bush, Jack Goldsmith, John C. Yoo, Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

In his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003), says that he believes President Bush sent White House aides Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to reauthorize the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program while Ashcroft was recuperating from surgery (see March 10-12, 2004). When asked whom he believed had sent Gonzales and Card to the hospital, Goldsmith says he “recall[s] it was the President.” [ABC News, 10/2/2007]

Entity Tags: Andrew Card, Alberto R. Gonzales, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, Senate Judiciary Committee, John Ashcroft, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Jack Goldsmith

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003), testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee about his former department’s involvement in approving the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002). [Washington Post, 10/20/2007] There were aspects of the Terrorist Surveillance Program “that I could not find the legal support for,” he says, but because the program is classified, he refuses to give specific details about which aspects violate the law. Goldsmith says he assumes the White House does not want the legality of the program scrutinized, and therefore, “the extreme secrecy—not getting feedback from experts, not showing it to experts—led to a lot of mistakes.” [Associated Press, 10/2/2007]
Testimony About Hospital Visit - Goldsmith testifies about the failed attempt by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to declare the program legal over the objections of Goldsmith and Ashcroft’s deputy, James Comey (see March 10-12, 2004). Goldsmith, who accompanied Comey to Ashcroft’s hospital room to counter Gonzales and Card, calls their visit “inappropriate and baffling,” and testifies that Ashcroft “didn’t appreciate being visited in the hospital under these circumstances.” Goldsmith’s testimony further refutes the previous testimony of Gonzales, who insisted that there had been little or no dissension within the department over the wiretapping program (see July 24, 2007). Goldsmith tells the committee, “There were enormous disagreements” about the program, though Gonzales’s explanations could be construed as technically accurate given the varying terminology used for the program. [Washington Post, 10/20/2007] Goldsmith adds that Comey’s account of the events of that visit is accurate, becoming another former administration official to contradict Gonzales’s own testimony about the incident. Goldsmith also contradicts Gonzales’ insistence that there was very little real dissension among Justice Department and White House officials over the legality of the NSA wiretapping program. [Associated Press, 10/2/2007]
Bush Sent Gonzales, Card to Pressure Ashcroft - Goldsmith also testifies that President Bush personally dispatched Gonzales and Card to Ashcroft’s hospital room (see October 2, 2007).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, US Department of Justice, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), National Security Agency, James B. Comey Jr., John Ashcroft, Andrew Card, Jack Goldsmith

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Qwest logo.Qwest logo. [Source: Qwest]Former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio, who refused to accede to Bush administration demands that he participate in the warrantless wiretapping of US citizens (see February 2001 and Beyond), says in court documents released today that the NSA retaliated against Qwest by withdrawing a large government contract from the firm. Nacchio was convicted on 19 counts of insider trading, and was unable to mount the defense he wanted because the information he tried to present to the court was classified. He is appealing the verdict. The documents released today make up part of that defense. The documents indicate that the NSA was discussing a secret and possibly illegal surveillance operation against Americans as far back as February 2001—months before the 9/11 attacks, which Bush officials have used to justify wiretapping Americans without court warrants. Although the legal filings are heavily redacted for public consumption, they reveal, among other things, a February 27, 2001 meeting between Nacchio and NSA officials to discuss an infrastructure project and another, classified topic that may be regarding the NSA’s illegal wiretapping of US citizens (see February 27, 2001). After the discussion, in which Nacchio refuses to participate in the operation, the NSA withdrew its “Groundbreaker” contract from consideration for Qwest. Nacchio and an associate “went into that meeting expecting to talk about the ‘Groundbreaker’ project and came out of the meeting with optimism about the prospect for 2001 revenues from NSA,” Stern writes, “[T]he Court has prohibited Mr. Nacchio from eliciting testimony regarding what also occurred at that meeting, [redacted].… The Court has also refused to allow Mr. Nacchio to demonstrate that the agency retaliated for this refusal by denying the Groundbreaker and perhaps other work to Qwest.” Nacchio was convicted for not warning investors that Qwest’s stock would drop before he sold off his own stock; Nacchio contends that he believed the secret NSA contracts would come through and bolster his former firm’s stock price. [Raw Story, 10/12/2007; Marketwatch, 10/13/2007]
Qwest's No-Bid Contracts - On May 25, 2007, Judge Edward Nottingham wrote that, according to Nacchio, “Qwest entered into two classified contracts valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, without a competitive bidding process and that in 2000 and 2001, he participated in discussion with high-ranking [redacted] representatives concerning the possibility of awarding additional contracts of a similar nature.… Those discussions led him to believe that [redacted] would award Qwest contracts valued at amounts that would more than offset the negative warnings he was receiving about Qwest’s financial prospects.” [Washington Post, 10/13/2007]
'Quid Pro Quo' - The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Hugh D’Andrade writes, “It appears that the NSA’s requests for cooperation came with an implied quid pro quo—give us your customer’s calling records and we will reward you with generous contracts worth millions. It is beginning to look like the telecoms were motivated by something other than ‘patriotism’ after all.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 10/17/2007]
'Never-Ending Carousel' - And Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, himself a former Constitutional law and civil rights litigator, writes, “The cooperation between the various military/intelligence branches of the federal government—particularly the Pentagon and the NSA—and the private telecommunications corporations is extraordinary and endless. They really are, in every respect, virtually indistinguishable. The federal government has its hands dug deeply into the entire ostensibly ‘private’ telecommunications infrastructure and, in return, the nation’s telecoms are recipients of enormous amounts of revenues by virtue of turning themselves into branches of the federal government. There simply is no separation between these corporations and the military and intelligence agencies of the federal government. They meet and plan and agree so frequently, and at such high levels, that they practically form a consortium.” Greenwald calls it “a never-ending carousel of multi-billion dollar transactions—pursuant to which enormous sums of taxpayer money are transferred to these telecoms in exchange for the telecoms serving as obedient divisions of the government, giving them unfettered access to all of the data and content of the communications of American citizens.” [Salon, 10/15/2007]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Qwest, Joe Nacchio, US Department of Defense, Hugh D’Andrade, Herbert Stern, Glenn Greenwald, Bush administration (43), American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Edward Nottingham, AT&T

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Room 641A, the NSA’s secret room at AT&T’s Folsom Street facility.Room 641A, the NSA’s secret room at AT&T’s Folsom Street facility. [Source: Wired]Former AT&T network technician Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009) gives a press conference with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in Washington, DC, in an effort to lobby Congress and prevent an immunity bill for the telecoms from passing. The next day, Klein appears in the audience during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting as part of his lobbying effort in Washington to reveal his knowledge of a secret NSA electronic surveillance operation at AT&T’s San Francisco operations center (see January 2003). The NSA has monitored an enormous volume of telephone and Internet traffic through this secret operation. “I have first-hand knowledge of the clandestine collaboration between one giant telecommunications company, AT&T, and the National Security Agency to facilitate the most comprehensive illegal domestic spying program in history,” Klein tells reporters. “I think they committed a massive violation not only of the law but of the Constitution. That’s not the way the Fourth Amendment is supposed to work.” [New York Times, 11/6/2007; BetaNews, 11/8/2007; Democracy Now!, 7/7/2008] Klein states his four main points of information: that AT&T provided the NSA with all varieties of electronic communications, from telephone conversations to emails, text messages, Web browsing activities, and more; AT&T provided the NSA with billions of purely domestic communications; the program involved everyone using the Internet and not just AT&T customers, because of the interconnected nature of the Internet; and AT&T had 15 to 20 NSA “spy rooms” in facilities across the nation. Brian Reid, a telecommunications and data networking expert who served as one of the New York Times’s experts on the NSA allegations (see April 12, 2006), appears with Klein at the press conference. Reid told Klein in the days before the conference, “My job is to make people believe you.” Reid tells reporters, “The most likely use of this [AT&T/NSA] infrastructure is wholesale, untargeted surveillance of ordinary Americans at the behest of the NSA.” Hours after the press conference, Klein appears as a guest on MSNBC’s political talk show Countdown, where host Keith Olbermann asks him if his experience “felt like finding yourself in a scene from the sci-fi flick Invasion of the Body Snatchers—did it have that sort of horror quality to it?” Klein replies, “My thought was George Orwell’s 1984 and here I am being forced to connect the Big Brother machine.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 93-100]
Key Witness - Klein is a key witness in the lawsuit against AT&T by the EFF (see January 31, 2006 and Early January 2006). He is offering to testify against efforts by the Bush administration and its Congressional Republican allies to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to grant immunity to telecom companies like AT&T from prosecution for surveillance acts. Such an immunity grant would likely result in the dismissal of such lawsuits. But no committee of Congress invites him to testify. [New York Times, 11/6/2007; BetaNews, 11/8/2007; Democracy Now!, 7/7/2008]
NSA Secure Room - Part of Klein’s information is from a deposition that was entered into evidence in the lawsuit, and is now made available to individual members of Congress (see February 23-28, 2006, June 26, 2006, and June 13, 2007). Klein relates that during a tour of the AT&T-controlled floors of the Folsom Street facility of what was then SBC Communications, he saw Room 641A, categorized as the “SG3Secure Room” (see October 2003 and Late 2003). That fall, when he was hired to work at the facility, he saw an NSA agent who came to interview a field support specialist for clearance to be able to work in the Secure Room. “To my knowledge, only employees cleared by the NSA were permitted to enter the SG3 Secure Room,” Klein says. “To gain entry to the SG3 Secure Room required both a physical key for the cylinder lock and a combination code number to be entered into an electronic keypad on the door. To my knowledge, only [two field support specialists] had both the key and the combination code.” Klein installed new circuits to a fiber-optic “splitter cabinet” that had only one purpose: to duplicate Internet traffic from WorldNet’s service into SG3, thereby allowing the NSA access to all traffic on that circuit. “What I saw is that everything’s flowing across the Internet to this government-controlled room,” he now says. [New York Times, 11/6/2007; BetaNews, 11/8/2007]
EFF Lobbyists - The EFF secures the services of two professional lobbyists, Adam Eisgrau and former Congressman Thomas Downey (D-NY), who escort Klein and EFF officials Cindy Cohn and Kevin Bankston around Capitol Hill during the two-day period. EFF also works with a professional media company to prepare the media for the November 7 press conference. After the conference, Klein is introduced to a number of Democratic lawmakers, though he says only a few are truly interested in his evidence; he names Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), a former physicist who had actually worked with some of the technology Klein cites in his statements, as two of those willing to give him more than a handshake and a quick photo opportunity. Klein later regrets being unable to meet with Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), whom he considers to be one of the few real champions of civil liberties in Congress. Dodd cited Klein’s evidence, and Klein by name, in his unsuccessful filibuster of the FISA amendment bill (see July 10, 2008). [Klein, 2009, pp. 91-95] The lobbyists are able to gain access for Klein to the Congressional hearings. Some media outlets later report, mistakenly, that Klein actually testifies before the panel. [Klein, 2009, pp. 100-101]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Electronic Frontier Foundation, AT&T, Mark Klein, Bush administration (43), Senate Judiciary Committee

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

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]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Bush administration (43), Mike McConnell, New York Times, Protect America Act

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Michael Mukasey, the new Attorney General, writes an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times pushing for Congressional immunity for US telecommunications firms over their cooperation with the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. Mukasey supports the NSA program, echoing the administration’s long insistence that the surveillance program is “crucial” in protecting the country against terrorist attacks. He also reiterates the administration’s criticism of the “outdated” Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which he says hampers the government’s ability to collect needed intelligence and does little to protect the privacy of US citizens. Mukasey calls for Congress to pass a Senate bill that would grant the telecommunications firms retroactive immunity to civil lawsuits and criminal charges surrounding their cooperation with the NSA, and would no longer require court orders for the government to “direct surveillance at foreign targets overseas”—surveillance that would target US citizens. Mukasey says the US will “need the full-hearted help of private companies in our intelligence activities; we cannot expect such cooperation to be forthcoming if we do not support companies that have helped us in the past.” Mukasey strongly opposes another Senate bill that would grant no immunity and would continue to require the government to obtain FISA Court warrants before wiretapping domestic communications. Two days earlier, the director of national intelligence, Michael McConnell, penned a virtually identical op-ed for the New York Times (see December 10, 2007). [Los Angeles Times, 12/12/2007]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Bush administration (43), Los Angeles Times, Michael Mukasey, National Security Agency

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

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]

Entity Tags: Mike McConnell, Bush administration (43), Center for National Security Studies, Michael Mukasey, National Security Agency, Senate Intelligence Committee

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Other Surveillance

Newly released CIA documents show that the agency uses “national security letters” (NSLs) to secure financial and other information about US citizens from employers, financial institutions, libraries, and other private and public firms (see January 2004). The documents were requested by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act. The FBI has used NSLs for years, and drawn heavy criticism for its use of the instruments (see February 2005), but until now, the CIA’s use of NSLs has been a closely guarded secret. Like the FBI NSLs, the CIA’s letters come with “gag orders” that force the recipients to remain silent about the demand for information, or that there was even such a demand. According to ACLU lawyer Melissa Goodman, often the recipient of an NSL cannot keep a copy of the letter or even take notes about the information turned over to the CIA. A CIA spokesman denies that its use of NSLs was ever kept secret, and the information has always been requested on a voluntary basis for “such legitimate purposes as counterintelligence and counterterrorism.” [Washington Post, 1/25/2008]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, American Civil Liberties Union, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Freedom of Information Act, Melissa Goodman

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, National Security Letters

George W. Bush delivering his State of the Union address.George W. Bush delivering his State of the Union address. [Source: US Department of Defense]President Bush gives his final State of the Union address. During the speech, Bush calls on Congress to immediately pass legislation awarding retroactive immunity to US telecommunications firms that may have illegally cooperated with the NSA and other US intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on the electronic communications of US citizens (see November 7-8, 2007). Bush says of those agencies: “[O]ne of the most important tools we can give them is the ability to monitor terrorist communications. To protect America, we need to know who the terrorists are talking to, what they are saying, and what they’re planning. Last year, Congress passed legislation to help us do that. Unfortunately, Congress set the legislation to expire on February the 1st. That means if you don’t act by Friday, our ability to track terrorist threats would be weakened and our citizens will be in greater danger. Congress must ensure the flow of vital intelligence is not disrupted.” He then says of the telecoms involved in domestic surveillance: “Congress must pass liability protection for companies believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend America. We’ve had ample time for debate. The time to act is now.” (In this statement, Bush refuses to admit that the telecoms have actually cooperated with US surveillance operations; two days later, Vice President Dick Cheney will make just such an admission (see January 30, 2008).) [White House, 1/28/2008; New York Times, 1/29/2008] Bush says that while the nation is at risk of terrorist attack if this legislation is not enacted, he will veto such legislation if it does not contain provisions to protect the telecom industry from civil and criminal prosecution. Harpers commentator Scott Horton calls Bush’s rhetoric a “squeeze play… an exercise in fear-mongering of the purest, vilest sort.” Horton boils down Bush’s comments to say, “‘If Congress doesn’t give me just what I want, then Congress will be responsible for whatever attacks befall the country,’ he reasons.” [Harper's, 1/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Scott Horton

Category Tags: Other Legal Changes, Freedom of Speech / Religion, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann lambasts President Bush’s State of the Union call to protect US telecom firms from liability in their cooperation with government surveillance of US citizens (see January 28, 2008): “President Bush has put protecting the telecom giants from the laws ahead of protecting you from the terrorists. He has demanded an extension of the FISA law—the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—but only an extension that includes retroactive immunity for the telecoms who helped him spy on you.… This, Mr. Bush, is simple enough even for you to understand: If Congress approves a new FISA act without telecom immunity and sends it to your desk and you veto it—you, by your own terms and your own definitions, you will have just sided with the terrorists. Ya gotta have this law, or we’re all gonna die. But you might veto this law!” Olbermann terms Bush’s call for telecom immunity a “shameless, breathless, literal, textbook example of fascism—the merged efforts of government and corporations who answer to no government.” With heavy sarcasm Olbermann says: “[The telecom immunity] isn’t evil, it’s ‘to protect America.’ It isn’t indiscriminate, it’s ‘the ability to monitor terrorist communications.’ It isn’t unlawful, it’s just the kind of perfectly legal thing, for which you happen to need immunity.… This is not a choice of protecting the telecoms from prosecution, or protecting the people from terrorists, sir. It is a choice of protecting the telecoms from prosecution, or pretending to protect the people from terrorists.… The eavesdropping provisions of FISA have obviously had no impact on counter-terrorism, and there is no current or perceived terrorist threat, the thwarting of which could hinge on an e-mail or a phone call going through room 641-A at AT&T in San Francisco next week or next month. Because if there were, Mr. Bush, and you were to, by your own hand, veto an extension of this eavesdropping, and some terrorist attack were to follow, you would not merely be guilty of siding with the terrorists, you would not merely be guilty of prioritizing the telecoms over the people, you would not merely be guilty of stupidity, you would not merely be guilty of treason, but you would be personally, and eternally, responsible.” [MSNBC, 1/31/2008]

Entity Tags: AT&T, Keith Olbermann, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Other Legal Changes, Continuity of Government, Government Acting in Secret, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Media Involvement and Responses

Vice President Dick Cheney calls in to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh’s broadcast. Cheney argues in favor of the administration’s push for Congress to grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications firms suspected of cooperating with US intelligence agencies in illegally monitoring the telephone and e-mail communications of US citizens (see November 7-8, 2007). In his recent State of the Union address, President Bush made the same call, but refused to admit that the telecoms had actually participated in such actions (see January 28, 2008). Cheney is more forthcoming. He tells Limbaugh that the proposed legislation is about “retroactive liability protection for the companies that have worked with us and helped us prevent further attacks against the United States.” [MSNBC, 1/31/2008]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Rush Limbaugh, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: Other Legal Changes, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

MSNBC host Keith Olbermann reveals what may be a personal stake in the Bush administration’s push for immunity for telecommunications companies who helped the NSA spy on Americans (see January 28, 2008). Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s son Marc Mukasey is a partner in the law firm of Bracewell & Giuliani (the same Rudolph Giuliani who up until recently was a candidate for the Republican nomination for president). Marc Mukasey is one of the lawyers representing Verizon, one of the telecom firms being sued for cooperating with the government’s surveillance program (see May 12, 2006 and June 26, 2006). Olbermann says of the Mukasey-Giuliani connection: “Now it begins to look like the bureaucrats of the Third Reich trying to protect the Krupp family industrial giants by literally re-writing the laws for their benefit. And we know how that turned out: Alfred Krupp and eleven of his directors were convicted of war crimes at Nuremburg.” [MSNBC, 1/31/2008]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Alfred Krupp, Bracewell & Giuliani, Bush administration (43), Keith Olbermann, Verizon Communications, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Marc Mukasey, Michael Mukasey

Category Tags: Other Legal Changes, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) lets slip the news that changes proposed to US surveillance laws drastically increase the government’s ability to conduct electronic surveillance inside the US. While speaking against an amendment that would require the government to destroy non-emergency evidence procured through domestic surveillance if a court later finds the surveillance was illegal, Rockefeller reveals that the new laws will not just “make it easier for the NSA to wiretap terrorists,” as the argument goes, but will allow the NSA to, in reporter Ryan Singel’s words, “secretly and unilaterally install filters inside America’s phone and Internet infrastructure.” Rockefeller tells his fellow senators: “Unlike traditional [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] application orders which involve collection on one individual target, the new FISA provisions create a system of collection. The courts role in this system of collection is not to consider probable cause on individual targets but to ensure that procedures used to collect intelligence are adequate. The courts’ determination of the adequacy of procedures therefore impacts all electronic communications gathered under the new mechanisms, even if it involves thousands of targets.” Singel puts it more plainly: “In short, the changes legalize Room 641A, the secret spying room inside AT&T’s San Francisco Internet switching center” (see November 7-8, 2007). FISA judges will, if the law is passed, no longer evaluate whether the government has sufficient cause to eavesdrop on someone inside the US. Instead, the judges will only be able to evaluate descriptions of what the NSA is doing with its “filters.” There is no provision in the new bill to penalize the NSA for conducting illegal surveillances. [Wired News, 2/5/2008]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, AT&T, National Security Agency, John D. Rockefeller, Ryan Singel

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Two civil liberties organizations, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Asian Law Caucus (ALC), file a joint lawsuit against the US Department of Homeland Security. The two organizations file under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and demand that DHS make available its records on the questioning and searches of lawful travelers through US borders. The suit follows a large number of complaints by US citizens, immigrants, and visitors who have spoken out about what they term excessive and repeated screenings by US Customs and Border Protection agents (see 2007). ALC’s Shirin Sinnar says, “When the government searches your books, peers into your computer, and demands to know your political views, it sends the message that free expression and privacy disappear at our nation’s doorstep. The fact that so many people face these searches and questioning every time they return to the United States, not knowing why and unable to clear their names, violates basic notions of fairness and due process.” EFF’s Marcia Hofmann agrees, saying, “The public has the right to know what the government’s standards are for border searches. Laptops, phones, and other gadgets include vast amounts of personal information. When will agents read your email? When do they copy data, where is it stored, and for how long? How will this information follow you throughout your life? The secrecy surrounding border search policies means that DHS has no accountability to America’s travelers.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008; Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008] The lawsuit demands the public release of DHS’s policies on border searches and interrogations. It also demands an explanation as to how far government agents can go in questioning and searching citizens who are not suspected of any crime. The question of whether federal agents have the right to search electronic devices at all without suspicion of a crime is already under review in the federal courts.
Racial or Religious Profiling? - Almost all of the complaints come from travelers of Muslim, Middle Eastern, or South Asian descent. Many of the complainants believe they were targeted because of racial or religious profiling. US Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Lynn Hollinger denies the charge. It is not her agency’s “intent to subject travelers to unwarranted scrutiny,” she says, and adds that a laptop may be seized if it contains information possibly tied to terrorism, narcotics smuggling, child pornography or other criminal activity. However, a Customs officers training guide says that “it is permissible and indeed advisable to consider an individual’s connections to countries that are associated with significant terrorist activity.” Law professor David Cole asks, “What’s the difference between that and targeting people because they are Arab or Muslim?” [Washington Post, 2/7/2008]

Entity Tags: Electronic Frontier Foundation, US Customs and Border Protection, Association of Corporate Travel Executives, Asian Law Caucus, David D. Cole, Marcia Hofmann, US Department of Homeland Security, Shirin Sinnar

Category Tags: Detainments in US, Airport and Immigration Security, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Classification

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]

Entity Tags: Protect America Act, BellSouth, Al-Qaeda, AT&T, Chris Wallace, George W. Bush, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Verizon Communications, Steny Hoyer, Mike McConnell

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

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]

Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi, Mike McConnell, John Boehner, George W. Bush, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Mitch McConnell, Protect America Act, Rahm Emanuel, Silvestre Reyes, Tim Walz

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

With the Protect America Act expiring amid warnings of imminent terror attacks from Bush administration officials and Congressional Republicans (see February 16, 2008 and February 15-17, 2008), most experts outside the administration say its expiration will have little effect on national security. Under the PAA, the government could wiretap domestic phones and computer systems without a warrant, but the legislation was considered a temporary stopgap measure to give Congress and the White House a chance to work together to create new, permanent regulations covering domestic surveillance. The government’s domestic wiretapping program now reverts to the procedures followed for 30 years under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which requires warrants from the FISA Court to engage in surveillance inside the US. Despite administration claims that the paperwork for those warrants is too cumbersome, many experts say that FISA gives the government the tools it needs to spy on terrorists. Timothy Lee from the conservative Cato Institute recalls that the last time FISA was revamped, after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush praised the overhaul, saying it “recognizes the realities and dangers posed by the modern terrorist.” Lee observes: “Those are the rules we’ll be living under after the Protect America Act expires this weekend. There’s no reason to think our nation will be in any more danger in 2008 than it was in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, or 2006.” Ben Wittes of the centrist Brookings Institution says that because existing warrantless surveillance begun under the temporary laws could continue for up to a year, the “sky is not falling at all.” Wittes says he is “somewhat bewildered by the apocalyptic rhetoric” of the Bush administration. Many experts note that emergency FISA warrants can, and have, been granted in a matter of minutes, and government eavesdroppers have up to three days to wiretap a phone or computer and then retroactively acquire a warrant. But administration officials have a different view. White House press secretary Dana Perino says the PAA’s expiration “will harm our ability to conduct surveillance to detect new threats to our security, including the locations, intentions and capabilities of terrorists and other foreign intelligence targets abroad.” Perino says that the PAA “temporarily closed” a “dangerous intelligence gap.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) calls that warning “categorically false.” Hoyer continues: “In fact, a wide range of national security experts has made clear that the president and our intelligence community have all the tools they need to protect our nation, if the Protect America Act—temporary legislation passed last August—expires.… We believe the president’s rhetoric is inaccurate and divisive, and an attempt to stampede the House of Representatives to rubber-stamp legislation by stoking the fears of the American people. We will not be stampeded.” [Washington Times, 2/16/2008]

Entity Tags: Steny Hoyer, Timothy Lee, George W. Bush, Cato Institute, Bush administration (43), Ben Wittes, Protect America Act, Dana Perino, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

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]

Entity Tags: Mike McConnell, Protect America Act, House Intelligence Committee, Michael Mukasey, Bush administration (43), Silvestre Reyes, John D. Rockefeller

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

The Bush administration says all major US telecommunications firms have agreed to cooperate “for the time being” with US intelligence agencies’ wiretapping, regardless of the recent expiration of the Protect America Act (PAA) (see February 16, 2008). According to a joint statement from the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, wiretaps will resume under the current law “at least for now.” The statement says in part, “Although our private partners are cooperating for the time being, they have expressed understandable misgivings about doing so in light of the ongoing uncertainty and have indicated they may well discontinue cooperation if the uncertainty persists.” Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said earlier that intelligence agencies have missed critical intelligence because of the expiration of the PAA, a claim they retracted hours later (see February 23, 2008). [Reuters, 2/23/2008]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Department of Justice, Protect America Act, Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

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]

Entity Tags: Protect America Act, John Conyers, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Mike McConnell, George W. Bush, Michael Mukasey, Common Cause, Bob Edgar, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Dana Rohrbacher

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

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]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), American Civil Liberties Union, Mike McConnell, Protect America Act, Michael Mukasey, Caroline Fredrickson

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

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]

Entity Tags: Michael Mukasey, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, George W. Bush, Lamar Smith, Peter Hoekstra, Mike McConnell, Protect America Act

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

The online news site Wired News reveals that a “whistleblower” is alleging that the US government has had direct, high-speed access to a major wireless carrier’s systems, exposing US citizens’ telephone calls, data transmissions, and even physical movements to potentially illegal government surveillance. Babak Pasdar, the CEO of Bat Blue and a former computer security consultant, says he worked for the unnamed carrier in late 2003. “What I thought was alarming is how this carrier ended up essentially allowing a third party outside their organization to have unfettered access to their environment,” Pasdar says. “I wanted to put some access controls around it; they vehemently denied it. And when I wanted to put some logging around it, they denied that.” According to Wired News, while Pasdar refuses to name the carrier, his claims are virtually identical to allegations made in a 2006 federal lawsuit against four telecommunications firms and the US government (see January 31, 2006); the suit named Verizon Wireless as taking actions similar to those claimed by Pasdar. Pasdar has provided an affidavit to the nonprofit Government Accountability Project (GAP), which has begun circulating the affidavit along with talking points to Congressional staffers. Congress is working on legislation that would grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications firms that worked with the government to illegally wiretap American citizens’ communications (see July 10, 2008). Pasdar says he learned of the surveillance in September 2003, when he led a team hired to revamp security on the carrier’s internal network. When he asked about a so-called “Quantico Circuit” linking its network to an unnamed third party, the carrier’s officials became uncommunicative (see September 2003). Quantico is the center of the FBI’s electronic surveillance operations. “The circuit was tied to the organization’s core network,” Pasdar writes in his affidavit. “It had access to the billing system, text messaging, fraud detection, Web site, and pretty much all the systems in the data center without apparent restrictions.” The “Quantico Circuit” was unshielded, which would have given the recipient unfettered access to customer records, data, and information. Pasdar tells a Wired News reporter, “I don’t know if I have a smoking gun, but I’m certainly fairly confident in what I saw and I’m convinced it was being leveraged in a less than forthright and upfront manner.” Verizon Wireless refuses to comment on Pasdar’s allegations, citing national security concerns. Representative John Dingell (D-MI), the chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, writes in response: “Mr. Pasdar’s allegations are not new to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, but our attempts to verify and investigate them further have been blocked at every turn by the administration. Moreover, the whistleblower’s allegations echo those in an affidavit filed by Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), a retired AT&T technician, in the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s lawsuit against AT&T.… Because legislators should not vote before they have sufficient facts, we continue to insist that all House members be given access to the necessary information, including the relevant documents underlying this matter, to make an informed decision on their vote. After reviewing the documentation and these latest allegations, members should be given adequate time to properly evaluate the separate question of retroactive immunity.” [Wired News, 3/6/2008] Klein will assist Pasdar in writing a letter opposing immunity for the telecom firms based on Pasdar’s evidence, a letter which GAP provides to newspapers across the country. However, Klein will write, only a few smaller newspapers will publish the letter. [Klein, 2009, pp. 103]

Entity Tags: Wired News, Babak Pasdar, Government Accountability Project, Mark Klein, John Dingell, Verizon Wireless

Category Tags: Freedom of Speech / Religion, Privacy, Media Involvement and Responses, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

The House Judiciary Committee asks a federal judge to compel two White House officials to testify about the firings of eight US attorneys in 2007. Former White House counsel Harriet Miers and current White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten have both refused to testify, ignoring subpoenas from the Judiciary Committee (see February 14, 2008), and Attorney General Michael Mukasey has refused to enforce the subpoenas (see February 29, 2008). The White House steered the refusals. Judge John D. Bates, a federal district court judge in Washington, is overseeing the case. The suit says that neither Miers nor Bolten may avoid testimony by citing executive privilege, as both they and the White House have asserted. White House press secretary Dana Perino calls the suit “partisan theater,” and adds, “The confidentiality that the president receives from his senior advisers and the constitutional principle of separation of powers must be protected from overreaching, and we are confident that the courts will agree with us.” Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) vehemently disagrees, saying, “The administration’s extreme claim to be immune from the oversight processes are at odds with our constitutional principles.” Conyers warns, “We will not allow the administration to steamroll Congress.” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) calls the suit a waste of time and accuses the committee of “pandering to the left-wing swamps of loony liberal activists.” The case is central to the ongoing tension between the White House and Congress over the balance of power between the two branches. Constitutional law professor Orin S. Kerr says the case raises fresh issues. While the Supreme Court recognized executive privilege in 1974, it acknowledged that executive privilege was not absolute and could be overturned in some instances, such as a criminal investigation. No court has ruled whether a claim of executive privilege outweighs a Congressional subpoena. According to lawyer Stanley Brand, who is involved in the suit for the Democrats, the committee turned to the legal system to avoid the possibility of charging Miers and Bolten with contempt and trying them in Congress on the charges. Such an action, Brand says, would be unseemly. [House Judiciary Committee v. Miers & Bolten, 3/10/2008 pdf file; New York Times, 3/11/2008]

Entity Tags: House Judiciary Committee, Dana Perino, Harriet E. Miers, John Boehner, John Conyers, Orin S. Kerr, John D. Bates, Joshua Bolten, Michael Mukasey, Stanley Brand

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, 2006 US Attorney Firings

Barack Obama.Barack Obama. [Source: Public domain via US Senate]The State Department confirms that three of its contract employees improperly accessed the private passport files of Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Two of the three were fired and a third was subjected to as-yet-unstated disciplinary procedures. The Obama campaign quickly demands a “complete investigation” of who accessed the files, who they may have shared the information with, and what their possible motivations may have been. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack refuses to identify the three employees, and says that there is no reason as yet to believe that the three break-ins were motivated by anything but “imprudent curiosity.” The State Department’s inspector general is conducting an internal investigation. The Justice Department is monitoring the situation, and may launch its own investigation. [Chicago Tribune, 3/21/2008; Associated Press, 3/21/2008] Senior State Department officials claim not to have known about the violations of Obama’s passport files until very recently. [Computerworld, 3/21/2008] Patrick Kennedy, the Undersecretary of State for Management and the department official responsible for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, the office which oversees such records, also refuses to divulge any information about the contractors who broke into Obama’s records. [Speaker of the House, 3/21/2008]
Bureau Should Have Informed Senior Officials - Kennedy says that his department erred in not informing senior State Department officials about the violations. “I will fully acknowledge this information should have been passed up the line,” he says. “It was dealt with at the office level.” Kennedy also says that the political affiliations of the three contract employees are not known, but “[n]ow that this has arisen, this becomes a germane question, and that will be something for the appropriate investigation to look into.” [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] Kennedy says he will brief Obama’s campaign staff today on the situation. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008] Kennedy is new to the post; before him, the bureau chief was Maura Harty, who served as a US ambassador to Paraguay under the Clinton administration. [Huffington Post, 3/21/2008]
Breaches Immediately Detected - The files were accessed on January 9, February 21, and March 14 (see March 21, 2008). All three improper accesses were immediately detected through a computerized monitoring system, and supervisors were notified shortly after each access. But no one in the Obama campaign was notified until today, a week after the third break-in. [Chicago Tribune, 3/21/2008]
Breaches May Constitute a Crime - The employees who broke into Obama’s files had access to his basic personal information, including his Social Security number, as well as his travel information, including information submitted by various US consulates from the nations to which Obama traveled (see March 21, 2008). Obama’s Social Security number can be used to pull a vast amount of information about Obama’s finances and other private, protected information. While the breaches themselves are not illegal (though they are violations of State Department protocols), if any information from the files were shared with anyone else, that would likely constitute a violation of US privacy laws.
Compared with 1991 Breach - In 1991, President George H. W. Bush’s re-election campaign illegally broached Democratic contender Bill Clinton’s passport files for political reasons; that incident prompted an investigation led by independent counsel Joseph diGenova. DiGenova says of the Obama breach that because the two contract employees who were fired were not State Department employees, it will be more difficult for the acting inspector general of the department to force them to testify. “My guess is if he tries to talk to them now, in all likelihood they will take the Fifth,” he says, referring to the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination. DiGenova says it is improbable that senior State Department officials, perhaps including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, could not have known about the breaches. “Is inconceivable to me that civil servants working in a department which was part of a scandal in 1992 on this very subject would not understand that it was a management necessity to inform superiors,” he says. [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] DiGenova’s investigations brought no charges against anyone in the Bush passport break-in. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008]

Entity Tags: Joseph diGenova, Maura Harty, George Herbert Walker Bush, Sean McCormack, Condoleezza Rice, Patrick Kennedy, US Department of State, US Department of Justice, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Database Programs

The timing of the unauthorized accesses of presidential contender Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport files at the State Department (see March 20, 2008) raises questions among political observers. The first breach of Obama’s files was on January 9, six days after Obama defeated fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the Iowa caucuses and thereby became a national frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and the day after Clinton defeated Obama in New Hampshire. The second breach took place on February 21, a day after Obama’s primary victories in Wisconsin and Hawaii and the same day that Clinton and Obama debated in Texas. The third took place on March 14, ten days after Clinton and Obama split the votes in the key states of Ohio and Texas, and three days after Obama won Mississippi. March 14 is also the same day that the mainstream media began reporting the divisive and inflammatory comments made in months and years past by Obama’s pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. [Project VoteSmart, 2008; Independent, 3/21/2008] British journalist Leonard Doyle notes that the file violations seem similar to the 1991 violations of Democratic presidential contender Bill Clinton, when campaign officials for President George H. W. Bush not only broke into Clinton’s passport files, but asked for information about Clinton’s collegiate days at Oxford University from Britain’s Conservative government. Doyle adds, “The security breach also has echoes of the Watergate break-in during the Nixon administration” (see June 17, 1972). [Independent, 3/21/2008]

Entity Tags: Leonard Doyle, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Database Programs

After the State Department reveals that Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama’s passport file had been inappropriately accessed three times between January and March (see March 20, 2008), the department also reveals that the passport files of the other two major presidential candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton (see March 21, 2008) and Republican John McCain, have also been breached. The same State Department contract employee who accessed Obama’s file also accessed McCain’s file, says department spokesman Sean McCormack. McCormack says that the department learned of the McCain breach “earlier this year.” He says that employee has been reprimanded but not yet fired. “We are reviewing our options with that person” and their employment status, he says. McCain says that any breach of passport privacy deserves an apology and a full investigation, and “corrective action should be taken.” [Associated Press, 3/21/2008; BBC, 3/21/2008] It is not known what information, if any, was obtained from McCain’s file, though the file contains a trove of private data (see March 21, 2008).

Entity Tags: Hillary Clinton, US Department of State, Sean McCormack, John McCain, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Database Programs

Henry Waxman (D-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, writes to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking for information about the recently announced, unauthorized access to Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport files (see March 20, 2008). Waxman also asks that the State Department make the information public. In a letter to Rice, Waxman asks for the names of the two State Department contractors who broke into Obama’s files. [Speaker of the House, 3/21/2008; Henry A. Waxman, 3/21/2008 pdf file] State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says the State Department will make results of its internal investigation available to congressional oversight committees and to Obama’s office. [Associated Press, 3/21/2008]

Entity Tags: Henry A. Waxman, Barack Obama, US Department of State, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Database Programs

The State Department confirms that Senator Hillary Clinton’s (D-NY) passport file was also inappropriately accessed, a day after the department revealed that Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport file was breached three times since January 2008 (see March 20, 2008). Obama and Clinton are battling for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she has apologized to Obama for the breach, “I told him that I was sorry, and I told him that I myself would be very disturbed.” Clinton says that she was told her passport file was breached sometime in 2007. Rice says she only learned of the Obama breach on March 20, 2008, the same day the news of the violations broke in the media. [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says Clinton’s file was inadvertently accessed during a “training exercise.” [TPM Muckraker, 3/21/2008] Rice promises a “full investigation” into the Obama passport breach, and presumably the Clinton breach as well, though she has not spoken directly of the Clinton passport breach. “[N]one of us wants to have a circumstance in which any American’s passport file is looked at in an unauthorized way. And in this case it should have been known to senior management. It was not, to my knowledge. And we also want to take every step that we can to make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again,” Rice says. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008] It is unknown what information, if any, was obtained from Clinton’s passport file, though the file contains a trove of private data (see March 21, 2008).

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Barack Obama, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, Sean McCormack

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Database Programs

A typical US passport.A typical US passport. [Source: MSNBC]Reporter Jaikumar Vijayan explores the kind of information contained in passport files, in the wake of reports that Democratic presidential frontrunner Barack Obama’s passport files were repeatedly breached (see March 20, 2008). All passport records are maintained in a classified records system in the State Department’s Passport Services annex in Washington, DC.
Extent of Information - Passport files are protected by the Privacy Act of 1974, and contain all the information supplied on passport applications, including Social Security numbers, date and place of birth, family status, occupation, and physical characteristics. They do not, as has been widely reported, contain evidence of travel such as exit and entrance stamps, visas, or residence permits. The files also include investigative reports compiled as a part of the granting or denial of a passport, criminal records related to passports, court documents and administrative determinations related to passports and citizenship, copies of birth and baptismal certificates, medical, personal, and financial reports, and details of arrest warrants that may have been issued.
Origin of Information - The information comes from the applicants themselves as well as law enforcement agencies, investigative and intelligence sources, and officials of foreign governments.
Access to Information - The information is used not only by the State Department, the IRS, foreign governments, federal, state, and local authorities, attorneys representing a client in a passport case, and in some instances, members of Congress. Only State Department employees (or their contractors) who have valid identification cards and who have passed background checks may access the passport information database, and then only with passwords issued to them by their supervisors.
Access Logged - All access to the database is logged in a computer system, and potentially unauthorized or inappropriate access is flagged and brought to the attention of a supervisor. [Computerworld, 3/21/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Barack Obama, Jaikumar Vijayan

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Database Programs

Stanley, Inc logo.Stanley, Inc logo. [Source: Stanley, Inc.]Two of the government contractors who improperly accessed Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport records (see March 20, 2008) are revealed to have worked for a Virginia-based firm, Stanley, Inc, before being fired. A third, who accessed both Obama’s and Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) records (see March 21, 2008), worked for the Analysis Corporation. Both Obama and McCain are presidential candidates. Their files were improperly accessed by contractors working for the State Department.
Stanley, Inc - Both of the Stanley contractors were fired the same day they performed the unauthorized search, according to a Stanley spokeswoman, who refuses to identify the contractors or explain why either of them accessed Obama’s files. In 2006, the State Department awarded Stanley a $164 million contract to print and mail millions of new US passports. Just this week, the firm was awarded a $570 million contract to “continue support of the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs/Passport Services Directorate.” Stanley does almost all of its business with the State Department; all of its employees are trained on the Privacy Act and must sign a Privacy Act acknowledgment before beginning work. The two contractors may have violated the Privacy Act when they broke into Obama’s files.
Analysis, Inc - The Analysis contractor who accessed Obama’s and McCain’s files has not yet been fired; that contractor is described as a veteran State Department contractor and an otherwise “terrific” employee. Analysis is staffed with an array of former intelligence-community officials. Its CEO is John Brennan, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center and a former deputy executive director of the CIA. Stanley’s chairman and CEO, Philip Nolan, has made campaign contributions to Republicans and Democrats alike, including to Obama’s Democratic rival, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). Interestingly, Brennan advises Obama on foreign policy and intelligence issues, and has donated to Obama’s campaign. [NBC News, 3/21/2008; CNN, 3/22/2008]

Entity Tags: The Analysis Corporation, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John O. Brennan, John McCain, US Department of State, Philip Nolan, Stanley, Inc

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Database Programs

YouTube logo.YouTube logo. [Source: YouTube.com]Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, asks Google, the parent company of the online video-sharing site YouTube, to “immediately remove content produced by Islamist terrorist organizations” from YouTube and prevent similar content from reappearing. The company refuses Lieberman’s request. Lieberman writes a letter to Eric Schmidt, the CEO and chairman of Google, saying in part that YouTube “unwittingly, permits Islamist terrorist groups to maintain an active, pervasive and amplified voice despite military setbacks or successful operations by the law enforcement and intelligence communities.” Lieberman also asks that Google identify changes it plans to make in YouTube’s community guidelines and delineate exactly what it will do to enforce those guidelines. Lieberman says removing such content ought to be “a straightforward task since so many of the Islamist terrorist organizations brand their material with logos or icons identifying their provenance.” However, YouTube responds by saying that taking such actions is not as simple as Lieberman believes, and refuses to remove any videos from anyone without consideration as to whether the videos are legal, nonviolent, or non-hate speech videos. “While we respect and understand his views, YouTube encourages free speech and defends everyone’s right to express unpopular points of view,” the company says. YouTube has removed a few videos that Lieberman identified last week after determining that the individual videos violated the company’s community guidelines. However, “most of the videos, which did not contain violent or hate speech content, were not removed because they do not violate our Community Guidelines,” the company says. Lieberman’s committee recently released a report that indicated some Islamist terrorist groups used Internet chat rooms, message boards, and Web sites to help recruit and indoctrinate members, and to communicate with one another. Some critics have said that the committee’s report unfairly singles out Muslims as possible extremists. Additionally, civil libertarians and privacy activists speak out against what they see as Lieberman’s attempt to restrain freedom of speech. John Morris of the Center for Democracy and Technology says that Lieberman’s request is a practical impossibility; worse, to have sites such as YouTube pre-screen content would radically change how the Internet is used, he says. “The government can’t get involved in suppressing videos if the content is not illegal.” [Federal Computer Weekly, 5/19/2008; US Senate, 5/19/2008; YouTube, 5/19/2008]

Entity Tags: John Morris, Center for Democracy and Technology, Eric Schmidt, Google, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, YouTube, Joseph Lieberman

Category Tags: Media Freedoms, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms

The campaign of Republican presidential nominee John McCain (R-AZ) says that if elected, McCain would retain the right to operate his own warrantless wiretapping program against Americans. Like President Bush, McCain believes that the president’s “wartime” powers trump federal criminal statutes and court oversight. McCain’s campaign is also backing off on earlier assertions that more oversight is needed for telecom companies accused of illegally cooperating with the NSA’s domestic spying program; the campaign now says that McCain is for “unconditional immunity” from prosecution for telecoms. Campaign spokesman Doug Holtz-Eakin says: “[N]either the administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the ACLU and the trial lawyers, understand were Constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001.… We do not know what lies ahead in our nation’s fight against radical Islamic extremists, but John McCain will do everything he can to protect Americans from such threats, including asking the telecoms for appropriate assistance to collect intelligence against foreign threats to the United States as authorized by Article II of the Constitution.” The Article II citation has long been used by Bush officials to justify their contention that a president’s wartime powers are virtually unlimited. McCain’s stance directly contradicts a statement he made in December 2007, when he told Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage: “I think that presidents have the obligation to obey and enforce laws that are passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, no matter what the situation is.… I don’t think the president has the right to disobey any law.” McCain’s campaign is so far refusing to respond to requests to explain the differences between his December assertions and those made today. [Wired News, 6/3/2008]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, American Civil Liberties Union, John McCain, Bush administration (43), Doug Holtz-Eakin, Charlie Savage

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Henry Waxman (D-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, writes to Attorney General Michael Mukasey requesting access to the transcripts of interviews by President Bush and Vice President Cheney regarding the “outing” of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). The interviews were conducted as part of the investigation of former Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Waxman notes that he made a similar request in December 2007 which has gone unfulfilled (see December 3, 2007). Waxman wants the reports from Bush and Cheney’s interviews, and the unredacted reports from the interviews with Libby, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, former White House aide Cathie Martin, “and other senior White House officials.” Information revealed by McClellan in conjuction with his new book What Happened, including McClellan’s statement that Bush and Cheney “directed me to go out there and exonerate Scooter Libby,” and his assertion that “Rove, Libby, and possibly Vice President Cheney… allowed me, even encouraged me, to repeat a lie,” adds to evidence from Libby’s interviews that Cheney may have been the source of the information that Wilson worked for the CIA. For Cheney to leak Wilson’s identity, and to then direct McClellan to mislead the public, “would be a major breach of trust,” Waxman writes. He adds that no argument can be made for withholding the documents on the basis of executive privilege, and notes that in 1997 and 1998, the Oversight Committee demanded and received FBI interviews with then-President Clinton and then-Vice President Gore without even consulting the White House. [US House of Representatives, 6/3/2008; TPM Muckraker, 6/3/2008]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Henry A. Waxman, Condoleezza Rice, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Scott McClellan, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Michael Mukasey

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Privacy, Government Acting in Secret

Retired AT&T “whistleblower” Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009) has a short essay published in Wired News, sharply criticizing the recently passed legislation that amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA—see July 10, 2008) and granted telecommunications firms immunity from prosecution for helping government agencies illegally spy on American citizens. Klein initially offered the essay in letter form to the New York Times, but although the editors there showed what Klein will call “some interest,” they rejected the letter. Instead, Wired News’s Ryan Singel accepted the letter for one of his “Threat Level” columns. Singel describes Klein as “furious” at the vote, and quotes Klein: “[Wednesday]‘s vote by Congress effectively gives retroactive immunity to the telecom companies and endorses an all-powerful president. It’s a Congressional coup against the Constitution. The Democratic leadership is touting the deal as a ‘compromise,’ but in fact they have endorsed the infamous Nuremberg defense: ‘Just following orders.’ The judge can only check their paperwork. This cynical deal is a Democratic exercise in deceit and cowardice.… Congress has made the FISA law a dead letter—such a law is useless if the president can break it with impunity. Thus the Democrats have surreptitiously repudiated the main reform of the post-Watergate era and adopted Nixon’s line: ‘When the president does it that means that it is not illegal.’ This is the judicial logic of a dictatorship. The surveillance system now approved by Congress provides the physical apparatus for the government to collect and store a huge database on virtually the entire population, available for data mining whenever the government wants to target its political opponents at any given moment—all in the hands of an unrestrained executive power. It is the infrastructure for a police state.” [Wired News, 6/27/2008; Klein, 2009, pp. 108]

Entity Tags: Mark Klein, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Wired News, Ryan Singel

Category Tags: Freedom of Speech / Religion, Privacy, Media Involvement and Responses, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

President Bush signs the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), a revamping and expansion of the original Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). The legislation passed the House by a sweeping 293 to 129 votes, with most Democratic Congressional leaders supporting it over the opposition of the more liberal and civil liberties-minded Democrats. Republicans were almost unanimously supportive of the bill. Though Democratic Senators Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT) managed to delay the bill’s passage through the Senate, their attempt to modify the bill was thwarted by a 66-32 margin. (Dodd credits AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009) as one of the very few people to make the public aware of the illegal NSA wiretapping program, which the FISA amendment would protect. Without Klein, Dodd states, “this story might have remained secret for years and years, causing further erosion of our rights.”) Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, gave his qualified support to the bill, stating: “Given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as president, I will carefully monitor the program.” Obama had opposed an earlier Senate version that would have given “blanket immunity” to the telecommunications companies for their participation in the illegal NSA wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who organized Democratic support for the bill in the House, said that she supported the bill primarily because it rejects Bush’s argument that a wartime chief executive has the “inherent authority” to conduct some surveillance activity he considers necessary to fight terrorism. It restores the legal notion that the FISA law is the exclusive rule on government spying, she said, and added: “This is a democracy. It is not a monarchy.” Feingold, however, said that the bill granted “retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies that may have engaged in President Bush’s illegal wiretapping program.” The amendments restore many of the provisions of the expired Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) that drastically modify the original FISA legislation and grant the government broad new surveillance powers. Like the PAA, the FAA grants “third parties” such as telecommunications firms immunity from prosecution for engaging in illegal surveillance of American citizens if they did so in partnership with government agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA). [Washington Post, 6/20/2008; CNN, 6/26/2008; US Senate, 7/9/2008; White House, 7/10/2008; Klein, 2009, pp. 95-97] Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) actually refused to honor a “hold” placed on the bill by Dodd, a highly unusual move. Klein will later note that Reid has in the past always honored holds placed on legislation by Republicans, even if Democrats were strongly supportive of the legislation being “held.” Klein will write that Pelosi crafted a “showpiece” FISA bill without the immunity provisions, garnering much praise for her from civil liberties organizations; however, Pelosi’s colleague House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) had secretly worked with the White House to craft a bill that preserved immunity for telecoms, and on June 10, Pelosi “rammed” that bill through the House. The final bill actually requires the judiciary to dismiss lawsuits brought against telecom firms if those firms can produce evidence that they had worked in collusion with the NSA. Feingold later observes that the final bill is not a “compromise, it is a capitulation.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 101-103] Klein will write that Democrats and Republicans have worked together to “unw[ind] one of the main reforms of the post-Watergate era and accepted the outrageous criminal rationalizations of [President] Nixon himself.” Klein will quote Nixon as saying, “If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal” (see April 6, 1977), and will say that is “the essence of the FISA ‘compromise’” and turned Congress into the White House’s “rubber stamp.… It is the twisted judicial logic of a dictatorship.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 107]

Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA Amendments Act of 2008, Christopher Dodd, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Mark Klein, Russell D. Feingold, Richard M. Nixon, Harry Reid, Steny Hoyer, National Security Agency, Protect America Act

Category Tags: Freedom of Speech / Religion, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Expansion of Presidential Power, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) files a lawsuit against the National Security Agency (NSA), President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, former Cheney chief of staff David Addington, and other members of the Bush administration. The EFF claims the lawsuit is “on behalf of AT&T customers to stop the illegal unconstitutional and ongoing dragnet surveillance of their communications and communications records.” The EFF is referring to its ongoing lawsuit against AT&T and other telecommunications firms, which it accuses of colluding with the NSA to illegally monitor American citizens’ domestic communications (see December 15, 2005). The case, the EFF writes, “is aimed at ending the NSA’s dragnet surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans and holding accountable the government officials who illegally authorized it.” After January 2009, the newly elected Obama administration will challenge the lawsuit, Jewel v. NSA, on the grounds that to defend itself against the lawsuit, the government would be required to disclose “state secrets” (see Late May, 2006). The government used similar arguments to quash the EFF’s lawsuit against AT&T (see April 28, 2006), arguments which were rejected by a judge (see July 20, 2006). [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2009] The suit will be dismissed (see January 21, 2010).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Alberto R. Gonzales, AT&T, Bush administration (43), David S. Addington, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Obama administration, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Security Agency

Category Tags: Freedom of Speech / Religion, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Court Procedures and Verdicts, State Secrets, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) files a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the recently passed amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA—see July 10, 2008). The EFF is particularly concerned with the portion of the legislation that grants retroactive immunity from prosecution to telecommunications firms that worked with government agencies to illegally conduct electronic surveillance against American citizens (see December 15, 2005). The FISA Amendments Act of 2008, or FAA, violates the Constitution’s separation of powers, according to the EFF, and, the organization writes, “robs innocent telecom customers of their rights without due process of law.” The lawsuit was triggered by Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s recent submission of a classified certification in another EFF lawsuit about illegal electronic certification (see January 31, 2006) that claimed the electronic surveillance conducted on behalf of the National Security Agency by AT&T did not happen. EFF senior attorney Kevin Bankston says: “The immunity law puts the fox in charge of the hen house, letting the attorney general decide whether or not telecoms like AT&T can be sued for participating in the government’s illegal warrantless surveillance. In our constitutional system, it is the judiciary’s role as a co-equal branch of government to determine the scope of the surveillance and rule on whether it is legal, not the executive’s. The attorney general should not be allowed to unconstitutionally play judge and jury in these cases, which affect the privacy of millions of Americans.” Mukasey’s certification claimed the government has no “content-dragnet” program that surveills millions of domestic communications, though it does not deny having acquired such communications. EFF has provided the court with thousands of pages of documents proving the falsity of Mukasey’s assertions, the organization writes. EFF attorney Kurt Opsahl says: “We have overwhelming record evidence that the domestic spying program is operating far outside the bounds of the law. Intelligence agencies, telecoms, and the administration want to sweep this case under the rug, but the Constitution won’t permit it.” EFF spokesperson Rebecca Jeschke tells a reporter that the FAA “violates the federal government’s separation of powers and violates the Constitution. We want to make sure this unconstitutional law does not deny telecom customers their day in court. They have legitimate privacy claims that should be heard by a judge. Extensive evidence proves the existence of a massive illegal surveillance program affecting millions of ordinary Americans. The telecoms broke the law and took part in this. The FISA Amendments Act and its immunity provisions were an attempt to sweep these lawsuits under the rug, but it’s simply unconstitutional.” EFF lawyers fear the FAA will render their lawsuit invalid. [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 10/17/2008; Salon, 10/17/2008] The EFF has filed a related lawsuit against the NSA and senior members of the Bush administration (see September 18, 2008).

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Electronic Frontier Foundation, AT&T, FISA Amendments Act of 2008, Kevin Bankston, Kurt Opsahl, National Security Agency, Michael Mukasey, Rebecca Jeschke

Category Tags: Freedom of Speech / Religion, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Court Procedures and Verdicts, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

PBS’s Nova series broadcasts “The Spy Factory,” an examination of the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program. The program is crafted by author and national security expert James Bamford with PBS producer Scott Willis. One portion of the broadcast shows a representation of the enormous data flow of Internet communications entering the US from Asia at Morro Bay, California, and then goes to a small AT&T facility in San Luis Obispo. “If you want to tap into international communications, it seems like the perfect place is San Luis Obispo,” Bamford narrates. “That’s where 80 percent of all communications from Asia enters the United States.” However, the NSA taps into the AT&T datastream much farther north, in AT&T’s Folsom Street facility in San Francisco (see October 2003 and Late 2003). According to former AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004), the NSA would have far more access to domestic communications by tapping into the dataflow at the San Francisco facility. He will later write, “This fact belies the government’s claims that they’re only looking at international communications.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 50-51; PBS, 2/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Mark Klein, AT&T, James Bamford, Public Broadcasting System, National Security Agency, Scott Willis

Category Tags: Freedom of Speech / Religion, Privacy, Media Involvement and Responses, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Louisiana State Representative John LaBruzzo (R-Metarie) introduces legislation in the Louisiana State House of Representatives that would require all new applicants for state welfare to submit to drug testing. Those who fail would be denied benefits until they completed a required counseling program. Currently, Louisiana screens applicants through interviews and questionnaires. Those suspected of being drug users are tested, and they can still get Temporary Assistance for Needy Families as long as they comply with the state-paid treatment program. They are denied benefits only if they refuse the counseling-treatment program or when they fail to meet its requirements. LaBruzzo triggered a storm of criticism last year when he suggested paying welfare recipients to be sterilized (see September 23, 2008); the ensuing controversy cost him the vice chairmanship of the House Health and Welfare Committee. That idea was quickly shelved, and LaBruzzo now calls it “one of several ideas” from a “brainstorming session” on how to reduce public assistance rolls. “I never intended to draft legislation,” he says. LaBruzzo has said that Louisiana is losing tax revenues because people receiving government aid reproduce at a faster rate than wealthier, better-educated people who pay more in taxes. He calls his idea of drug-testing all welfare applicants a “sensible way” to trim the number of households on assistance, and says it will “prove that welfare recipients in Louisiana are not criminals,” by giving taxpayers assurance that anyone on assistance is drug free. His idea would mandate the Department of Social Services (DSS) to outsource the testing program to a private firm. LaBruzzo also says that anyone convicted of a drug felony should have to wait 10 years before receiving public assistance. Currently, the law mandates a one-year waiting period. In 2008, about 14,000 families received a total of $17 million in assistance. The monthly benefit to a qualifying parent with two children is about $250. LaBruzzo incorrectly says Louisiana already spends $40 million on testing and treatment programs, but DSS spokesperson Trey Williams says the actual figure is a tenth of LaBruzzo’s claim—$4.1 million. LaBruzzo also claims that Louisiana is suffering from a “growing problem of welfare,” though the number of recipients has been much lower since 1996, when President Clinton signed a federal law that limited recipients to a cumulative five years of benefits. [New Orleans Times-Picayune, 3/30/2009]

Entity Tags: Trey Williams, John LaBruzzo, Louisiana State House of Representatives, Louisiana Department of Social Services

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy

Federal judge Vaughn Walker dismisses Jewel v. NSA, a lawsuit brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) against the National Security Agency and senior Bush administration officials over the administration’s warrantless surveillance program (see September 18, 2008). Walker rules that the privacy harm to millions of Americans from the illegal spying dragnet was not a “particularized injury” but instead a “generalized grievance” because almost everyone in the United States has a phone and Internet service. EFF legal director Cindy Cohn says: “We’re deeply disappointed in the judge’s ruling. This ruling robs innocent telecom customers of their privacy rights without due process of law. Setting limits on executive power is one of the most important elements of America’s system of government, and judicial oversight is a critical part of that.” EFF attorney Kevin Bankston says: “The alarming upshot of the court’s decision is that so long as the government spies on all Americans, the courts have no power to review or halt such mass surveillance even when it is flatly illegal and unconstitutional. With new revelations of illegal spying being reported practically every other week… the need for judicial oversight when it comes to government surveillance has never been clearer.” The EFF indicates it will appeal Walker’s decision. [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 1/21/2010] The Obama administration echoed claims made in previous lawsuits by the Bush administration, invoking the “state secrets” privilege (see Late May, 2006) and supporting previous arguments by the Bush-era Justice Department. The administration even went a step further than its predecessor in arguing that under the Patriot Act, the government can never be sued for illegal wiretapping unless there is “willful disclosure” of the communications. [Klein, 2009, pp. 116-117]

Entity Tags: Obama administration, Bush administration (43), Cindy Cohn, Electronic Frontier Foundation, National Security Agency, Vaughn Walker, Kevin Bankston

Category Tags: Freedom of Speech / Religion, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy, Court Procedures and Verdicts, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind

Florida State Representative Charles Van Sant (R-FL) submits what he calls the “Florida for Life Act,” which will make all abortions illegal in Florida. The law directly challenges the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling that abortions are legal in the US (see January 22, 1973), and makes no exceptions for incest or rape (abortions would be legal only if the life of the mother were at risk). If passed, the act would punish abortion providers, not the expectant mothers, with a first-degree felony and a penalty of up to life in prison. [House of Representatives, 2/17/2010; Women's Choice, 2/23/2010] The bill states that “The Legislature of the people of the State of Florida finds that all life comes from the Creator and begins at conception.” According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the bill “openly challenges the legitimacy of the US Supreme Court” by saying: “The Legislature finds that the justices of the United States Supreme Court are not qualified to determine, establish, or define the moral values of the people of the United States and specifically for the people of Florida. The Supreme Court’s removal of moral and political questions from the political power of the people to determine, under color of constitutional adjudication, is a violation of the peoples’ right to self-government guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States.” [Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 10/15/2010; Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 2/7/2011] In February 2011, a Sarasota Herald-Tribune editorial will call the bill “extreme to the extreme” and not “worth the time lawmakers may waste on it,” claiming that if passed, the law “would flout US law and thwart the state constitution’s privacy clause.” [Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 2/7/2011] Some Florida Republicans will refuse to publicly endorse the bill, saying it goes too far. As of March 2011, the bill is not predicted to gain passage. [Florida Independent, 12/2/2010; St. Petersburg Times, 3/22/2011]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Charles Van Sant, Florida for Life Act, Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Privacy

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