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US Civil Liberties

Government Acting in Secret

Project: US Civil Liberties
Open-Content project managed by Paul, KJF, mtuck, paxvector

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Seton Hall law professor Mark Denbeaux, who represents some of the detainees at Guantanamo, releases a report on the status of 517 prisoners currently incarcerated at the detention facility. Denbeaux bases his report on documents released by the US military. Eighty-six percent of the detainees had been sold to the US by either Northern Alliance or Pakistani soldiers in Afghanistan during the height of military operations in 2001, with little hard evidence that the captives sold to the Americans were actually Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters. Military analysts concluded that only 8 percent of the Guantanamo detainees had committed attacks on US forces or its allies, and another 30 percent of the detainees were likely members of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, or other radical Islamist groups before their capture, though they themselves had not fought. Over 60 percent of the detainees—some 310 of the 517 detainees—had no ties to terrorist or radical groups whatsoever. In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write, “Such facts might have emerged had the detainees been given hearings before a ‘competent tribunal,’ a right guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions and obeyed by the United States in every war up to and including the Gulf War.” [Denbeaux and Denbeaux, 2/7/2006 pdf file; Savage, 2007, pp. 147-148]

Entity Tags: Mark Denbeaux, Charlie Savage

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Detainments in US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret

The White House twice convinces Congressional leaders to derail or water down upcoming Congressional hearings into its warrantless wiretapping program, dodging potentially embarrassing public revelations about its surveillance of US citizens. Some observers praise the Bush administration for accepting more Congressional oversight, but some lawmakers feel the concessions made by the White House in return for Congress’s back down from full hearings mean little. Privately, some Republicans say that the White House came far closer to suffering large public setbacks than is generally known, and that President Bush must be more forthcoming about the warrantless wiretapping program if he wants to retain the good will of Congress. On February 8, a day before the House Intelligence Committee is to begin its hearings on the program, some lawmakers are complaining that the administration is trying to dodge any real discussion of the program; two days before, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had defended the program without providing any details, and the White House intended to send Gonzales and former NSA head Michael Hayden to the hearings to give the same limited briefing. Instead, the White House agrees to have Gonzales and Hayden provide more details about the program’s “procedural aspects,” the first time a full Congressional committee has received a briefing about the program (see January 4, 2006 and January 18, 2006). Many committee members are placated by the briefing. In return, committee leaders agree to stymie Democrats’ attempts to hold more expansive hearings into the program. On February 17, the Senate Intelligence Committee deals with a motion by ranking Democrat Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) to open a broad inquiry into the program. But White House chief of staff Andrew Card has, two days before, spoken with committee member Olympia Snowe (R-ME). Snowe had expressed her own concerns about the program’s legality, and its infringement on constitutional civil liberties, and she is, according to Senate sources briefed on the call, “taken aback” by Card’s intransigence about restricting Congressional oversight of the program. Snowe and fellow senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), another Republican who has voiced his own doubts about the program, speak with committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS). Roberts thinks he has the votes to defeat Rockefeller’s motion, but he learns Snowe and Hagel will support it, thus ensuring its passage. Thus informed, Roberts blocks passage of the motion by arranging a party-line vote to adjourn the committee until March 9, a move that infuriates Rockefeller. “The White House has applied heavy pressure in recent weeks to prevent the committee from doing its job,” he says after the adjournment. Both Hagel and Snowe deny folding under administration pressure. The White House is supportive of a proposal by Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) that would exempt the NSA program from FISA, while providing for limited congressional oversight. [Washington Post, 2/19/2006]

Entity Tags: Olympia Snowe, Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts, Mike DeWine, National Security Agency, John D. Rockefeller, Bush administration (43), Andrew Card, Alberto R. Gonzales, Michael Hayden, House Intelligence Committee, Chuck Hagel, George W. Bush

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

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says he will sharply limit the testimony of former attorney general John Ashcroft and former deputy attorney general James Comey before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee is preparing for hearings on the warrantless wiretapping program authorized by President Bush several months after the 9/11 attacks (see Early 2002). Gonzales says that “privilege issues” will circumscribe both men’s testimony: “As a general matter, we would not be disclosing internal deliberations, internal recommendations. That’s not something we’d do as a general matter, whether or not you’re a current member of the administration or a former member of the administration.” He adds, “You have to wonder what could Messrs. Comey and Ashcroft add to the discussion.” Comey was an observer to the late-night visit by Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card to Ashcroft’s hospital room, where Gonzales and Card unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the heavily sedated Ashcroft to reauthorize the program after Comey, as acting attorney general, determined the program was likely illegal (see March 10-12, 2004). Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) says he has asked Gonzales for permission to call Comey and Ashcroft to testify, but has not yet received an answer. Specter says, “I’m not asking about internal memoranda or any internal discussions or any of those kind of documents which would have a chilling effect.” Specter will ask Ashcroft and Comey to talk about the legal issues at play in the case, including the events surrounding the hospital visit. In the House Judiciary Committee, Republicans block an attempt by Democrats to ask Gonzales to provide legal opinions and other documents related to the program. [Washington Post, 2/16/2006]

Entity Tags: Andrew Card, Alberto R. Gonzales, Arlen Specter, George W. Bush, John Ashcroft, House Judiciary Committee, James B. Comey Jr., Senate Judiciary Committee

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

A Bush administration official sends an e-mail to senior members of the Defense Department’s Transportation Command, including General Norton Schwartz, who later becomes the Air Force chief of staff. The e-mail recommends that a set of prisoners slated for release from Guantanamo be detained longer for fear of negative press coverage. The e-mail will be released three years later as part of an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request (see February 12, 2009). The name of the author of the message will be redacted from the document. It reads in part: “We may need to definitely think about checking with Southcom to see if we can hold off on return flights for 45 days or so until things die down. Otherwise we are likely to have hero’s welcomes awaiting the detainees when they arrive.… It would probably be preferable if we could deliver these detainees in something smaller and more discreet.” The e-mail forwards correspondence entitled “US Getting Creamed on Human Rights,” which cites international news coverage of UN reports on conditions at Guantanamo. The e-mail cites that press coverage, along with “lingering interest in Abu Ghraib photos,” all of which “adds up to the US taking a big hit on the issues of human rights and respect for the rule of law.” In 2009, reporter Liliana Segura will observe: “The line fits neatly with the rest of what we know about the Bush administration’s philosophy: that perceptions of abuse were worth worrying about; the abuse itself? Not so much.” Gitanjali Gutierrez, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, will add: “It is astonishing that the government may have delayed releasing men from Guantanamo in order to avoid bad press. Proposing to hold men for a month and a half after they were deemed releasable is inexcusable. The Obama administration should avoid repeating this injustice and release the innocent individuals with all due haste.” [Center for Constitutional Rights, 2/12/2009; AlterNet, 2/13/2009]

Entity Tags: Gitanjali Gutierrez, American Civil Liberties Union, Bush administration (43), Center for Constitutional Rights, US Southern Command, US Department of Defense, Norton Schwartz, Obama administration, Liliana Segura

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Detainments Outside US, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret

The Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, a now-defunct Saudi Arabian charitable organization that once operated in Oregon, sues the Bush administration [Associated Press, 2/28/2006] over what it calls illegal surveillance of its telephone and e-mail communications by the National Security Agency, the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program. The lawsuit may provide the first direct evidence of US residents and citizens being spied upon by the Bush administration’s secret eavesdropping program, according to the lawsuit (see December 15, 2005). According to a source familiar with the case, the NSA monitored telephone conversations between Al Haramain’s director, then in Saudi Arabia, and two US citizens working as lawyers for the organization and operating out of Washington, DC. The lawsuit alleges that the NSA violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978), the US citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights, and the attorney-client privilege. FISA experts say that while they are unfamiliar with the specifics of this lawsuit, they question whether a FISA judge would have allowed surveillance of conversations between US lawyers and their client under the circumstances described in the lawsuit. Other lawsuits have been filed against the Bush administration over suspicions of illegal government wiretapping, but this is the first lawsuit to present classified government documents as evidence to support its contentions. The lawsuit alleges that the NSA illegally intercepted communications between Al Haramain officer Suliman al-Buthe in Saudi Arabia, and its lawyers Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor in Washington. One of its most effective pieces of evidence is a document accidentally turned over to the group by the Treasury Department, dated May 24, 2004, that shows the NSA did indeed monitor conversations between Al Haramain officials and lawyers. When Al Haramain officials received the document in late May, 2004, they gave a copy to the Washington Post, whose editors and lawyers decided, under threat of government prosecution, to return the document to the government rather than report on it (see Late May, 2004). [Washington Post, 3/2/2006; Washington Post, 3/3/2006] Lawyer Thomas Nelson, who represents Al Haramain and Belew, later recalls he didn’t realize what the organization had until he read the New York Times’s December 2005 story of the NSA’s secret wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). “I got up in the morning and read the story, and I thought, ‘My god, we had a log of a wiretap and it may or may not have been the NSA and on further reflection it was NSA,’” Nelson will recall. “So we decided to file a lawsuit.” Nelson and other lawyers were able to retrieve one of the remaining copies of the document, most likely from Saudi Arabia, and turned it over to the court as part of their lawsuit. [Wired News, 3/5/2007]
Al Haramain Designated a Terrorist Organization - In February 2004, the Treasury Department froze the organization’s US financial assets pending an investigation, and in September 2004, designated it a terrorist organization, citing ties to al-Qaeda and alleging financial ties between Al Haramain and the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). The organization was disbanded by the Saudi Arabian government in June 2004 and folded into an “umbrella” private Saudi charitable organization, the Saudi National Commission for Relief and Charity Work Abroad (see March 2002-September 2004). In February 2005, the organization was indicted for conspiring to funnel money to Islamist fighters in Chechnya. The charges were later dropped. [US Treasury Department, 9/9/2004; Washington Post, 3/2/2006] The United Nations has banned the organization, saying it has ties to the Taliban. [United Nations, 7/27/2007]
Challenging Designation - In its lawsuit, Al Haramain is also demanding that its designation as a terrorist organization be reversed. It says it can prove that its financial support for Chechen Muslims was entirely humanitarian, with no connections to terrorism or violence, and that the Treasury Department has never provided any evidence for its claims that Al Haramain is linked to al-Qaeda or has funded terrorist activities. [Associated Press, 8/6/2007] The lawsuit also asks for $1 million in damages, and the unfreezing of Al Haramain’s US assets. [Associated Press, 8/5/2007]
Administration Seeks to Have Lawsuit Dismissed - The Bush administration will seek to have the lawsuit thrown out on grounds of national security and executive privilege (see Late 2006-July 2007, Mid-2007).

Judges Harold Baker, Allan Kornblum, and Stanley Brotman.Judges Harold Baker, Allan Kornblum, and Stanley Brotman. [Source: New York Times]Five former judges on the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) speak out against the continued use of warrantless wiretaps against US citizens, and urge that Congress give the court a formal role in overseeing the program. The five judges include James Robertson, who resigned from the court in apparent protest over the domestic eavesdropping program (see December 21, 2005). Four of the five judges speak at hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee; Robertson is absent, but parts of a letter by Robertson are entered into testimony. The judges tell the senators that they are skeptical at best about Bush administration claims of inherent presidential authority to order surveillance of US citizens without court approval, and suggest that any evidence obtained through the program might taint criminal prosecutions growing out of the wiretaps. Former FISC judge Harold Baker says Bush is bound by the law “like everybody else.” If a law such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is passed by Congress and considered constitutional by the courts, then, Baker says, “the president ignores it at the president’s peril.” The other judges, whose identities as FISC judges has until recently been kept from the public, include Stanley Brotman, John Keenan, and William Stafford. Magistrate judge Allan Kornblum, who supervised Justice Department wiretap applications for years, and who also testifies before the committee, calls the public discussion of the FISA court “unprecedented.” Robertson’s statements, from a March 23 letter to committee chairman Arlen Specter, are perhaps the most telling of anything disclosed in the hearings. Robertson agrees with Specter’s proposal “to give approval authority over the administration’s electronic surveillance program” to the court; that proposal is opposed by the Bush administration, and White House-favored legislation by Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) would not only exempt the program from FISA, but would give President Bush the authority to order wiretaps for 45 days without any Congressional or judicial oversight or authorization. Robertson strongly disagrees with the Bush/DeWine position. “Seeking judicial approval for government activities that implicate constitutional protections is, of course, the American way,” he wrote. Robertson also wrote that the FISA court should not conduct a “general review” of the surveillance operation, as Specter has also proposed. Instead, he wrote that the court should rule on individual warrant applications for eavesdropping under the program lasting 45 or 90 days. FISC is “best situated” for such matters because of the secretive nature of the court. “Its judges are independent, appropriately cleared, experienced in intelligence matters, and have a perfect security record,” he notes. None of the judges directly answer questions about whether the program is legal or not. Baker’s response is emblematic of the judges’ reticence on that issue: he says he feels more comfortable talking about legislative changes to strengthen FISA. “Whether something’s legal or illegal goes beyond that,” he says, “and that’s why I’m shying away from answering that.” [New York Times, 3/29/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Stanley Brotman, Senate Judiciary Committee, William Stafford, Mike DeWine, James Robertson, Bush administration (43), Arlen Specter, Allan Kornblum, John Keenan, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Harold Baker, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

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

John Dean.John Dean. [Source: Truthdig.com]Nixon White House counsel and Watergate veteran John Dean says that President Bush’s domestic spying program is worse than anything his former boss, Richard Nixon, did while he occupied the Oval Office. Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing on Senator Russ Feingold’s (D-WI) motion to censure Bush over the program (see March 12, 2006 and After), Dean says Bush “needs to be told he cannot simply ignore a law with no consequences.” Republican committee leaders grudgingly agreed to hold the hearing over the censure motion, but dismiss the motion as little more than an election-year stunt designed by Democrats to, in committee member Orrin Hatch’s (R-UT) words, “weaken the commander in chief” in a time of war. Feingold’s measure, if passed, would condemn Bush’s “unlawful authorization of wiretaps of Americans within the United States without obtaining the court orders required” by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The measure has little chance of passing, with even most Senate Democrats refusing to get behind the resolution. “To me, this is not really and should not be a partisan question,” Dean says. “I think it’s a question of institutional pride of this body, of the Congress of the United States.… [T]he president needs to be reminded that separation of powers does not mean an isolation of powers.” Dean has previously suggested, in his book Worse Than Watergate and in op-eds, that Bush may deserve impeachment over the surveillance program. [Associated Press, 3/31/2006]

Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Russell D. Feingold, John Dean, Orrin Hatch, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Richard M. Nixon, George W. Bush

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

Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), the ranking minority member of the House Oversight Committee, writes a letter to President Bush requesting a “full accounting” of two events that raise the question of whether the White House engaged in what Waxman calls “a systematic abuse of the national security classification process for political purposes.” Waxman is referring to recent press reports that Bush, through Vice President Dick Cheney, authorized former White House official Lewis Libby to leak classified information to reporters “in order to blunt criticism from former ambassador Joe Wilson about your improper use of intelligence in the run-up to war” (see April 5, 2006). He is also referring to recent allegations that Bush and his administration officials failed to alert the public that months before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, they knew that claims of Iraqi nuclear weapons were likely false. Waxman asks for a full accounting of these matters, and for the declassification of the President’s Summary of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (see October 1, 2002). [House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 4/6/2006] It is unclear whether Waxman ever receives a reply to his letter.

Entity Tags: Henry A. Waxman, George W. Bush, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Harry Taylor speaks to President Bush during an event at Central Piedmont Community College.Harry Taylor speaks to President Bush during an event at Central Piedmont Community College. [Source: Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)]During an “open forum” event in Charlotte, North Carolina, featuring President Bush, a local resident tells Bush that he hopes the president is “ashamed of [him]self” over his administration’s policies. Harry Taylor, a 61-year-old real estate broker, is a member of the audience at the event, sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Charlotte, at the Central Piedmont Community College. The “open forum” venue is unusual for Bush insamuch as the audience members are not heavily screened, and audience questions are not preselected by Bush officials beforehand. The Washington Post writes that the rationale behind the new “open forums” meetings is, “[a]t a time of dwindling public support and of charges of Bush’s being isolated, the idea was to put him in front of crowds for spontaneous exchanges to show he is not afraid of criticism.” Bush’s communications team, the Post observes, wants to give Bush the chance “to look unbothered by dissent.” The Post says that before Taylor’s response to Bush, the event has largely been a “love fest,” with Bush supporters chanting and shouting, and audience members telling Bush they are praying for him. After several instances where Bush defends his administration’s “reluctant” decision to invade and occupy Iraq, Taylor, recognized by the president, rises and says: “You never stop talking about freedom, and I appreciate that. But while I listen to you talk about freedom, I see you assert your right to tap my telephone, to arrest me and hold me without charges, to try to preclude me from breathing clean air and drinking clean water and eating safe food.” Bush interjects, “I’m not your favorite guy,” and Taylor continues, “What I want to say to you, is that I, in my lifetime, I have never felt more ashamed of, nor more frightened by, my leadership in Washington.” Audience members begin booing and attempting to shout down Taylor, but Bush requests that he be allowed to finish. “I feel like, despite your rhetoric, that compassion and common sense have been left far behind during your administration,” Taylor says, and concludes, “And I would hope from time to time that you have the humility and grace to be ashamed of yourself.” Bush does not address most of Taylor’s observations, but does counter his criticisms of the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. “I’m not going to apologize for what I did on the terrorist surveillance program, and I’ll tell you why,” Bush says, and explains that a failure to mount such surveillance against American citizens would lead to another 9/11-style attack. “If we’re at war,” he says, “we ought to be using tools necessary within the Constitution on a very limited basis, a program that’s reviewed constantly, to protect us.” After the event, Taylor says he wasn’t sure he would be let into the event at all, and notes: “I didn’t care about his response. I wanted to say what I wanted to say and I wanted him to know that despite being in a room with a thousand people who love him… there are plenty of people out there who don’t agree with him in any way, shape, or form.” [Think Progress, 4/6/2006; Washington Post, 4/7/2006] Taylor will later mount a longshot bid for the US House of Representatives against veteran Republican Sue Myrick (R-NC), who represents a largely Republican district. [Karen Shugart, 3/5/2008]

Entity Tags: Harry Taylor, Central Piedmont Community College, George W. Bush, Sue Myrick

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

John Hannah.John Hannah. [Source: PBS]Dick Cheney’s Office of the Vice President (OVP) is so cloaked in secrecy, journalist Robert Dreyfuss reports, that it routinely refuses to provide a directory of staff members or even the numbers of staff and employees. Dreyfus writes, “Like disciplined Bolsheviks slicing through a fractious opposition, Cheney’s team operates with a single-minded, ideological focus on the exercise of American military power, a belief in the untrammeled power of the presidency, and a fierce penchant for secrecy.” The list of current and former staffers includes, as of April 2006: former chief of staff Lewis Libby; his replacement, David Addington; top national security advisers Eric Edelman and Victoria Nuland; neoconservative and hardline Middle East specialists such as John Hannah, William Luti, and David Wurmser; anti-Chinese Asia specialists such as Stephen Yates and Samantha Ravich; a varying number of technocratic neoconservatives in other posts; and an array of communications specialists, including “Cheney’s Angels”: Mary Matalin, Juleanna Glover Weiss, Jennifer Millerwise, Jennifer Mayfield, Catherine Martin, and Lea Anne McBride. It is known that Cheney’s national security staff was assembled by Libby from various far-right think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), as well as carefully screened Cheney supporters from a variety of Washington law firms. [American Prospect, 4/16/2006] Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, will recall in early 2007: “A friend of mine counted noses [at the office] and came away with 88. That doesn’t count others seconded from other agencies.” [Washington Monthly, 1/7/2007]
'Cabal' of Zealots - Wilkerson calls Cheney’s inner group a “cabal” of arrogant, intensely zealous, highly focused loyalists. Recalling Cheney’s staff interacting in a variety of interagency meetings and committees, “The staff that the vice president sent out made sure that those [committees] didn’t key anything up that wasn’t what the vice president wanted,” says Wilkerson. “Their style was simply to sit and listen, and take notes. And if things looked like they were going to go speedily to a decision that they knew that the vice president wasn’t going to like, generally they would, at the end of the meeting, in great bureaucratic style, they’d say: ‘We totally disagree. Meeting’s over.’” The committee agendas were generally scuttled. And if something did get written up as a “decision memo” bound for the Oval Office, Cheney himself would ensure that it died before ever reaching fruition.”
Sidestepping the NSC - The National Security Council (NSC) is designated as the ultimate arbiter for foreign policy options and recommendations for the president. But, according to Wilkerson, Cheney’s office and the NSC were often at loggerheads, and Cheney’s “shadow NSC” had the upper bureaucratic hand. Cheney “set up a staff that knew what the statutory NSC was doing, but the NSC statutory staff didn’t know what his staff was doing,” says Wilkerson.
China Threat - Cheney’s Asia advisers, Yates and Ravich, were most often encountered by Wilkerson. They helped drive Cheney’s agenda for China, which was obsessive to the point of paranoia. China was a grave, if long-term, threat to the US, they believed. The US must begin strongly cultivating Taiwan as a counterbalance to China, whom they asserted was preparing for military action against the US. Former US ambassador to China Charles Freeman compares Yates to the Defense Department’s Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith; all three believed, Freeman says, that China was “the solution to ‘enemy deprivation syndrome.’”
Iraq Policy - Cheney’s current and former staffers played an even larger role in shaping the administration’s Iraq policy than is generally known, and Cheney “seeded” staffers in other departments to promote his war agenda. Luti left the OVP in 2001 to join the Department of Defense, where he organized the Office of Special Plans (OSP). Wurmser, an AEI neoconservative, joined the Pentagon and created the forerunner of the OSP, the Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, which helped manufacture the evidence of connections between Hussein and al-Qaeda. Wurmser worked closely with Hannah, Libby, Luti, and another Pentagon official, Harold Rhode. Ravich worked with neoconservative Middle East analyst Zalmay Khalilzad to build up Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, their designated supplanter of Hussein.
US or Israel Interests? - Many of Cheney’s most influential staffers are pro-Israeli to the point where many observers wonder where their ultimate loyalties lie. David Wurmser is a standout of this group. Wurmser worked at WINEP with Hannah, then joined the AEI, where he directed that group’s Middle East affairs, then joined Feith’s OSP before moving on to Bolton’s inner circle at the State Department, all before joining Cheney in the OVP. Most outsiders consider Wurmser’s ideas wildly unrealistic. A former ambassador says of Wurmser, “I’ve known him for years, and I consider him to be a naive simpleton.” [American Prospect, 4/16/2006]

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

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

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

Steven Calabresi, one of the architects of the ‘unitary executive’ theory, says Bush’s use of signing statements has gone too far.Steven Calabresi, one of the architects of the ‘unitary executive’ theory, says Bush’s use of signing statements has gone too far. [Source: MeFeedia]Legal scholars and constitutional experts decry President Bush’s claim that he can ignore or disobey laws with impunity. An examination by Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage finds that to date, Bush has claimed the authority to disobey over 750 laws enacted since he took office (see January 20, 2001 and After, After September 11, 2001, January 27, 2002, November 5, 2002, March 12, 2004 and After, November 6, 2003, December 2004, December 17, 2004, Dec. 23, 2004, January 17, 2005, August 8, 2005, October 18, 2005, December 30, 2005, and January 23, 2006). He claims that as president, he has the power to override any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution. While the Constitution assigns Congress the power to write the laws and the president the duty “to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” Bush asserts that he has no mandate to “execute” a law he believes is unconstitutional. Administration spokespersons have repeatedly said that Bush “will faithfully execute the law in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution,” but it is Bush who decides what is and is not constitutional. Many legal scholars disagree with Bush’s position, and accuse him of attempting to usurp Congressional power for himself.
Philip Cooper - Law professor Phillip Cooper says over the Bush administration’s tenure, it has relentlessly worked to concentrate ever more governmental power into the White House. “There is no question that this administration has been involved in a very carefully thought-out, systematic process of expanding presidential power at the expense of the other branches of government,” Cooper says. “This is really big, very expansive, and very significant.”
Christopher Kelley - Political science professor Christopher Kelley notes that Bush uses signing statements to abrogate Congressional powers in a manner inconsistent with Constitutional mandates. “He agrees to a compromise with members of Congress, and all of them are there for a public bill-signing ceremony, but then he takes back those compromises—and more often than not, without the Congress or the press or the public knowing what has happened,” Kelley says.
David Golove - Law professor David Golove says Bush has besmirched “the whole idea that there is a rule of law” because no one can be certain of which laws Bush thinks are valid and which he thinks he can ignore. “Where you have a president who is willing to declare vast quantities of the legislation that is passed during his term unconstitutional, it implies that he also thinks a very significant amount of the other laws that were already on the books before he became president are also unconstitutional,” Golove says. To the extent that Bush is interpreting the Constitution in defiance of Supreme Court rulings, Golove notes, he threatens to “overturn the existing structures of constitutional law.” When a president ignores the Court and is not restrained by a Congress that enables his usurpations, Golove says, the Constitution can be made to simply “disappear.” Golove adds, “Bush has essentially said that ‘We’re the executive branch and we’re going to carry this law out as we please, and if Congress wants to impeach us, go ahead and try it.’”
Jack Beerman - Law professor Jack Beermann says: “The president is daring Congress to act against his positions, and they’re not taking action because they don’t want to appear to be too critical of the president, given that their own fortunes are tied to his because they are all Republicans. Oversight gets much reduced in a situation where the president and Congress are controlled by the same party.”
Steven Calabresi - Former Justice Department official Steven Calabresi, who came up with the idea of using signing statements to counter Congressional powers during the Reagan administration (see August 23, 1985 - December 1985), now says, “I think what the administration has done in issuing no vetoes and scores of signing statements (see September 2007) is not the right way to approach this.”
Bruce Fein - Former Reagan Justice Department official Bruce Fein says: “This is an attempt by the president to have the final word on his own constitutional powers, which eliminates the checks and balances that keep the country a democracy. There is no way for an independent judiciary to check his assertions of power, and Congress isn’t doing it, either. So this is moving us toward an unlimited executive power.” [Boston Globe, 4/30/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 243]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Charlie Savage, Christopher Kelley, Jack Beermann, Bruce Fein, David Golove, George W. Bush, Phillip Cooper, Steven Calabresi

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Signing Statements, Government Acting in Secret

President George Bush issues a memo granting the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) the authority to authorize a corporation to conceal any of its activities related to national security under United States Code 15 USC 78m(b)(3)(A). [US Code Title 15,78m; George W. Bush, 5/5/2006] The memo follows recent allegations that telecommunications firms AT&T, BellSouth, and Verizon have all provided records of US citizens’ telephone communications to the National Security Agency as part of the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program (see October 2001 and February 5, 2006). Almost two months later, Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) learns of the memo and demands an explanation from DNI John Negroponte. Schakowsky will write in part: “I am concerned about this new authority because under it, the DNI does not need to seek any permission from the president or Congress to issue such directives and there is minimal oversight once the directive is given. In fact, it is my understanding that since the DNI is only required to report on directives ‘active’ on the annual October 1st reporting date, the DNI could in fact cover up all directives by having them expire on September 30th of the reporting year. I believe that such expansive authority coupled with lax oversight could lead to the misuse of the power, the over-issuing of directives, and the hiding of activities that could be unconstitutional and violations of citizens’ civil liberties. For instance, I believe that such directives could have been issued to the major telecommunications firms concerning the sharing of phone call records with the National Security Agency without citizens’ knowledge or consent.” Schakowsky asks if there was “a particular corporate activity that the DNI or another believed warranted such protection from disclosure and liability,” how many such directives his office has issued since he was granted such authority, whether any such directives were retroactive, how it is determined that “national security” matters are at stake and who makes such determinations, and whether directives telecommunications firms provide citizens’ phone records without their knowledge or consent are being “covered up.” Negroponte’s reply to Schakowsky, if any, is not known. [Jan Schakowsky, 6/27/2006]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Verizon Communications, John Negroponte, George W. Bush, BellSouth, Jan Schakowsky, AT&T

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

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

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

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

President Bush reiterates claims that the NSA wiretapping program specifically targets only suspected al-Qaeda members and sympathizers and does not target domestic communications without court authorizations. “[T]he privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities,” Bush asserts. “We’re not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.” Serious questions have been raised about the accuracy of these assertions (see October 2001, December 18, 2005, and May 12, 2006). [Democracy Now!, 5/12/2006]

Entity Tags: Terrorist Surveillance Program, National Security Agency, Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush

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

USA Today headline.USA Today headline. [Source: CBS News]USA Today reports that “[t]he National Security Agency (NSA) has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by the nation’s three biggest telecommunications providers, AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth,” according to “people with direct knowledge of the arrangement.” None of the sources would allow USA Today to identify them by name, job, or affiliation. The USA Today story claims that the NSA program “does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations,” but does use “the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity,” according to their sources. One source says that the NSA program is compiling “the largest database ever assembled in the world,” with the goal of creating “a database of every call ever made” within US borders. President Bush has said that the NSA program is focused exclusively on international calls, and for the calls to be recorded, “one end of the communication must be outside the United States.” However, this is now shown not to be the case (see January 16, 2004). A US intelligence official says that the NSA program is not recording the actual phone calls themselves, but is collecting what he calls “external” data about the communications to allow the agency to emply “social network analysis” for insight into how terrorist networks are connected with one another. Another large telecommunications company, Qwest, has refused to help the NSA eavesdrop on customer calls (see February 2001, February 2001 and Beyond, and February 27, 2001). USA Today’s sources say that the NSA eavesdropping program began after the 9/11 attacks, a claim that is not bolstered by the facts (see 1997, February 27, 2000, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, February 2001 and Beyond, February 2001, Spring 2001, April 2001, April 4, 2001, July 2001, Before September 11, 2001, and Early 2002). The sources say that the three companies agreed to provide “call-detail records,” lists of their customers’ calling histories, and updates, which would allow the agency to track citizens’ calling habits. In return, the sources say, the NSA offered to pay the firms for their cooperation. After the three firms agreed to help the agency, USA Today writes, “the NSA’s domestic program began in earnest” (see After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, September 2002, and Spring 2004). NSA spokesman Don Weber says the agency is operating strictly “within the law,” but otherwise refuses to comment. Former US prosecutor Paul Butler says that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which governs surveillance operations by US intelligence agencies, “does not prohibit the government from doing data mining” (see 1978). White House press spokesman Dana Perino says, “There is no domestic surveillance without court approval,” and all surveillance activities undertaken by government agencies “are lawful, necessary, and required for the pursuit of al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists.” All government-sponsored intelligence activities “are carefully reviewed and monitored,” she adds, and says that “all appropriate members of Congress have been briefed on the intelligence efforts of the United States” (see October 11, 2001 and October 25, 2001 and November 14, 2001). Don Weber, a senior spokesman for the NSA, refuses to discuss the agency’s operations, saying: “Given the nature of the work we do, it would be irresponsible to comment on actual or alleged operational issues; therefore, we have no information to provide. However, it is important to note that NSA takes its legal responsibilities seriously and operates within the law.” All three firms released similar comments saying that they would not discuss “matters of national security,” but were complying with the law in their alleged cooperation with the NSA. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is suing AT&T for what it calls its complicity in the NSA’s “illegal” domestic surveillance program (see January 31, 2006). [USA Today, 5/11/2006]

Entity Tags: Verizon Communications, USA Today, Qwest, Paul Butler, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Jane Harman, AT&T, BellSouth, National Security Agency, Dana Perino, Don Weber

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

Former NSA Director Michael Hayden, testifying as part of his nomination hearings to head the CIA, denies that the NSA has engaged in illegal surveillance operations against US citizens, after allegations by former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio that he met with NSA officials well before the 9/11 attacks and discussed such a surveillance program. Nacchio refused to cooperate with the NSA, and he says that his telecommunications firm suffered retaliation as a result of his refusal (see February 27, 2001). Other telecom firms such as BellSouth, AT&T, and Verizon did cooperate (see February 2001 and Beyond). Court documents show that Nacchio balked at cooperating with the NSA after learning that the agency wanted Qwest’s phone records of the firm’s customers, but had no warrants or approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees all US intelligence agencies’ surveillance operations.
Denial - Hayden denies that the NSA has broken the law, and that it has complied with its oversight responsibilities. “Everything that the agency has done has been lawful,” he says. “It’s been briefed to the appropriate members of Congress. The only purpose of the agency’s activities is to preserve the security and the liberty of the American people. And I think we’ve done that.” Nacchio says the NSA continued to make similar requests of Qwest until he left the firm in June 2002. The court documents are part of Nacchio’s trial on numerous counts of insider trading.
Political Reaction - The White House and Senate Republicans are generally supportive of Hayden while Senate Democrats have mixed feelings. One who questions Hayden’s credibility is Ron Wyden (D-OR) of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who says, “The American people have got to know that when the person who heads the CIA makes a statement that they are getting the full picture.” In contrast, Kit Bond (R-MO), a member of the select panel allowed access to classified information on the warrantless surveillance program, says, “The president’s program uses information collected from phone companies,” but only the telephone number called and the caller’s number. Conversations, says Bond, are not recorded. President Bush says that the NSA wiretapping program is not “mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.”
Scope of Program - A senior government official given permission to speak anonymously about the program says that while the NSA has access to records of almost all domestic phone calls, the records are used solely to trace regular contacts of “known bad guys.” The NSA needs access to the entirety of citizens’ phone communications, the official says, but it isn’t “interested in the vast majority of them.” [Associated Press, 5/12/2006; New York Times, 5/12/2006; CBS News, 5/12/2006]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Senate Intelligence Committee, Michael Hayden, Verizon Communications, Ron Wyden, Qwest, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, AT&T, Bush administration (43), BellSouth, Joe Nacchio, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, Central Intelligence Agency

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

Bobby Ray Inman.Bobby Ray Inman. [Source: DefenseTech.org]Former NSA director Bobby Ray Inman says that the secret NSA program to wiretap US citizens’ phone and e-mail conversations without court warrants (see After September 11, 2001) “is not authorized.” President Bush authorized the secret wiretapping over four years ago (see Early 2002), a program only revealed at the end of 2005 (see December 15, 2005). Since the program was revealed, it has created tremendous controversy over its possible illegality and its encroachment on fundamental American civil liberties. Bush and other White House officials have repeatedly asserted that the program is legal, mainly because Bush and his officials assert that the president has the authority to implement such a program (see December 15, 2005); Bush also insists, as recently as the day before Inman’s statement, that the program is only being used to spy on terrorists and the privacy of US citizens is being “fiercely protected,” a statement that does not jibe with the facts. [Democracy Now!, 5/12/2006]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Al-Qaeda, Bobby Ray Inman, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush

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

Two public interest lawyers sue Verizon Communications for $5 billion, claiming the telecommunications firm violated privacy laws by giving the phone records of its customers to the NSA for that agency’s secret, warrantless domestic surveillance program. Lawyers Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer are asking that Verizon stop turning over its records to the NSA without either a court order or the consent of the customer. Afran says of the NSA program, “This is the largest and most vast intrusion of civil liberties we’ve ever seen in the United States.” [CBS News, 5/12/2006] Days later, AT&T and BellSouth are added to the lawsuit. [CNN, 5/17/2006]
Verizon Helped Build an NSA Database? - The day before, the press reports that the NSA has built a database of millions of domestic phone records since shortly after the 9/11 attacks, using records from Verizon, BellSouth, and AT&T (see May 11, 2006). Former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio, whose firm refused to cooperate with the NSA, says that he was approached months before the attacks to help set up such a program (see February 27, 2001). The NSA has the power, under President Bush’s interpretation of his wartime authority, to have the agency eavesdrop on international calls made to or from the US, but cannot legally eavesdrop on internal calls unless it has a court order. The lawsuit claims that the telecoms violated the Constitution and the Telecommunications Act by giving its records to the government without court authorization. The lawsuit seeks $1,000 for each violation of the Telecommunications Act, or $5 billion if the case is certified as a class-action suit. The lawyers are seeking documents detailing the origins of the NSA program, as well as Bush’s own role in authorizing the program. “Federal law prohibits the phone companies from giving records to the government without a warrant,” says Afran. “There was no warrant, nor was there any attempt to get warrants, which is in violation of the constitution and the Telecommunications Act.” [CBS News, 5/12/2006; CNET News, 5/15/2006] Afran says, “One of the purposes of this case is to, quite frankly, hold the threat of financial destruction over the heads of the phone companies to make them abandon this policy of cooperating with warrantless searches by the government.” [National Public Radio, 5/17/2006] The lawsuit alleges that Verizon constructed a dedicated fiber optic line from New Jersey to a large military base in Quantico, Virginia, that allowed government officials to gain access to all communications flowing through the carrier’s operations center. A former consultant who worked on internal security will later say he had tried numerous times to install safeguards on the line to prevent hacking on the system, as he was doing for other lines at the operations center, but he was prevented from doing so by a senior security official. One of the allegations against Verizon in the lawsuit is made by Philadelphia resident Norman LeBoon, who says after he read of the alleged surveillance of US citizens, he began asking Verizon if his landline communications were being shared. LeBoon says he eventually spoke with “Ellen” in Verizon customer service, who told him, “I can tell you, Mr. LeBoon, that your records have been shared with the government, but that’s between you and me.… They [Verizon] are going to deny it because of national security. The government is denying it and we have to deny it, too. Around here we are saying that Verizon has ‘plausible deniability.’” [Truthdig, 8/9/2007]
AT&T Grants Unlimited Access? - The lawsuit claims that in February 2001, days before Qwest was approached, NSA officials met with AT&T officials to discuss replicating an AT&t network center to give the agency access to all the global phone and e-mail traffic that ran through it (see February 2001).
Earlier Reporting Made Key Error - Earlier reporting of the NSA’s cooperation with the telecoms got a key detail wrong, says telecom analyst Scott Cleland: “What I think people got wrong with the original reporting, was that this was local phone companies tracking local phone calls. What is clear now is they were tracking long distance calls.” [National Public Radio, 5/17/2006]

Entity Tags: Norman LeBoon, Qwest, National Security Agency, George W. Bush, Joe Nacchio, Michael Hayden, Bruce Afran, Carl Mayer, Verizon Communications

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

Ira Winkler.Ira Winkler. [Source: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation]Former NSA analyst Ira Winkler, author of the 2005 book Spies Among Us, writes of his disgust with the NSA’s domestic surveillance program, saying that because it is warrantless, it is illegal. He argues the program violates both the NSA’s rules of engagement and its long-term missions.
Warrantless Surveillance is Illegal - Securing warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is easily done, Winkler says: “FISA blocks no legitimate acquisition of knowledge. It doesn’t even slow the process down.” The problem, Winkler says, is that the program is so large that securing FISA warrants for every communication the NSA monitors “would [take] an army of lawyers to get all the warrants they’d need to be in compliance with FISA.” However: “[T]he law is the law. No president has the right to pick and choose which laws they find convenient to follow.” President Bush could have asked Congress to amend the FISA laws: “After all, after 9/11 Congress passed a wide variety of laws (without, for the most part, reading them) that were supposed to prevent another attack. They could have easily slipped something modifying FISA into all of that legislation. They did not, though recent revelations about this administration’s use of signing statements may indicate that they simply didn’t want to raise the possibility of questions.” Merely ignoring FISA “is illegal,” Winkler writes.
Weakens National Security - Another issue is national security. Not obtaining warrants actually weakens natural security, he argues, “since the process of obtaining the warrants has an effect on quality control.” For example: “To date, FBI agents have been sent out to do thousands of investigations based on this warrantless wiretapping. None of those investigations turned up a legitimate lead. I have spoken to about a dozen agents, and they all roll their eyes and indicate disgust with the man-years of wasted effort being put into physically examining NSA ‘leads.’ This scattershot attempt at data mining drags FBI agents away from real investigations, while destroying the NSA’s credibility in the eyes of law enforcement and the public in general. That loss of credibility makes the NSA the agency that cried wolf—and after so many false leads, should they provide something useful, the data will be looked at skeptically and perhaps given lower priority by law enforcement than it would otherwise have been given.” Winkler says the NSA’s claim that it does not retain any personal information is ludicrous. “Frankly, you have to be a complete moron to believe that,” he writes. “It is trivial to narrow down access to a phone number to just a few members of a household, if not in fact to exactly one person.”
Extortion - And the warrantless surveillance is not the only illegal action taken by the government. If the government did threaten one telecom firm, Qwest, for not cooperating (see February 2001), “[t]hat’s extortion—another crime.” Winkler writes that both Congress and the American people must demand answers, or the White House and the NSA will continue to usurp our freedom under the cloak of protecting freedoms.
Arguments For Program are Specious - Winkler says the arguments for the program that he hears are groundless. He hears three main threads:
bullet “I have nothing to worry about so I don’t care if they investigate me.” Winkler points out that plenty of people have been investigated and incarcerated in the US and abroad without doing anything wrong: “I believe that Saddam Hussein would cheerfully agree with the tired allegation that if you did nothing wrong, you shouldn’t mind the government looking at your calls. I think Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and the Chinese government would also agree with that line of thought. Is this the company we consent to keep in the name of safety?”
bullet “[W]e need to do everything we can to protect ourselves.” Protecting ourselves, Winkler argues, means letting law enforcement work to protect US citizens against real, ongoing crimes. The government is “watching for dragons while very real snakes multiply freely in our midst.”
bullet “[T]he NSA isn’t listening to the content of the calls, so there’s no harm.” Aside from the fact that Winkler believes the NSA is lying about not listening to the calls themselves, he says: “[The NSA] doesn’t need to hear your chatter to invade your privacy. By simply tying numbers together—an intelligence discipline of traffic analysis—I assure you I can put together a portrait of your life. I’ll know your friends, your hobbies, where your children go to school, if you’re having an affair, whether you plan to take a trip and even when you’re awake or asleep. Give me a list of whom you’re calling and I can tell most of the critical things I need to know about you.” The NSA is made up of mostly “good and honest people,” but it has “more than its share of bitter, vindictive mid- and senior-level bureaucrats. I would not trust my personal information with these people, since I have personally seen them use internal information against their enemies.” Winkler reminds his readers that the Bush administration deliberately outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson because her husband dared debunk an administration claim about Iraq (see November 20, 2007), and tried to undermine the credibility of former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke when he spoke out against the administration (see March 24, 2004). The NSA could easily provide the administration with damaging information about other administration enemies.
'Against Everything I Was Taught' - “NSA domestic spying is against everything I was ever taught working at the NSA,” Winkler writes. “I might be more for it if there was any credible evidence that this somehow provides useful information that couldn’t otherwise be had. However, the domestic spying program has gotten so massive that the well-established process of getting a warrant cannot be followed—and quantity most certainly doesn’t translate to quality. Quite the opposite.” The terrorists number in the hundreds, Winkler writes, but “the NSA is collecting data on hundreds of millions of people who are clearly not the enemy. These numbers speak for themselves.” [Computerworld, 5/16/2006]

Entity Tags: Qwest, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ira Winkler, National Security Agency, Valerie Plame Wilson, Saddam Hussein, Richard A. Clarke, Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin

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

AT&T lawyers accidentally release sensitive information in their defense of a lawsuit accusing AT&T and two other telecommunications firms of illegally cooperating with an NSA wiretapping program (see January 31, 2006). They release a 25-page legal brief, heavily redacted with thick black lines intended to obscure portions of three pages, in PDF (Portable Data File) format. But some software programs can read the text. The redacted information offers alternative reasons why AT&T has a secret room in its downtown San Francisco switching center designed to monitor Internet and telephone traffic (see February 2001). The Electronic Frontier Foundation, who filed the lawsuit, says the room is used by the NSA surveillance program. The redacted sections argue that the room could be used for “legitimate Internet monitoring systems, such as those used to detect viruses and stop hackers.” Another argument reads, “Although the plaintiffs ominously refer to the equipment as the ‘Surveillance Configuration,’ the same physical equipment could be utilized exclusively for other surveillance in full compliance with” the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The court filing is not classified, and no information relating to the actual operations of the NSA’s surveillance program is disclosed. [US District Court, Northern District of California, San Francisco Division, 5/24/2006 pdf file; US District Court, Northern District of California, San Francisco Division, 5/24/2006; CNET News, 5/26/2006]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Electronic Frontier Foundation, AT&T

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

The Bush administration submits a legal brief arguing that the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s lawsuit against AT&T, alleging that firm cooperated with the NSA’s domestic surveillance program (see January 31, 2006), should be thrown out of court because of the government’s “state secrets” privilege (see March 9, 1953). Justice Department lawyers want Judge Vaughn Walker to examine classified documents that they say will convince him to dismiss the lawsuit. However, the government does not want the defense lawyers to see that material. “No aspect of this case can be litigated without disclosing state secrets,” the government argues. “The United States has not lightly invoked the state secrets privilege, and the weighty reasons for asserting the privilege are apparent from the classified material submitted in support of its assertion.” [CNET News, 5/26/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Electronic Frontier Foundation, AT&T, Vaughn Walker, Bush administration (43)

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

George Terwilliger, a former deputy attorney general under George H. W. Bush, argues that the current Bush administration’s controversial data mining program (see Late 1999 and After September 11, 2001) is not illegal. Terwilliger tells the conservative National Review, “I think it’s fair to say that the statutes contemplate the transfer of this generic type of data much more on a case-by-case rather than a wholesale basis,” meaning that the law calls for a court order only in cases when the government is making a targeted request for information. But, he adds, “I don’t see anything in the statute that forbids such a wholesale turnover.” Terwilliger’s argument echoes the arguments of the Bush Justice Department, which argues that the data mining program—part of the NSA’s “Stellar Wind” surveillance program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005)—does not technically constitute “electronic surveillance” under the law. Both the Fourth Amendment and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as interpreted by the courts, define such actions as “electronic surveillance,” according to a number of legal experts, including law professor Orin Kerr. And, Ars Technica reporter Julian Sanchez notes in 2009, “the Stored Communications Act explicitly makes it a crime to ‘knowingly divulge a record or other information pertaining to a subscriber to or customer of such service… to any governmental entity.’” Sanchez will call Terwilliger’s argument “very strange,” but will note that Terwilliger is the attorney for then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and “a prominent defender of the administration’s surveillance policies.” Sanchez will conclude that while the argument “might pass for clever in a high school debate round… [i]t would be deeply unsettling if it [passes] for anything more in the halls of power.” [National Review, 6/5/2006; Ars Technica, 12/16/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Alberto R. Gonzales, ’Stellar Wind’, Bush administration (43), National Security Agency, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Julian Sanchez, George Terwilliger, Orin S. Kerr

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

J. William Leonard, the head of the National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), writes to David Addington, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, asking for reports on classification activity by Cheney’s office. [J. William Leonard, 6/8/2006 pdf file] The request was prompted by a May 28, 2006 letter from Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists that states in part, “I believe that the Office of the Vice President is willfully violating a provision of [Executive Order 12958, as amended by President Bush (see 2003)] and of the implementing ISOO directive. Specifically, the Office of the Vice President (OVP) is refusing to comply with the ISOO requirement to ‘report annually to the Director of ISOO statistics related to its security classification program.‘… As you know, the President’s executive order states that this and other ISOO Directive requirements are ‘binding’ upon any ‘entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information.‘… Yet despite this requirement, the OVP has failed to report on its classification and declassification activity for three years in a row. Moreover, this appears to be a deliberate act on the part of the OVP, not simply a negligent one.” [Federation of American Scientists, 5/30/2006 pdf file] Since 2003, Cheney and his staffers have argued that the Vice President’s office is not strictly part of the executive branch and therefore is not bound by the mandate of the executive orders: Cheney’s officials have also stated they do not believe the OVP is included in the definition of “agency” as set forth in the executive order, and therefore does not consider itself an “entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information.” [J. William Leonard, 6/8/2006 pdf file] Aftergood wrote in his letter, “Nothing in the executive order excuses the OVP from reporting on classification activity in the performance of its executive duties merely because it also has separate legislative functions. It is hard to see how such an argument could be proposed by a reasonable person in good faith. Since the OVP has publicly staked out a position that openly defies the plain language of the executive order, I believe ISOO now has a responsibility to clarify the matter.… [B]y casting its non-compliance as a matter of principle, the OVP has mounted a challenge to the integrity of classification oversight and to the authority of the executive order. In my opinion, it is a challenge that should not go unanswered.” [Federation of American Scientists, 5/30/2006 pdf file] In his letter to Addington, Leonard notes that until 2002, Cheney’s office did submit such reports to the ISOO. He also notes that under the Constitution, the Vice President’s office is indeed part of the executive branch, and that if it is not, then it is in repeated material breach of national security laws, as it has had routine access to top secret intelligence reports and other materials that are only available to the executive branch. Leonard asks Addington to ensure that Cheney’s office begins complying with the law. [J. William Leonard, 6/8/2006 pdf file] Leonard’s letter is ignored. [Henry A. Waxman, 6/21/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, J. William Leonard, Information Security Oversight Office, David S. Addington, National Archives and Records Administration

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Lawyers file court documents alleging that the National Security Agency (NSA) worked with AT&T to set up a domestic wiretapping site seven months before the 9/11 attacks. The papers are filed as part of a lawsuit, McMurray v. Verizon Communications, which cites as plaintiffs AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth customers whose privacy was allegedly violated by the NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see May 12, 2006); it also alleges that the firms, along with the NSA and President Bush, violated the Telecommunications Act of 1934 and the US Constitution. AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth have been accused of working with the NSA to set up domestic call monitoring sites (see October 2001). Evidence that the NSA set up domestic surveillance operations at least seven months before the 9/11 attacks is at the core of the lawsuit (see Spring 2001). The suit is similar to one filed against AT&T by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF—see January 31, 2006) and other such lawsuits. A lawyer for the plaintiffs in McMurray, Carl Mayer, says: “The Bush administration asserted this [the warrantless wiretapping program] became necessary after 9/11. This undermines that assertion.” AT&T spokesman Dave Pacholczyk responds, “The US Department of Justice has stated that AT&T may neither confirm nor deny AT&T’s participation in the alleged NSA program because doing so would cause ‘exceptionally grave harm to national security’ and would violate both civil and criminal statutes.” Verizon has denied being asked by the NSA for its customer phone records, and has refused to confirm or deny “whether it has any relationship to the classified NSA program.” BellSouth spokesman Jeff Battcher says: “We never turned over any records to the NSA. We’ve been clear all along that they’ve never contacted us. Nobody in our company has ever had any contact with the NSA.” The NSA domestic wiretapping program is known as “Pioneer Groundbreaker,” a part of the larger “Project Groundbreaker” (see February 2001). According to Mayer and his fellow lawyer Bruce Afran, an unnamed former employee of AT&T provided them with information about NSA’s approach to AT&T. (That former employee will later be revealed as retired technician Mark Klein—see Late 2002, July 7, 2009, December 15-31, 2005, and April 6, 2006). The lawsuit is on a temporary hiatus while a judicial panel rules on a government request to assign all of the telecommunications lawsuits to a single judge. [Bloomberg, 6/30/2006]

Entity Tags: Verizon Wireless, US Department of Justice, National Security Agency, George W. Bush, Jeff Battcher, Bruce Afran, BellSouth, AT&T, Mark Klein, Carl Mayer, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Dave Pacholczyk

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

Salim Ahmed Hamdan in 1999.Salim Ahmed Hamdan in 1999. [Source: Pubic domain via the New York Times]In the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case, the Supreme Court rules 5-3 to strike down the Bush administration’s plans to try Guantanamo detainees before military commissions. Ruling in favor of detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan (see November 8, 2004), the Court rules that the commissions are unauthorized by federal statutes and violate international law. Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens says, “The executive is bound to comply with the rule of law that prevails in this jurisdiction.” The opinion throws out each of the administration’s arguments in favor of the commissions, including its assertion that Congress had stripped the Supreme Court of the jurisdiction to decide the case. One of the major flaws in the commissions, the Court rules, is that President Bush unilaterally established them without the authorization of Congress. [New York Times, 6/30/2006] During the oral arguments three months before, Hamdan’s lawyer, Neal Katyal, told the Court: “The whole point of this [proceeding] is to say we’re challenging the lawfulness of the tribunal [the military commissions] itself. This isn’t a challenge to some decision that a court makes. This is a challenge to the court itself, and that’s why it’s different than the ordinary criminal context that you’re positing.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 274-275]
Major Defeat for Bush Administration - Civil libertarian and human rights organizations consider the ruling a shattering defeat for the administration, particularly in its assertions of expansive, unfettered presidential authority. Bush says in light of the decision, he will work with Congress to “find a way forward” to implement the commissions. “The ruling destroys one of the key pillars of the Guantanamo system,” says Gerald Staberock, a director of the International Commission of Jurists. “Guantanamo was built on the idea that prisoners there have limited rights. There is no longer that legal black hole.” The ruling also says that prisoners held as “enemy combatants” must be afforded rights under the Geneva Conventions, specifically those requiring humane treatment for detainees and the right to free and open trials in the US legal system. While some form of military trials may be permissible, the ruling states that defendants must be given basic rights such as the ability to attend the trial and the right to see and challenge evidence submitted by the prosecution. Stevens writes that the historical origin of military commissions was in their use as a “tribunal of necessity” under wartime conditions. “Exigency lent the commission its legitimacy, but did not further justify the wholesale jettisoning of procedural protections.” [New York Times, 6/30/2006] In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write, “Five justices on the Supreme Court said Bush had broken the law.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 275]
Hardline Conservative Justices Dissent - Stevens is joined by Justices David Souter, Stephen Breyer, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Anthony Kennedy issues a concurring opinion. Dissenting are Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. Thomas, in a dissent signed by Scalia and Alito, calls the decision “untenable” and “dangerous.” Chief Justice John Roberts recused himself from the case because of his participation in a federal appeals court that ruled in favor of the administration (see November 8, 2004).
Not Charged for Three Years - Hamdan is a Guantanamo detainee from Yemen, captured in Afghanistan in November 2001 and taken to Guantanamo in June 2002. He is accused of being a member of al-Qaeda, in his function as driver and bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. He was not charged with a crime—conspiracy—until mid-2004. [New York Times, 6/30/2006]

Entity Tags: Samuel Alito, US Supreme Court, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John G. Roberts, Jr, Al-Qaeda, Antonin Scalia, Bush administration (43), Center for Constitutional Rights, Anthony Kennedy, John Paul Stevens, David Souter, International Commission of Jurists, Gerald Staberock, Geneva Conventions, Clarence Thomas

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Daniel Dell’Orto.Daniel Dell’Orto. [Source: US Department of Defense]Shortly after the Supreme Court rules that the Geneva Conventions apply to detainees suspected of terrorist affiliations (see June 30, 2006), the Bush administration publicly agrees to apply the Conventions to all terrorism suspects in US custody, and the Pentagon announces that it is now requiring all military officials to adhere to the Conventions in dealing with al-Qaeda detainees. The administration says that from now on, all prisoners in US custody will be treated humanely in accordance with the Conventions, a stipulation that would preclude torture and “harsh interrogation methods.” Until the ruling, the administration has held that prisoners suspected of terrorist affiliations did not have the right to be granted Geneva protections (see February 7, 2002). Lawyer David Remes, who represents 17 Guantanamo detainees, says, “At a symbolic level, it is a huge moral triumph that the administration has acknowledged that it must, under the Supreme Court ruling, adhere to the Geneva Conventions. The legal architecture of the war on terror was built on a foundation of unlimited and unaccountable presidential power, including the power to decide unilaterally whether, when and to whom to apply the Geneva Conventions.” But in the wake of the ruling the administration is pressuring Congress to introduce legislation that would strip detainees of some of the rights afforded them under the Conventions, including the right to free and open trials, even in a military setting. “The court-martial procedures are wholly inappropriate for the current circumstances and would be infeasible for the trial of these alien enemy combatants,” says Steven Bradbury, the acting chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Bradbury and Daniel Dell’Orto, the Defense Department’s principal deputy attorney general, have repeatedly urged lawmakers to limit the rights of detainees captured in what the administration terms its war on terrorism. Dell’Orto says Congress should not require that enemy combatants be provided lawyers to challenge their imprisonment. Congressional Democrats have a different view. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says, “I find it hard to fathom that this administration is so incompetent that it needs kangaroo-court procedures to convince a tribunal of United States military officers that the ‘worst of the worst’ imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay should be held accountable” for crimes. “We need to know why we’re being asked to deviate from rules for courts-martial.” [Washington Post, 7/12/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, US Supreme Court, US Department of Defense, Patrick J. Leahy, Al-Qaeda, Daniel J. Dell’Orto, David Remes, Geneva Conventions, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Steven Bradbury

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Federal district court judge Anna Diggs Taylor rules that the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002) is unconstitutional and orders it ended. She amends her ruling to allow the program to continue while the Justice Department appeals her decision. The decision is a result of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other civil liberties groups. Taylor rules that the NSA program violates US citizens’ rights to privacy and free speech, the Constitutional separation of powers among the three branches of government, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). Taylor writes: “It was never the intent of the framers to give the president such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights. There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all ‘inherent powers’ must derive from that Constitution.” [Verdict in ACLU et al v. NSA et al, 8/17/2006 pdf file; Washington Post, 8/18/2006] The program “violates the separation of powers doctrine, the Administrative Procedures Act, the First and Fourth amendments to the United States Constitution, the FISA and Title III,” Taylor writes, and adds, “[T]he president of the United States… has undisputedly violated the Fourth in failing to procure judicial orders.” [CNN, 8/17/2006]
Judge Lets One Portion Stand - Taylor rejects one part of the lawsuit that seeks information about the NSA’s data mining program (see October 2001), accepting the government’s argument that to allow that portion of the case to proceed would reveal state secrets (see March 9, 1953). Other lawsuits challenging the program are still pending. Some legal scholars regard Taylor’s decision as poorly reasoned: national security law specialist Bobby Chesney says: “Regardless of what your position is on the merits of the issue, there’s no question that it’s a poorly reasoned decision. The opinion kind of reads like an outline of possible grounds to strike down the program, without analysis to fill it in.” The White House and its Republican supporters quickly attack Taylor, who was appointed to the bench by then-President Jimmy Carter, as a “liberal judge” who is trying to advance the agenda of Congressional Democrats and “weaken national security.” For instance, Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) says that halting the program “would hamper our ability to foil terrorist plots.” [Washington Post, 8/18/2006]
Democrats, Civil Libertarians Celebrate Ruling - But Democrats defend the ruling. For instance, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) says the ruling provides a much-needed check on the unfettered power of the Bush White House. “[N]o one is above the law,” says Kerry. [Washington Post, 8/18/2006] Lawyers for some of the other cases against the NSA and the Bush administration laud the decision as giving them vital legal backing for their own court proceedings. “We now have a ruling on the books that upholds what we’ve been saying all along: that this wiretapping program violates the Constitution,” says Kevin Bankston, who represents the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in its class-action case against AT&T for its role in the NSA’s surveillance program (see January 31, 2006). [Washington Post, 8/18/2006] Legal expert and liberal commentator Glenn Greenwald writes that Taylor’s ruling “does not, of course, prohibit eavesdropping on terrorists; it merely prohibits illegal eavesdropping in violation of FISA. Thus, even under the court’s order, the Bush administration is free to continue to do all the eavesdropping on terrorists it wants to do. It just has to cease doing so using its own secretive parameters, and instead do so with the oversight of the FISA court—just as all administrations have done since 1978, just as the law requires, and just as it did very recently when using surveillance with regard to the [British] terror plot. Eavesdropping on terrorists can continue in full force. But it must comply with the law.” Greenwald writes: “[T]he political significance of this decision cannot be denied. The first federal court ever to rule on the administration’s NSA program has ruled that it violates the constitutional rights of Americans in several respects, and that it violates criminal law. And in so holding, the court eloquently and powerfully rejected the Bush administration’s claims of unchecked executive power in the area of national security.” [Salon, 8/17/2006]
White House Refuses to Comply - The Bush administration refuses to comply with Taylor’s ruling, asserting that the program is indeed legal and a “vital tool” in the “war on terrorism.” It will quickly file an appeal, and law professors on both sides of the issue predict that Taylor’s ruling will be overturned. [Savage, 2007, pp. 206]
Lawsuit Ends with White House 'Compromise' - The lawsuit will end when the White House announces a “compromise” between the wiretapping program and FISC (see January 17, 2007).

J. William Leonard, the director of the National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), writes a second letter to David Addington, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, after Addington ignored Leonard’s first letter (see June 8, 2006). The issue is Cheney’s continued refusal to follow Executive Orders 12958 and 13292 (see March 25, 2003) that require his office to report periodically to the ISOO on what it is classifying and how it is protecting that information. Cheney’s argument is that the Vice President’s office is not part of the executive branch and therefore is not bound by those orders. Leonard writes that, in the light of Cheney’s continued refusal to comply with the law and of Addington’s failure to respond to the first letter, he believes the issue should be referred to the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see January 9, 2007). [J. William Leonard, 8/23/2006 pdf file] Addington will refuse to respond to this letter as well. [Henry A. Waxman, 6/21/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: J. William Leonard, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), David S. Addington, Information Security Oversight Office, National Archives and Records Administration

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

President Bush signs the 2007 Defense Authorization Act into law. The bill contains a provision that allows the president to more easily declare “martial law” in the US. If Bush or a successor does so, the bill gives the administration the ability to strip much of state governors’ powers over their National Guards and relegate that authority to the federal government. Congress is likely to challenge that provision in the future. The bill makes significant changes to the Insurrection Act that allows the president to invoke the Act during events such as natural disasters, and thereby suspend the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act that prevents the US military from acting in a law enforcement capacity. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says, “[W]e certainly do not need to make it easier for Presidents to declare martial law. Invoking the Insurrection Act and using the military for law enforcement activities goes against some of the central tenets of our democracy.” [US Senate, 9/19/2006] The relevant section of the bill is entitled “Use of the Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies.” This section states that “the President may employ the armed forces, including the National Guard in Federal service, to restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any State or possession of the United States, the President determines that domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of… maintaining public order, in order to suppress, in any State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.” [US Congress, 9/19/2006] GlobalResearch’s Frank Morales will write that the new law allows the federal government to, if it chooses, “commandeer guardsmen from any state, over the objections of local governmental, military, and local police entities; ship them off to another state; conscript them in a law enforcement mode; and set them loose against ‘disorderly’ citizenry….” Under the new law, the federal government may more easily order National Guard troops to round up and detain protesters, illegal aliens, “potential terrorists,” and just about anyone else, and ship them off to detention facilities. Those facilities were contracted out for construction to KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton, in January 2006, according to the Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security International, at a cost of $385 million over five years. The Journal noted that “the contract is to be executed by the US Army Corps of Engineers… for establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to augment existing [immigration] Detention and Removal Operations (DRO)—in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the US, or to support the rapid development of new programs.” [GlobalResearch (.ca), 10/29/2006] Virtually no Congressional lawmakers seriously objected to the bill’s provision during debate. One of the few exceptions is Leahy, who will, six weeks later, sharply criticize the provision during debate over a separate piece of legislation. Leahy will say, “Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy, and it is for that reason that the Insurrection Act has only been invoked on three—three—[occasions] in recent history. The implications of changing the Act are enormous, but this change was just slipped in the defense bill as a rider with little study. Other congressional committees with jurisdiction over these matters had no chance to comment, let alone hold hearings on, these proposals.… This is a terrible blow against rational defense policy-making and against the fabric of our democracy. Since hearing word a couple of weeks ago that this outcome was likely, I have wondered how Congress could have gotten to this point.… [I]t seems the changes to the Insurrection Act have survived… because the Pentagon and the White House want it.… Because of this rubberstamp Congress,… [w]e fail the National Guard, which expects great things from us as much as we expect great things from them. And we fail our Constitution, neglecting the rights of the States, when we make it easier for the president to declare martial law and trample on local and state sovereignty.” [US Senate, 10/29/2006]

Entity Tags: National Guard, Insurrection Act, Halliburton, Inc., GlobalResearch (.ca), George W. Bush, Frank Morales, Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International, Patrick J. Leahy, Kellogg, Brown and Root, Posse Comitatus Act

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Detainments in US, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean is troubled by the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) currently under consideration in Congress. The MCA authorizes military tribunals instead of criminal court trials for suspected terrorists. Dean supported the idea of tribunals when they were first suggested in 2001, but, he writes: “[T]he devil… arrived later with the details. It never occurred to me (and most people) that Bush & Co. would design a system more befitting a totalitarian state than a democratic nation that once led the world by its good example.” After a previous tribunal procedure was struck down by the Supreme Court (see June 30, 2006), Bush sent another proposal to Congress in early September. Where the bill did not actively rewrite the Court’s findings, it ignored them altogether, Dean writes. Dean finds the law a stunning reversal of decades—centuries, in some instances—of US jurisprudence and international law, including its dismissal of Geneva protections, its retroactive protection for US officials who may have tortured detainees, and its dismissal of habeas corpus rights for detainees. Dean calls the proposed legislation “shameful,” and writes: “This proposal… is going to tell us a great deal about where we are as a nation, for as General [Colin] Powell said, ‘The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. To redefine [the Geneva Conventions] would add to those doubts.’ As will amending the war crimes law to absolve prior wrongs, denying detainees ‘a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples,’ and enacting a law that insults the Supreme Court.” [FindLaw, 9/22/2006]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Bush administration (43), Military Commissions Act, Colin Powell, Geneva Conventions, John Dean

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

Glenn Greenwald.Glenn Greenwald. [Source: Mother Jones]Former civil litigator Glenn Greenwald writes that the upcoming passage of the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) is nothing less than “legalizing tyranny in the United States. Period.” Greenwald puts the responsibility on both “the authoritarian Bush administration and its sickeningly submissive loyalists in Congress.” Greenwald continues: “There is a profound and fundamental difference between an Executive engaging in shadowy acts of lawlessness and abuses of power on the one hand, and, on the other, having the American people, through their Congress, endorse, embrace and legalize that behavior out in the open, with barely a peep of real protest. Our laws reflect our values and beliefs. And our laws are about to explicitly codify one of the most dangerous and defining powers of tyranny—one of the very powers this country was founded in order to prevent.” [Unclaimed Territory, 9/28/2006]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Glenn Greenwald, Military Commissions Act

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Media Involvement and Responses

Amnesty International logo.Amnesty International logo. [Source: Amnesty International]Amnesty International objects to the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) currently being passed by Congress. It comments, “With the passing of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Congress has turned bad executive policy into bad law.” [Amnesty International, 9/28/2006]

Entity Tags: Military Commissions Act, Amnesty International

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

The Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) is characterized by many as not applying to US citizens. Law professor Marty Lederman disagrees. Under the MCA, Lederman says, “if the Pentagon says you’re an unlawful enemy combatant—using whatever criteria they wish—then as far as Congress, and US law, is concerned, you are one, whether or not you have had any connection to ‘hostilities’ at all.” [Unclaimed Territory, 9/28/2006] Six months later, an administration lawyer will confirm that the law does indeed apply to US citizens (see February 1, 2007).

Entity Tags: Martin (“Marty”) Lederman, Military Commissions Act, US Department of Defense

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

Joanne Mariner, an attorney with the civil liberties organization Human Rights Watch, calls the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006) “exceedingly harmful” and a “grab-bag of unnecessary and abusive measures” that creates for detainees “a system of justice that is far inferior to that of the federal courts and courts-martial.” The bill does not directly address detention, Mariner writes, but does nothing to limit detention and, she believes, will be used by the administration to justify its current detention practices. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006]

Entity Tags: Joanne Mariner, Human Rights Watch, Military Commissions Act

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

Keith Olbermann.Keith Olbermann. [Source: Spidered News.com]MSNBC political commentator Keith Olbermann says that the nation has passed a grim milestone with the passage of the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006). By accepting this law, Olbermann says, the nation has accepted that to fight the terrorists, the US government must become “just a little bit like the terrorists.” But the ultimate threat to the nation is not terrorists, Olbermann says, it is George W. Bush himself. “We have a long and painful history of ignoring the prophecy attributed to Benjamin Franklin that ‘those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.’” Speaking directly to President Bush, Olbermann continues: “But even within this history we have not before codified the poisoning of habeas corpus (see March 28, 2007), that wellspring of protection from which all essential liberties flow. You, sir, have now befouled that spring. You, sir, have now given us chaos and called it order. You, sir, have now imposed subjugation and called it freedom. For the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons. And—again, Mr. Bush—all of them, wrong.” The MCA gives Bush a “blank check drawn against our freedom to a man who may now, if he so decides, declare not merely any non-American citizens ‘unlawful enemy combatants’ and ship them somewhere—anywhere—but may now, if he so decides, declare you an ‘unlawful enemy combatant’ and ship you somewhere—anywhere” (see September 28, 2006). Habeas corpus is now “gone” for those in the prison camps, Olbermann says, and Geneva Conventions protections are “optional.” He concludes: “The moral force we shined outwards to the world as an eternal beacon, and inwards at ourselves as an eternal protection? Snuffed out. These things you have done, Mr. Bush, they would be ‘the beginning of the end of America.’” [MSNBC, 10/19/2006]

Entity Tags: Geneva Conventions, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Keith Olbermann, Military Commissions Act

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

After an investigation into whether an Israeli lobbying organization improperly tried to influence House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) into naming Jane Harman (D-CA) as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (see Summer 2005 and October 2005) becomes public knowledge, Harman calls the allegations “irresponsible, laughable, and scurrilous.” Former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, a Republican just hired by Harman to represent her in the matter, tells Time reporter Timothy Burger: “Congresswoman Harman has asked me to follow up on calls you’ve had. She is not aware of any such investigation, does not believe that it is occurring, and wanted to make sure that you and your editors knew that as far as she knows, that’s not true.… No one from the Justice Department has contacted her.” Burger notes that “[i]t is not, however, a given that Harman would know that she is under investigation.” Olson confirms that Harman hired him because even though she doesn’t believe the media reports of the investigation, she takes the possibility seriously. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), allegedly Harman’s partner in the scheme, also denies any wrongdoing, and says it takes no position on the question of who wins the committee assignment, which was perceived to be a contest between Harman and fellow committee member Alcee Hastings (D-FL). AIPAC spokesman Patrick Dorton says: “Both Congressman Hastings and Congresswoman Harman are strong leaders on issues of importance to the pro-Israel community and would be exemplary Democratic leaders for the House intelligence committee. AIPAC would never engage in a quid pro quo in relation to a federal investigation or any federal matter and the notion that it would do so is preposterous. AIPAC is not aware that the Justice Department is looking into issues involving the intelligence committee, and has not been asked any questions or contacted by the government on this matter, but certainly would cooperate with any inquiry.” Dorton adds that AIPAC has previously been assured that the organization and its current employees are not being investigated. [Time, 10/20/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Alcee Hastings, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman, Nancy Pelosi, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Timothy Burger, Patrick Dorton

Category Tags: Government Acting in Secret, National Security Letters

The Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, and NSA Director Keith Alexander try to get a lawsuit dismissed that alleges the NSA illegally wiretapped a Saudi charitable organization (see February 28, 2006). The organization, the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, is presenting a classified US document as proof of the illegal wiretapping.
Invoking 'State Secrets' Privilege - In late 2006, Negroponte and Alexander tell the presiding judge, US District Judge Garr King, that in order to defend itself, the government would have to disclose “state secrets” (see March 9, 1953) that would expose US anti-terrorism efforts. This same argument will be reiterated in July 2007, when government lawyers say, “Whether plaintiffs were subjected to surveillance is a state secret, and information tending to confirm or deny that fact is privileged.” The judge will hear arguments for and against dismissing the case on August 15, 2007. [Associated Press, 8/5/2007]
Judicial Examination - King, in Portland, Oregon, examined the document for himself, and read classified briefs supplied by the Justice Department. Upon reading the briefs, King met with government lawyers to discuss turning over yet more documents in discovery—a decision unlikely to have been taken had King not believed the evidence did not show that the Al Haramain plaintiffs were, in fact, monitored. And, under FISA, had the surveillance been lawful and court-ordered, King would have been legally constrained to dismiss the lawsuit, since according to that law, plaintiffs can only sue if no warrant was ever issued for the alleged surveillance. “If there was a FISA warrant, the whole case would have crumbled on the first day,” says plaintiff attorney Thomas Nelson, “It’s pretty obvious from the government’s conduct in the case, there was no warrant.”
'Inherent Authority' of President - Justice Department lawyers rely on the argument that the president has the inherent authority to order surveillance of suspected terrorists with or without warrants, and that to judge the president’s decision would reveal national secrets that would alert terrorists to government anti-terrorist actions, thereby mandating that this and other lawsuits be dismissed.
Consolidation of Lawsuits - An August 2006 court ruling ordering that the Al Haramain case be consolidated with 54 other NSA-related lawsuits, under US District Court Judge Vaughn Walker, damaged the government’s argument that it cannot be sued in court. Walker has presided over the year-old class-action lawsuit brought before his court by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against AT&T for the telecom firm’s cooperation with the NSA program (see January 31, 2006); Walker ruled in July 2006 that the case would proceed, against government requests that it be thrown out because of national security requirements. Walker ruled that because the government had already admitted to the existence of the program, the state secrets privilege does not apply. (The Justice Department is appealing Walker’s decision.) As for Al Haramain, its lawyers want that case to be adjudicated separately, because the court has sufficient evidence to decide on the case without waiting for the appellate court decision. Another lawyer for the plaintiffs, Jon Eisenberg, tells Walker in February 2007, “You need only read the statutes to decide, ‘Does the president have the right to do this without a warrant?’” Walker has yet to rule on that request. [Wired News, 3/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Thomas Nelson, Vaughn Walker, National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, Jon Eisenberg, John Negroponte, AT&T, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (Oregon branch), Garr King, Keith Alexander, Electronic Frontier Foundation

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

The US Geological Survey establishes new rules requiring the screening of all facts and interpretations by agency scientists. The rules say that the USGS’s communications office must be “alerted about information products containing high-visibility topics or topics of a policy-sensitive nature.” Such “products” include all public documents, even minor reports or prepared talks. P. Patrick Leahy, USGS’s head of geology and its acting director, insists the new requirements are being implemented to improve scientists’ accountability, maintain their neutrality, and “harmonize” the review process. Jim Estes, an internationally recognized marine biologist in the USGS field station at Santa Cruz, Calif, disagrees. “I feel as though we’ve got someone looking over our shoulder at every damn thing we do,” he says, adding that he thinks the motivation behind the new rules is “to keep us under their thumbs. It seems like they’re afraid of science. Our findings could be embarrassing to the administration.” [Associated Press, 12/13/2006]

Entity Tags: P. Patrick Leahy, US Geological Service, Jim Estes

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Category Tags: Government Classification, Government Acting in Secret

J. William Leonard, the director of the National Archives’s Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), writes to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales requesting an opinion on Vice President Dick Cheney’s decision to exempt his office from the mandate of Executive Order 12958. The order requires that everyone in the executive branch take steps to protect and secure classified information regarding national security, and report periodically to the ISOO (see 2003). Cheney’s position is that the vice president’s office is not strictly part of the executive branch. Leonard notes that until 2002 Cheney’s office did submit such reports to the ISOO. He also notes that under the Constitution, the vice president’s office is indeed part of the executive branch, and that if it is not, then it is in repeated material breach of national security laws, as it has had routine access to top secret intelligence reports and other materials that are only available to the executive branch. Leonard asks Gonzales to determine that Cheney’s office does indeed fall under the mandate of the executive order. [J.William Leonard, 1/9/2007 pdf file] Gonzales will ignore the letter; Cheney’s office will attempt to abolish the ISOO (see May 29, 2007-June 7, 2007). [Henry A. Waxman, 6/21/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: J. William Leonard, Alberto R. Gonzales, Information Security Oversight Office, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Archives and Records Administration

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

The US Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska issues a memo to biologists and officials instructing them not to discuss climate change, polar bears, or sea ice unless they are designated to do so, when traveling around the Arctic. The memo, which bears the subject heading “Foreign Travel—New Requirement—Please Review and Comply, Importance: High,” states, “Please be advised that all foreign travel requests (SF 1175 requests) and any future travel requests involving or potentially involving climate change, sea ice, and/or polar bears will also require a memorandum from the regional director to the director indicating who’ll be the official spokesman on the trip and the one responding to questions on these issues, particularly polar bears.” [New York Times, 3/8/2007] The memo forbids the scientists to discuss climate change, polar bears, and sea ice, even if asked. A White House spokesman says the rule about having a single spokesman is merely an attempt to observe “diplomatic protocol,” but Deborah Williams, a former Interior Department official in the Clinton administration who later sees the memo, has a different view. To Williams, the rules sound like an attempt to impose political control over what government scientists can and cannot discuss with their peers. “This sure sounds like a Soviet-style directive to me,” Williams will observe. [Savage, 2007, pp. 107; New York Times, 3/8/2007]

Entity Tags: US Fish and Wildlife Service, Deborah Williams

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret

A report by Glenn Fine, the Justice Department’s Inspector General, finds that the FBI used self-issued subpoenas known as National Security Letters (NSLs) to obtain phone, e-mail, and financial information on at least 143,074 targets between 2003 and 2005. The report’s main conclusions include:
bullet More than half of those targeted are US citizens;
bullet In many cases FBI officials evaded limits on NSLs and sometimes illegally issued them;
bullet 60% of the audited NSLs do not follow the FBI’s rules of issuance, and a further 22% contain unreported possible violations of the law, including improper requests and unauthorized collections of information;
bullet The number of surveillance targets is probably far higher than the audit finds, because the FBI practices poor record-keeping that allow at least 22% of surveillance to go unreported;
bullet Fine finds that agents had routinely issued the letters even when they had no open investigation, as required by law;
bullet One office made arrangements with telecommunications firms to get information instantly, even before issuing NSLs, by sending “exigent letters” claiming it needed the requested information because of an emergency, and that the letters and necessary court warrants were in preparation (see Before Mid-March, 2007). But, the audit finds, “we could not confirm one instance in which a subpoena had been submitted to any US attorney’s office before the exigent letter was sent to the phone companies” and that “many were not issued in exigent circumstances.”
Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), a senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee, wants hearings. “The Inspector General’s report is a scathing critique of FBI misuse of the secretive process,” Markey says. Although the FBI has used NSLs for years, their usage soared after the USA Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001) eased the restrictions on them. Now, FBI agents in counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations can issue NSLs themselves, without court warrants or even the approval of a supervisor, as long as the agent affirms that the information they seek is “relevant” to an open investigation. The information obtained by NSLs remains in a massive “data warehouse,” where it can be accessed again for data-mining or subsequent investigations. [Wired News, 3/9/2007]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Edward Markey, USA Patriot Act, Glenn Fine, US Department of Justice, House Homeland Security Committee

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

ACLU advertisement against the Military Commissions Act.ACLU advertisement against the Military Commissions Act. [Source: ACLU]The American Civil Liberties Union strongly objects to the stripping of habeas corpus rights contained within the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006). The ACLU observes, “Habeas corpus isn’t a fancy legal term. It’s the freedom from being thrown in prison illegally, with no help and no end in sight. No president should ever be given the power to call someone an enemy, wave his hand, and lock them away indefinitely. The Founders made the president subject to the rule of law. They rejected dungeons and chose due process.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 3/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Military Commissions Act, American Civil Liberties Union

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

George Christian, a Connecticut librarian and data manager who fought a National Security Letter from the FBI demanding information about his library’s patrons (see July 13, 2005 and August 2005-May 2006), testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Christian, who along with his three fellow plaintiffs, has repeatedly spoken about what he considers the Justice Department’s egregrous abuse of power and its invasion of privacy, and his opposition to the USA Patriot Act, which has given the FBI the ability to not only demand private information from libraries about their patrons, but require those librarians to keep quiet about the request. Though the court battle restored Christian’s ability to speak publicly about his encounter with the FBI, he testifies, “We feel an obligation to the tens of thousands of others who received National Security Letters and now will live under a gag order for the rest of their lives.” He tells the committee, “Our saga should raise a big patriotic American flag of caution about how our civil liberties are being sorely tested by law enforcement abuses of national security letters. The questions raised vindicate the concerns that the library community and others have had for over five years about the broad powers expanded under the USA Patriot Act.… We believe changes can be made that conform to the rule of law, do not sacrifice law enforcement’s abilities to pursue terrorists ,yet maintain civil liberties guaranteed by the US Constitution.” Libraries “should remain pillars of democracy, institutions where citizens could come to explore their concerns, confident that they could find information on all sides of controversial issues and confident that their explorations would remain personal and private.” He quotes one of his fellow plaintiffs: “[S]pying on people in the library is like spying on them in the voting booth.” Christian also says that while many believe that library records are now protected by the revised Patriot Act, in fact, they are not. He says that “a loophole inserted into the wording allows the FBI to use a national security letter to obtain library records anyway.” He notes that FBI director Robert Mueller has admitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the new language “did not actually change the law.” Similarly, the revised Patriot Act still gives the government the power to impose near-unlimited gag orders on NSL recipients—though the new law seems to give recipients the ability to challenge such gag orders, the law says that if the government declares that lifting such a gag order would “harm national security,” the court must accept that assertion and refuse to lift the order. “Hence, there is no prior judicial review to approve an NSL and, with rare exception, no legal way to challenge an NSL after the fact,” Christian testifies. “It is the secrecy surrounding the issuance of NSLs that permits their misuse. Because of the fact that all recipients of NSLs are perpetually gagged, no one knew the FBI was issuing so many. No one knew there was no public examination of the practice. No one could ask if over 143,000 National Security Letters in two years are necessary.… Secrecy that prevents oversight and public debate is a danger to a free and open society.” [Senate Judiciary Committee, 4/11/2007]

Entity Tags: National Security Letters, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George Christian, John Ashcroft, USA Patriot Act, Robert S. Mueller III, Senate Judiciary Committee

Category Tags: Patriot Act, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Other Surveillance

Suzanne Spaulding.Suzanne Spaulding. [Source: Bipartisan Security Group]Suzanne Spaulding, a national security expert with twenty years of experience in the CIA, on various Congressional oversight committees, and executive director of two separate commissions on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of that body’s hearings on the improper use of National Security Letters (NSLs) by the FBI (see October 25, 2005). Spaulding has spoken out before against the NSA’s wiretapping program (see December 25, 2005). She says that the nation’s law enforcement and intelligence agents need “the tools they need to do their job” and “clear guidance on just what it is that we want them to do on our behalf—and how we want them to do it. Clear rules and careful oversight provide essential protections for those on the front lines of our domestic counterterrorism efforts.” However, Spaulding testifies, “it appears both were lacking in the implementation of national security letter authorities.” Spaulding says that Congress should begin a much larger examination of domestic surveillance issues, saying, “The appropriateness of using FISA electronic surveillance to eavesdrop on Americans should be considered in light of other, less intrusive techniques that might be available to establish whether a phone number belongs to a suspected terrorist or the pizza delivery shop. It’s not the ‘all or nothing’ proposition often portrayed in some of the debates.” However, according to recent findings by the Justice Department’s Inspector General, Glenn A. Fine, “there is not sufficient guidance on how to apply that in the NSL context or in conjunction with other available collection techniques.” Therefore, there is a strong “need for a broader examination of domestic intelligence tools.”
Urges Congressional Review - Spaulding urges Congress “to undertake a comprehensive review of all domestic intelligence collection, not just by FBI but also by the other national security agencies engaged in domestic intelligence collection, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, and the National Security Agency. A Joint Inquiry or Task Force could be established by the Senate leadership, with representation from the most relevant committees (Judiciary, Intelligence, Armed Services, and Homeland Security and Government Affairs), to carefully examine the nature of the threat inside the US and the most effective strategies for countering it. Then Congress, and the American public, can consider whether we have the appropriate institutional and legal framework for implementing those strategies with adequate safeguards and oversight.”
FBI's Expanded Powers Need Review - In addition, she testifies, the FBI’s expanded ability to use NSLs under the Patriot Act must be examined. Currently, the law seems to allow the FBI to use NSLs to obtain evidence pursuant to a FISA warrant, thus allowing “the government to get information about individuals who are not themselves the subject of an investigation”—“parties two or three steps removed from their subjects without determining if these contacts reveal suspicious connections,” Fine reported. Spaulding expands on Fine’s findings: “In fact, the most tenuous of connections would seem to suffice for this NSL standard. For example, it’s not clear why an ‘investigation to protect against international terrorism’ couldn’t justify demanding information about all residents of, say, Dearborn, Michigan [home to a large Arab-American community], so that you could run them through some logarithmic profile to identify ‘suspicious’ individuals. In fact, Congress should examine the facts surrounding the nine NSLs in one investigation that were, according to the IG Report, used to obtain information regarding over 11,000 different phone numbers.”
Data Mining Efforts Should Be Examined - Also, she says, data mining efforts by other law enforcement and intelligence agencies should be carefully examined and addressed: “NSLs should not become a mechanism for gathering vast amounts of information about individuals with no known connection to international terrorism for purposes of data mining.” Spaulding also notes that the Patriot Act allows FBI special agents in charge (SACs) to issue NSLs; instead, she says, only attorneys in the Justice Department’s National Security Division should be able to issue NSLs. Yet another problem Spaulding notes is the FBI’s policy of retention of data gathered on US citizens through NSLs, even when those citizens have no connection to terrorist activities. Spaulding expressed similar concerns in a previous op-ed for the Washington Post (see December 25, 2005). [Senate Judiciary Committee, 4/11/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, US Department of Defense, USA Patriot Act, Senate Judiciary Committee, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Suzanne Spaulding, National Security Letters, National Security Agency

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

Eric Lichtblau.Eric Lichtblau. [Source: PBS]Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003 and June 17, 2004), is subpoenaed to testify in the Justice Department’s investigation of the leaks that resulted in the New York Times’s dramatic disclosure of the NSA domestic wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). Goldsmith had spoken to one of the two Times reporters, Eric Lichtblau, in October 2004, three months after his resignation from the OLC, but lied to Lichtblau, saying he knew nothing of the program. He immediately alerted his former boss, Deputy Attorney General James Comey, of the interview.
'Stunned' By Subpoena - In his September 2007 book The Terror Presidency, Goldsmith will recall being “stunned” at the subpoena, though the two FBI agents who give him the subpoena—in public—say that they don’t suspect him as the source of the leak. Goldsmith later recalls, “What angered me most about the subpoena I received on that wet day in Cambridge was not the expense of lawyers or a possible perjury trap, but rather the fact that it was Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department that had issued it. As [the two FBI agents] knew, I had spent hundreds of very difficult hours at OLC, in the face of extraordinary White House resistance, trying to clean up the legal mess that then-White House Counsel Gonzales, David Addington, John Yoo, and others had created in designing the foundations of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. It seemed rich beyond my comprehension for a Gonzales-led Department of Justice to be pursuing me for possibly illegal actions in connection with the Terrorist Surveillance Program….”
Supported Surveillance of Terrorism - Goldsmith will continue, “I was not opposed to the leak investigation itself or to vigorous surveillance of terrorists. I agreed with President Bush that the revelations by [James] Risen and Lichtblau had alerted our enemies, put our citizens at risk, and done ‘great harm’ to the nation. I hoped the FBI would find and punish the leakers, and I had spent many hours trying to help them do so. I also shared many of the White House’s concerns with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the 1978 domestic wiretapping law that required executive officers, on pain of jail, to get a court warrant before wiretapping suspected enemies in the United States. We were at war with terrorists who were armed with disposable cell phones and encrypted e-mails buried in a global multibillion-communications-per-day system. It seemed crazy to require the commander in chief and his subordinates to get a judge’s permission to listen to each communication under a legal regime that was designed before technological revolutions brought us high-speed fiber-optic networks, the public Internet, e-mail, and ten-dollar cell phones. But I deplored the way the White House went about fixing the problem. ‘We’re one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious [FISA] court,’ Addington had told me in his typically sarcastic style during a tense White House meeting in February of 2004 (see February 2004). The vice president’s counsel, who was the chief legal architect of the Terrorist Surveillance Program, was singing the White House tune on FISA. He and the vice president had abhorred FISA’s intrusion on presidential power ever since its enactment in 1978. After 9/11 they and other top officials in the administration dealt with FISA the way they dealt with other laws they didn’t like: They blew through them in secret based on flimsy legal opinions that they guarded closely so no one could question the legal basis for the operations. My first experience of this strict control, in fact, had come in a 2003 meeting when Addington angrily denied the NSA inspector general’s request to see a copy of OLC’s legal analysis in support of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. Before I arrived in OLC, not even NSA lawyers were allowed to see the Justice Department’s legal analysis of what NSA was doing.”
Difficult to Justify Legally - Goldsmith will write of the difficulties he found in finding legal justifications for the program. “I first encountered the program in 2003-2004, long after it had been integrated into the post-9/11 counterterrorism architecture. Putting it legally aright at that point, without destroying some of the government’s most important counterterrorism tools, was by far the hardest challenge I faced in government. And the whole ordeal could have been avoided.…In 2004, I and others in the Department of Justice had begun the process of working with the FISA court to give the commander in chief much more flexibility in tracking terrorists. From the beginning the administration could have taken these and other steps to ramp up terrorist surveillance in indisputably lawful ways that would have minimized the likelihood of a devastating national security leak. But only if it had been willing to work with the FISA court or Congress. The White House had found it much easier to go it alone, in secret.” [Slate, 9/10/2007]

Bush administration officials tell Senate Intelligence Committee members that they will not promise to continue seeking warrants for surveillance on US citizens, as the administration agreed to do in January 2007. They insist that President Bush has the Constitutional authority to decide whether or not to order the NSA to conduct surveillance without warrants if he desires. The secret wiretapping program was revealed to the public just weeks before the agreement (see December 15, 2005), and immediately drew tremendous outcries of criticism from civil libertarians, from lawmakers from all across the political spectrum, and from much of the public. Since the January agreement, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court has issued warrants for domestic wiretaps after being given evidence showing some kind of probable cause to justify the proposed surveillance. Previously, the wiretapping program had ignored the FISA restrictions. Now Bush officials, most notably the new director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, are saying that Bush has the authority under Article II of the Constitution to order warrantless wiretaps on US citizens.
Invoking Presidential Authority - In Senate testimony on this day, Russ Feingold (D-WI) asks McConnell if he is willing to promise that the administration will no longer ignore the law and the court when monitoring citizens. McConnell replies, “Sir, the president’s authority under Article II is in the Constitution. So if the president chose to exercise Article II authority, that would be the president’s call.” McConnell is echoing previous arguments made by Bush and other officials, who have said that Bush has the power to order wiretaps without court review, both under the Constitution and under the September 2001 Congressional authorization to use military force against al-Qaeda. McConnell says that the administration is conducting surveillance against Americans only with court warrants, and has no plans “that we are formulating or thinking about currently” to resume domestic wiretapping without warrants. “But I’d just highlight,” he adds, “Article II is Article II, so in a different circumstance, I can’t speak for the president what he might decide.” [New York Times, 5/2/2007] Article II is the section of the Constitution that delineates the powers of the executive branch, and establishes the fundamental “separation of powers” doctrine that governs American democracy. Constitutional expert Steve Mount notes that the “Constitution is deliberately inefficient; the “Separation of Powers devised by the framers of the Constitution was designed to do one primary thing: to prevent the majority from ruling with an iron fist.” [Mount, 1995]
White House Seeking Congressional Authorization - While the administration continues to argue that it has the power to eavesdrop on US citizens without warrants, it also continues to seek Congressional legislation affirming and perhaps expanding that power. The White House justifies that hoped-for legislation by pointing to national security and the war on terrorism, as well as the challenges posed by new communications technologies such as e-mail and wireless communications. White House officials have consistently refused to go into specifics as to what communications gaps they feel need plugging. And they have consistently ignored Congressional requests for information and documents related to the NSA’s domestic spy program, now being called the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” by White House officials and their Republican colleagues. Many Congressional Democrats say they would be reluctant to support any such legislation until they receive the information they have requested. “To this day, we have never been provided the presidential authorization that cleared that program to go or the attorney general-Department of Justice opinions that declared it to be lawful,” says Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). “Where’s the transparency as to the presidential authorizations for this closed program? That’s a pretty big ‘we’re not going to tell you’ in this new atmosphere of trust we’re trying to build.” [New York Times, 5/2/2007]

Entity Tags: Steve Mount, Sheldon Whitehouse, Senate Intelligence Committee, National Security Agency, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Russell D. Feingold, Mike McConnell, George W. Bush

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

President Bush issues a classified presidential directive updating the nation’s secretive post-disaster “National Continuity Policy.” The highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) and Continuity of Operations (COOP) plans are designed to keep the government functioning in times of national emergency. Bush’s presidential directive, officially titled National Security Presidential Directive 51 (NSPD-51)/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20 (HSPD-20), is described by the Boston Globe as a “special kind of executive order that can be kept secret.” The non-classified portion of the directive is posted quietly on the White House website, with no explanation. The document states, “It is the policy of the United States to maintain a comprehensive and effective continuity capability composed of Continuity of Operations and Continuity of Government programs in order to ensure the preservation of our form of government.” The directive orders executive branch officials to establish a wide range of special protocols to keep the government running during an emergency. The directive stresses the importance of relocating to alternative facilities, delegating powers to emergency leaders, and securing and allocating the nation’s vital resources. According to NSPD-51, the special emergency plans should be ready to go at a moment’s notice, and incorporated into the daily operations of all executive departments and agencies. The special emergency protocols are designed for any “catastrophic emergency,” which NSPD-51 defines as “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the US population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.” Incidents falling into this category would not be limited to hostile attacks, the document makes clear, but would also include “localized acts of nature” and “accidents.” The new plan centralizes post-disaster planning in the White House, and appears to limit the powers of the legislative and judicial branches in times of emergency. The directive creates the position of national continuity coordinator, which is to be held by the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. The secretary of homeland security and the national continuity coordinator are to oversee the development and implementation of the continuity plans. [Washington Post, 5/10/2007; US President, 5/14/2007 pdf file; Progressive, 5/18/2007; Boston Globe, 6/2/2007]
Conservative Commentators Warn of 'Dictatorial Powers' - Conservative commentator Jerome Corsi says the directive appears to give the president a legal mechanism to seize “dictatorial powers” since it would not require consultation with Congress about when to invoke emergency powers, or when to relinquish them. It is also noted that the new plan does not explicitly acknowledge the National Emergencies Act, which gives Congress the authority to override the president’s determination that a national emergency still exists. James Carafano, a homeland security specialist at the Heritage Foundation, says that the lack of an explanation for the unexpected directive is “appalling.” [Boston Globe, 6/2/2007]

Entity Tags: Continuity of Government, George W. Bush, James Carafano, Jerome Corsi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Other Legal Changes, Continuity of Government, Government Acting in Secret

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]

J. William Leonard, the director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) of the National Archives, testifies before the House Oversight Committee that David Addington, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, attempted to eliminate ISOO in retaliation for its request that Cheney’s office report its classification activities (see 2003 and January 9, 2007). Since 2003, Cheney’s office has said that it is not required to follow a brace of executive orders mandating annual disclosure of information about its classification activities to the ISOO. According to Leonard, Addington tried to have the executive orders rewritten to abolish the ISOO and to exempt the Office of the Vice President (OVP) from oversight. Leonard says that those proposed changes were rejected. [Henry A. Waxman, 6/21/2007 pdf file; New York Times, 6/22/2007; Newsweek, 12/27/2007]

Entity Tags: Information Security Oversight Office, David S. Addington, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, J. William Leonard, National Archives and Records Administration, Office of the Vice President

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Henry Waxman (D-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, writes to Vice President Cheney demanding an explanation for his decision not to comply with executive orders (see 2003). Cheney’s office, like other executive branch entities, is required to annually report on the amount of documents it is classifying, and how those documents are being kept secure. The annual requests are made in pursuance of an executive order, last updated by President Bush in 2003. The order states that it applies to any “entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information.” Cheney has justified the decision by saying that because the Vice President is also the president of the Senate, the vice president’s office is not strictly a part of the executive branch, and therefore is not subject to the president’s executive orders; he cites as evidence his Constitutional role as a tie breaker in the Senate. Waxman writes, “Your decision to exempt your office from the President’s order is problematic because it could place national security secrets at risk. It is also hard to understand given the history of security breaches involving officials in your office.” Waxman’s point is that, if Cheney’s office is not part of the executive branch, then it is not authorized to view many of the classified documents it routinely receives; therefore the viewing of these documents by Cheney and his officials constitutes a breach of security. Waxman writes, “I question both the legality and the wisdom of your actions. In May 2006, an official in your office [Leandro Aragoncillo] pled guilty to passing classified information to individuals in the Philippines [as part of a plot to overthrow President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo… Aragoncillo reportedly disclosed numerous secret and top secret documents to Philippine officials over several years while working in your office.… In March 2007, your former chief of staff, Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice, and false statements for denying his role in disclosing the identity of a covert CIA agent (see November 20, 2007). In July 2003, you reportedly instructed Mr. Libby to disclose information from a National lntelligence Estimate to Judith Miller, a former New York Times reporter. This record does not inspire confidence in how your office handles the nation’s most sensitive security information. Indeed, it would appear particularly irresponsible to give an office with your history of security breaches an exemption from the safeguards that apply to all other executive branch officials.… Your office may have the worst record in the executive branch for safeguarding classified information.” Waxman notes that Cheney’s office is notorious for declassifying information for purely political reasons, as in the Libby case. Waxman concludes, “Given this record, serious questions can be raised about both the legality and the advisability of exempting your office from the rules that apply to all other executive branch officials.” [Congress Committee On Oversight And Government Reform, 6/21/2007; New York Times, 6/22/2007] The next day, when asked what he believes about Cheney’s position, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will quip, “I always thought that he was president of this administration.” [Cox News Service, 6/22/2007] Five days later, Waxman will say, “I know the vice president wants to operate with unprecedented secrecy, but this is absurd. This order is designed to keep classified information safe. His argument is really that he’s not part of the executive branch, so he doesn’t have to comply.… He doesn’t have classified information because of his legislative function. It’s because of his executive function.” [New York Times, 6/22/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Judith Miller, Information Security Oversight Office, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Harry Reid, Henry A. Waxman, Leandro Aragoncillo, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

House Democratic Caucus chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) says that if Vice President Dick Cheney does not accept that his office is an “entity within the executive branch,” then taxpayers should not finance his executive expenses. Cheney has refused to comply with executive branch rules governing disclosure of classification procedures by claiming that the vice president is part of the legislative branch as well as the executive (see 2003). Cheney needs to make up his mind one way or the other, Emanuel says, and live with the consequences. Cheney spokeswoman Lea Ann McBride retorts that Emanuel “can either deal with the serious issues facing our country or create more partisan politics.” In response to a letter from Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, that charges Cheney with refusing to obey a 2003 executive order requiring that all executive offices detail the number of documents they classify or declassify (see June 21, 2007), President Bush has already said that reporting requirements do not cover either his office or Cheney’s. And McBride says that because of Bush’s decision, the question of whether the office is part of the executive or the legislative branch is irrelevant. “The executive order’s intent is to treat the vice president like the president, rather than like an agency” within the executive branch, McBride says. Many Democrats disagree. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) calls Cheney’s position “the height of arrogance,” and says Emanuel’s proposal “might not be a bad idea.” [USA Today, 6/24/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Rahm Emanuel, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, George W. Bush, Dianne Feinstein, Henry A. Waxman, Lea Anne McBride

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Dana Perino.Dana Perino. [Source: Associated Press]White House spokeswoman Dana Perino reacts with confusion to Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent assertions that the vice president is neither wholly part of the executive nor legislative branches (see 2003 and June 21, 2007). Perino says in response to reporters’ questions: “I’m not a legal scholar… I’m not opining on his argument that his office is making… I don’t know why he made the arguments that he did.” Reporter Keith Koffler remarks, “It’s a little surreal,” to which Perino replies, “You’re telling me.” Koffler presses, “You can’t give an opinion about whether the vice president is part of the executive branch or not? It’s a little bit like somebody saying, ‘I don’t know if this is my wife or not.’” Asked if President Bush believes Cheney is part of the executive branch, Perino sidesteps, calling it “an interesting constitutional question.” After further dodging, reporter Helen Thomas says, “You’re stonewalling.” Reporter Jim Axelrod suggests Perino is denying “sky-is-blue stuff” and points out that Cheney’s assertion revises “more than 200 years of constitutional scholarship.” Koffler continues, “He can’t possibly argue that he’s part of neither [branch], and it seems like he’s saying he’s part of neither.” Perino finally surrenders, “Okay, you have me thoroughly confused as well.” Cheney’s current position—he will not comply with an order governing the care of classified documents because the vice presidency is not “an entity within the executive branch”—contradicts his 2001 argument that he would not cooperate with a Congressional probe into the activities of his Energy Task Force because such a probe “would unconstitutionally interfere with the functioning of the executive branch.”
'Neither Fish Nor Fowl' - The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank writes, “Cheney has, in effect, declared himself to be neither fish nor fowl but an exotic, extraconstitutional beast who answers to no one.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) agrees, saying: “The vice president’s theory seems to be one almost laughable on its face, that he’s not part of the executive branch. I think if you ask James Madison or Benjamin Franklin or any of the writers of the Constitution, they’d almost laugh if they heard that.” [Washington Post, 6/26/2007; Wall Street Journal, 7/31/2007] Interestingly, Perino does assert that Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has no standing to investigate the compliance of the vice president’s office with the executive order. “The executive order is enforced solely by the president of the United States,” she says. “I think this is a little bit of a non-issue.” The government watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) retorts that, if Cheney and Perino are to be believed, then the Office of Senate Security, the counterpart to Waxman’s committee, should investigate Cheney’s office. “By claiming the Office of the Vice President is within the legislative branch does Mr. Cheney agree that he is subject to Senate security procedures?” CREW executive director Melanie Sloan asks. “The Security Office’s standards, procedures and requirements are set out in the Senate Security Manual, which is binding on all employees of the Senate.” [Raw Story, 6/24/2007]

Entity Tags: Jim Axelrod, Keith Koffler, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Melanie Sloan, Helen Thomas, Dana Perino, Bush administration (43), Energy Task Force, Dana Milbank, Charles Schumer

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

John Kerry.John Kerry. [Source: Peace Corps]Senator John Kerry (D-MA) writes to David Addington, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, challenging Cheney and Addington’s claim that the Vice Presidency is not part of the executive branch (see 2003). Kerry tells reporters, “It comes as no surprise that the ‘imperial president’ and his vice president are once again trying to dodge scrutiny with a ridiculous claim that Dick Cheney is not part of the executive branch of government. This is an unprecedented break with hundreds of years of history, and undermines the integrity of executive power and the Executive Order as an institution.” In the letter, Kerry writes of his concern: “[Cheney] self-designated his position as part of neither the legislative branch nor the executive branch, and is therefore not accountable to the laws that govern either branch.… This is an unprecedented break with hundreds of years of history and does not keep good faith with the hierarchy of government. While I appreciate that the Vice President has authority as President of the Senate, this does not exclude him from the executive and its oversight. Claiming to be party to neither the legislative branch nor the executive branch only serves to evade a standing executive order and bring secrecy to the Office of the Vice President.… The Vice President has routinely operated as a member of the executive branch and all the benefits and responsibilities that comes with that position. To propose that all this time the Vice President did not believe he was functioning as a member of the executive branch is disingenuous.” Kerry demands the reasoning behind Cheney and Addington’s assertions, and, in light of Cheney’s refusal to comply with reporting requirements of the National Archives as to how it treats classified documents, demands “to know what steps the Office is taking to protect classified information. This is our nation’s most sensitive information and it is critical that it is kept protected which is why the Archives does this oversight.” [John Kerry, 6/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David S. Addington, John Kerry, Office of the Vice President, National Archives and Records Administration

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Aziz Huq.Aziz Huq. [Source: American Prospect]Civil libertarian Aziz Huq writes that Vice President Dick Cheney’s claim that his office is not part of the executive branch and therefore not subject to compliance with executive orders (see 2003 and June 21, 2007) is a genuine constitutional crisis. Huq writes, “The term ‘constitutional crisis’ is much abused, invoked generally whenever Congress shows some life. Confrontations on war funding and Congressional subpoenas, to cite recent examples, are in fact as old as the Republic. They are but healthy sparks from a constitutional confrontation of ‘ambition against ambition,’ precisely as the Framers intended. But the true crisis is hidden in plain sight—the existence of an office in the Constitution—the Vice President’s—with no real remit and no real limits, open to exploitation and abuse.” It is nonsensical, Huq writes, for Cheney on the one hand to claim that as a member of the executive branch he has access to the most secret of classified documents, and on the other hand he is not subject to oversight because he is not a member of the executive branch. Cheney receives these documents as a senior member of the executive branch, not of the legislative. Yet, as president of the Senate, Cheney is not subject to the strict Senate rules on handling classified documents—rules far stricter than those imposed on senior members of the executive branch. Cheney’s arguments create what Huq calls a “legal black hole (another one!) where classified documents can disappear without a trace.” Huq finally asks, “Why should addition of legislative duties trigger the subtraction of executive obligations? In lawyerly terms, the 2003 order applies to ‘any’ entity within the executive branch. Having another label doesn’t stop Cheney from being one of those ‘any’ entities.” Huq says, “If it weren’t so frightening, the irony would be delicious: A Vice President who has done more than any other to push the envelope on executive privilege at the expense of the courts and Congress takes the position that his office has both legislative and executive functions so as to avoid accounting for the use of classified materials. Any veneer of intellectual legitimacy that executive power defenders have caked on their vision of a monarchical executive evaporates in the glare of this naked opportunism.… Cheney and [chief of staff David] Addington will go down in history as the most aggressive and successful advocates of executive powers in this nation’s history.… They grounded their vision of executive power on the prerogatives exercised by the British kings who were overthrown by the American Revolution.” Huq recommends that Congress clarify the situation with legislation that would clearly create a system for handling classified documents that would be binding on the entire government, including the Office of the Vice President. [Nation, 6/26/2007]

Entity Tags: Aziz Huq, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Office of the Vice President, David S. Addington

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Responding to a letter from Senator John Kerry (D-MA) that challenges Vice President Dick Cheney’s assertion that the Office of the Vice President (OVP) is not part of the executive branch of government (see 2003 and June 25, 2007), Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington seems to imply that the OVP is indeed part of the executive branch. Addington writes that the executive order in question (an order Cheney says his office does not have to follow because of the OVP’s unique status) “makes clear that the vice president is treated like the president and distinguishes the two of them from ‘agencies,’” which are explicitly covered under the order. Addington notes that on June 22, President Bush affirmed that the order does not apply to either the office of the president or the OVP. After this tacit admission that the OVP is part of the executive branch, Addington lectures Kerry on the appropriateness of his questions: “Constitutional issues in government are best left for discussion when unavoidable disputes arise instead of in theoretical discussions.…[I]t is not necessary in these circumstances to address the subject of any alternative reasoning, based on the law and history of the legislative functions of the vice presidency and the more modern executive functions of the vice presidency.” [David Addington, 6/26/2007 pdf file] The Politico’s Mike Allen writes that Addington’s letter amounts “to throwing in the towel on the claim that the vice president is distinct from the executive branch, according to administration officials speaking on condition of anonymity, and the White House has no plans to reassert the argument.” Kerry calls Addington’s letter “legalistic” and a continued attempt to “duck and dodge on agency scrutiny, classified documents.” He calls the entire argument “Orwellian.” Two senior Republican officials say that the claim originated from OVP lawyers and not Cheney himself. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), who has led a move in the House to strip Cheney’s office of executive branch funding (see June 27, 2007), says the reversal shows that the White House “told Cheney that he would have to come up with another excuse—that this was not sustainable in the public arena.” Emanuel says that regardless of what arguments the OVP makes, it needs to comply with National Archives regulations. [Politico (.com), 6/27/2007]

Entity Tags: John Kerry, David S. Addington, George W. Bush, Mike Allen, Office of the Vice President, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, disputes Vice President Dick Cheney’s assertion that he is not strictly part of the executive branch (see 2003). The dispute relates to reporting of document classification—Cheney argues his office does not have to report on its classification activities, partly because it is not a fully-fledged member fo the executive branch. In a letter to White House counsel Fred Fielding, Waxman also criticizes the administration’s handling of classified information and security issues. White House staffers regularly block inspections by security officials checking for compliance with security rules, Waxman writes, but also regularly ignore security breaches reported by the Secret Service and CIA, and mismanage the White House Security Office for political reasons. And President Bush’s top political adviser, Karl Rove, recently had his security clearance renewed even though it was prohibited under guidelines signed by Bush. Rove is believed to have leaked classified information in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. [CBS News, 6/27/2007]

Entity Tags: House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Central Intelligence Agency, Fred F. Fielding, Henry A. Waxman, Karl C. Rove, Valerie Plame Wilson, George W. Bush, White House Security Office, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Secret Service

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

After saying that if Vice President Dick Cheney does not consider himself entirely part of the executive branch, then taxpayers should not fund his executive branch office (see June 24, 2007), House Democrats led by Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) move to strip federal funding for the Office of the Vice President (OVP). Cheney has said that because the vice president is not strictly part of the executive branch, therefore he and his office are not subject to an executive order mandating disclosure of how many documents his office has classified. President Bush has said that neither his office nor Cheney’s is subject to that order. Emanuel notes that, five years ago, Cheney claimed executive privilege in refusing to release information about oil industry executives during meetings of his Energy Task Force. “Now when we want to know what he’s doing as it relates to America’s national security in the lead-up to the war in Iraq and after the fact, the vice president has declared he is a member of the legislative branch,” Emanuel says. Therefore, “we will no longer fund the executive branch of his office and he can live off the funding for the Senate presidency.” As vice president, Cheney presides over the Senate. [CBS News, 6/27/2007] The federal government, through the executive branch, pays about $4.8 million a year to fund the OVP. [Politico (.com), 6/27/2007] After Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington tacitly admits that Cheney is, after a fashion, part of the executive branch (see June 26, 2007), the Democrats drop their proposal to strip Cheney’s office of executive branch funding.

Entity Tags: Rahm Emanuel, David S. Addington, Energy Task Force, Office of the Vice President, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

Congress Daily reporter Keith Koffler writes an article saying that Vice President Dick Cheney’s own words contradict his assertions that the vice president is not a true member of the executive branch (see 2003 and June 21, 2007). Cheney once did note he is “a product of the United States Senate” and has no “official duties” in the White House—but those words were intended as a joke. According to Knoffler, on more serious occasions Cheney has repeatedly insisted that he is a fully-fledged member of the executive branch (see April 9, 2003 and April 14, 2004). Just after assuming office, President Bush asserted the same thing (see Late January, 2001). Knoffler finds that the White House Web site notes, “To learn more about the executive branch please visit the president’s Cabinet page on the White House Web site.” Clicking on the “Cabinet page” shows Cheney to be a member of the Cabinet. The Senate Web page, on the other hand, reads: “During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries the vice president’s role has evolved into more of an executive branch position, and is usually seen as an integral part of a president’s administration. He presides over the Senate only on ceremonial occasions or when a tie-breaking vote may be needed.” [Congress Daily, 6/29/2007]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Keith Koffler

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret

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

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

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

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

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

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

Larry King.Larry King. [Source: Newsday]After backing down from a confrontation with Congress over his assertion that the Office of the Vice President (OVP) is separate from the executive branch (see 2003 and June 26, 2007), Dick Cheney again implies that the OVP is a separate entity. In two separate media interviews, one with CNN’s Larry King and another with CBS’s Mark Knoller, Cheney makes the argument that as vice president, “I have a foot in both camps, if you will.… The job of the vice president is an interesting one, because you’ve got a foot in both the executive and the legislative branch.” He tells King, “The fact is, the vice president is sort of a weird duck in the sense that you do have some duties that are executive and some are legislative.” To Knoller, he says, “The vice president is kind of a unique creature, if you will, in that you’ve got a foot in both branches.” [Wall Street Journal, 7/31/2007]

Entity Tags: Larry King, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Office of the Vice President, Mark Knoller

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

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

FBI agents raid the home of former Justice Department prosecutor Thomas Tamm, who is suspected of leaking information to the New York Times regarding the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). Tamm previously worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), which oversees surveillance of terrorist and espionage suspects. The FBI agents seize Tamm’s computer as well as those of his three children and a store of personal files. They also take some of his books (including one on famed Watergate whistleblower “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005), and even the family’s Christmas card list. Tamm is not home when the raid is staged, so the agents sit his wife and children around the kitchen table and grill them about Tamm’s activities. His oldest son, Terry, will later recall: “They asked me questions like ‘Are there any secret rooms or compartments in the house’? Or did we have a safe? They asked us if any New York Times reporters had been to the house. We had no idea why any of this was happening.” The raid is part of a leak probe ordered by President Bush (see December 30, 2005). James X. Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology calls the decision to stage the raid “amazing,” and says it shows the administration’s misplaced priorities: using FBI agents to track down leakers instead of processing intel warrants to close the gaps. [Newsweek, 8/2007; Newsweek, 12/22/2008] In late 2008, Tamm will reveal to Newsweek that he is one source for the Times articles (see December 22, 2008). At the time of the raid, his family has no idea that he knows anything about the wiretapping program, or that he has spoken to reporters. [Newsweek, 12/22/2008]

Entity Tags: Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bush administration (43), ’Stellar Wind’, George W. Bush, James X. Dempsey, New York Times, Thomas Tamm, US Department of Justice, Terry Tamm

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

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

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

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

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

The Office of the Vice President (OVP) says it is not part of the Executive Office of the President. It had previously argued it was not part of the executive branch at all (see 2003 and June 21, 2007), but had abandoned that claim two months before (see June 26, 2007). In a letter from Vice President Cheney’s counsel Shannen Coffin to Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Coffin asks for more time to produce documents related to the NSA’s domestic surveillance program. In her letter, Coffin writes that the “committee authorized the chairman to issue subpoenas to the Executive Office of the President and Department of Justice, but did not authorize issuance of a subpoena to the Office of the Vice President.” [Office of the Vice President, 8/20/2007 pdf file] Leahy responds, “The administration’s response today also claims that the Office of the Vice President is not part of the Executive Office of the President. That is wrong. Both the United States Code and even the White House’s own web site say so—at least it did as recently as this morning.” [US Senate, 8/20/2007] The National Journal’s Jane Roh writes, “Any constitutional lawyer worth his or her salt will tell you this line of argument ends badly for Cheney.” [National Journal, 8/21/2007]

Entity Tags: Shannen Coffin, Executive Office of the President, Jane Roh, Patrick J. Leahy, US Department of Justice, Office of the Vice President

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

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

In a blistering editorial, the New York Times lambasts both the Bush administration and the Democratic leadership in the Senate for allowing Michael Mukasey, the new attorney general, to slide through the confirmation process with so little challenge (see November 8, 2007). The only thing left in the Senate’s traditional responsibility of “advice and consent” is the “consent” part, the editors write. The editorial continues: “Once upon a time, the confirmation of major presidential appointments played out on several levels—starting, of course, with politics. It was assumed that a president would choose like-minded people as cabinet members and for other jobs requiring Senate approval. There was a presumption that he should be allowed his choices, all other things being equal. Before George W. Bush’s presidency, those other things actually counted. Was the nominee truly qualified, with a professional background worthy of the job? Would he discharge his duties fairly and honorably, upholding his oath to protect the Constitution? Even though [he or] she answers to the president, would the nominee represent all Americans? Would he or she respect the power of Congress to supervise the executive branch, and the power of the courts to enforce the rule of law? In less than seven years, Mr. Bush has managed to boil that list down to its least common denominator: the president should get his choices.” The Times observes that in the first six years of Bush’s rule, he had an enthusiastically compliant set of Republican allies in Congress, but during that time, minority Democrats “did almost nothing… to demand better nominees than Mr. Bush was sending up. And now that they have attained the majority, they are not doing any better.” The editors focus particularly on two issues: Mukasey’s refusal to answer straightforward questions on whether waterboarding is torture, and the Democrats’ refusal to filibuster the Senate vote. The Times notes that Mukasey passed confirmation with a 53-40 vote. Democrats have made what the Times calls “excuses for their sorry record” on a host of issues, and first and foremost is the justification that it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster. “So why did Mr. Mukasey get by with only 53 votes?” the Times asks. “Given the success the Republicans have had in blocking action when the Democrats cannot muster 60 votes, the main culprit appears to be the Democratic leadership, which seems uninterested in or incapable of standing up to Mr. Bush.” The editors do not accept the rationale of Mukasey supporters like Charles Schumer (D-NY), who argued that by not confirming Mukasey, the path would be clear for Bush to make an interim appointment of someone far more extreme. The Times calls this line of argument “cozy rationalization,” and by Mukasey’s refusal to answer questions about his position on waterboarding, he has already aligned himself with the extremist wing of the administration. For the record, the Times notes, “Waterboarding is specifically banned by the Army Field Manual, and it is plainly illegal under the federal Anti-Torture Act, federal assault statutes, the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 30, 2005), the Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994), and the Geneva Conventions.” Therefore, “[i]t is hard to see how any nominee worthy of the position of attorney general could fail to answer ‘yes.’” The Times speculates that Mukasey was not permitted to answer the question by the White House because a “no” answer “might subject federal officials who carried out Mr. Bush’s orders to abuse and torture prisoners after the 9/11 attacks: the right answer could have exposed them to criminal sanctions.” All in all, the Times is appalled by “the Senate giving the job of attorney general, chief law enforcement officer in the world’s oldest democracy, to a man who does not even have the integrity to take a stand against torture.” [New York Times, 11/11/2007]

Entity Tags: Michael Mukasey, New York Times, Geneva Conventions, Bush administration (43), Charles Schumer, George W. Bush, Convention Against Torture, Detainee Treatment Act

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Expansion of Presidential Power, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights, Government Acting in Secret, NSA Wiretapping / Stellar Wind, Detainee Treatment Act, Media Involvement and Responses

A federal appellate court bars an Islamic charity accused of assisting terrorists from using a US government document to prove that it had been illegally spied upon (see February 28, 2006). The charity, the now-defunct Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (see Late May, 2004), has been accused by the government and the UN Security Council of being affiliated with al-Qaeda; the charity’s officials deny the charges. In its finding, the three-judge panel rules in favor of the government’s argument that protecting “state secrets” (see March 9, 1953) is of overriding importance in the case. Other courts have ruled that the Bush administration can refuse to disclose information if “there is a reasonable danger” it would affect national security. Al Haramain’s lawyers argued that the document is necessary to prove that it was illegally monitored. According to the ruling, the judges accept “the need to defer to the executive on matters of foreign and national security and surely cannot legitimately find ourselves second-guessing the executive in this arena.”
Reaction Divided - Opinion is divided on the ruling. Constitutional law professor Erwin Chemerinsky of Duke University says the court’s deference to the “executive branch in situations like this [is] very troubling.” Another constitutional law professor, Douglas Kmiec of Pepperdine, says “the opinion is consistent with” an earlier ruling that struck down a challenge to the government’s surveillance program filed by the American Civil Liberties Union; Kmiec says the rulings indicate that “federal courts recognize that the essential aspects of the Terrorist Surveillance Program both remain secret and are important to preserve as such.”
Mixed Results - The appellate court does not give the government everything it asked for. It rejects the Justice Department’s argument that “the very subject matter of the litigation is a state secret.” That finding may prove important in the other surveillance cases where the government is arguing that even to consider legal challenges to warrantless wiretapping endangers national security. The appeals court sends the case back to a lower court to consider whether or not the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires approval by a special court for domestic surveillance, preempts the state secrets privilege. The court also severs the Al Haramain case from other, similar lawsuits challenging the government’s secret surveillance program. [Los Angeles Times, 11/17/2007]

Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, US Department of Justice, Erwin Chemerinsky, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Al-Qaeda, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (Oregon branch), Douglas Kmiec, Bush administration (43), Terrorist Surveillance Program

Category Tags: Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Government Acting in Secret, 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

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

J. William Leonard, resigning his post as the director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) at the National Archives after 34 years of government service, says his battles with the Office of the Vice President (OVP) are a contributing factor in his decision to resign. Leonard’s office challenged Dick Cheney’s attempt to declare his office exempt from federal rules governing classified information, and in return Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington, attempted to have ISOO abolished (see 2003 and May 29, 2007-June 7, 2007). Leonard is described by Archivist Allen Weinstein as “the gold standard of information specialists in the federal government.” Leonard says that he was “disappointed that rather than engage on the substance of an issue, some people would resort to that.” Leonard says he was frustrated when President Bush announced that he never intended for Cheney’s office to have to comply with classification reporting rules: “I’ve had 34 years of frustration. That’s life in the big city. I also accept that I’m not always right…. But this was a big thing as far as I was concerned.”
Possible Connection to Plame Affair - Leonard refuses to say whether he believes the timing of Cheney’s decision—the fall of 2003, the same time as the media began paying attention to the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson—is significant, but “some of the things based on what I’ve read [have] given me cause for concern.” Leonard says that some of the exhibits in the trial of former Cheney chief of staff Lewis Libby were annotated “handle as SCI,” or “sensitive compartmentalized information,” including an unclassified transcript of a conversation between Cheney and his staff members about concocting a plan to respond to the media over the allegations of Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson.
National Security vs. National Security - Leonard believes that the government needs to “introduce a new balancing test” for deciding whether to classify information. “In the past, we’ve looked at it as, ‘we have to balance national security against the public’s right to know or whatever.’ My balancing test would be national security versus national security: yes, disclosing information may cause damage, but you know what, withholding that information may even cause greater damage…. And I don’t think we sufficiently take[…] that into greater account. The global struggle that we’re engaged in today is more than anything else an ideological struggle. And in my mind… that calls for greater transparency, not less transparency. We’re in a situation where we’re attempting to win over the hearts and minds of the world’s population. And yet, we seem to have a habit—when we restrict information, we’re often times find ourselves in a position where we’re ceding the playing field to the other side. We allow ourselves to be almost reduced to a caricature by taking positions on certain issues, oh, we simply can’t talk about that.” [Newsweek, 12/27/2007]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Office of the Vice President, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joseph C. Wilson, David S. Addington, National Archives and Records Administration, Allen Weinstein, J. William Leonard, Information Security Oversight Office, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Expansion of Presidential Power, Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification

An internal FBI audit reveals that US telecommunications companies have repeatedly terminated FBI access to wiretaps of suspected terrorists and other criminal suspects because bureau officials failed to pay outstanding phone bills. The report, written by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine, finds that over half of the nearly 1,000 telecommunications bills reviewed by investigators were not paid on time. One unidentified field office allowed a $66,000 invoice to go unpaid. In another instance, a wiretap conducted under a FISA warrant was terminated because of “untimely payment.” The report notes, “Late payments have resulted in telecommunications carriers actually disconnecting phone lines established to deliver surveillance results to the FBI, resulting in lost evidence.” [Washington Post, 1/11/2008] Some of the problems stem from telecoms billing multiple times for single surveillance warrants, which ratchets up the bills quickly. Cox Communications, for example, billed the FBI $1,500 for a single, 30-day wiretap order. Telecoms also bill the FBI for Internet connections and phone lines connecting the carrier’s wiretap-ready switches with the FBI’s own wiretap software system, known as the Digital Collection System. Each field office’s computers are connected together with the other offices, and with FBI headquarters, through a secure fiber optic network managed by Sprint. In some cases, FBI officials were confused about whether to use confidential case funds or general funds to pay the telecom bills. Sometimes they were so confused that when the telecoms sent refunds, the officials returned the refunds to the carriers. [Wired News, 1/10/2008] The report faults the agency for poor handling of money used in undercover investigations, which it says makes the agency vulnerable to theft and mishandled invoices. [Reuters, 1/10/2008] This is the latest in a string of audits by Fine’s office that has found serious financial and management problems at the bureau. FBI spokesman Richard Kolko says that in every case the outstanding bills were eventually paid and the intercepted information was recovered. “No evidence was lost in these cases,” he says. FBI assistant director John Miller blames an “inadequate” financial management system for the failures to pay telecom bills. Previous reports have noted a persistent failure to account for hundreds of computers and weapons, and a pattern of careless bookkeeping that spans a much wider area than the wiretapping program. The audit itself, a detailed, 87-page document, is too sensitive for public release, says the Justice Department, and only a seven-page summary is released. The American Civil Liberties Union calls on the FBI to release the entire document. ACLU counsel Michael German, himself a former FBI agent, questions the motives of the telecom firms, who in many instances have allowed the government to operate wiretaps on their systems without court warrants. “It sounds as though the telecoms believe it when the FBI says the warrant is in the mail, but not when they say the check is in the mail,” he says. [Washington Post, 1/11/2008]

Entity Tags: Glenn Fine, American Civil Liberties Union, Cox Communications, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sprint/Nextel, Mike German, US Department of Justice, Digital Collection System, Richard Kolko, John Miller

Category Tags: Government Acting in Secret, Government Classification, Database Programs, 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 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

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

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

The House of Representatives votes to hold White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers in contempt of Congress. Bolten and Miers have refused to testify to a House committee investigating the firing of several US attorneys. Many House Republicans walk off the House floor before the vote is cast, ostensibly because they want to work on reauthorizing the Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007) rather than deal with the contempt citation. Minority Leader John Boehner complains, “We have space on the calendar today for a politically charged fishing expedition, but no space for a bill that would protect the American people from terrorists who want to kill us.” [Associated Press, 2/14/2008] “We will not stand for this, and we will not stay for this. And I would ask my House Republican colleagues and those who believe we should be protecting the American people, to not vote on this bill. Let’s just get up and leave.” [Think Progress, 2/14/2008] (Before they walk out, Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) attempts to disrupt the memorial service for the recently deceased Tom Lantos (D-CA), taking place in Statuary Hall just a few steps from the House chambers, by calling for a procedural vote during the memorial service. An MSNBC reporter says Diaz-Balart’s action is apparently the result of “pique.”) [MSNBC, 2/14/2008] The contempt citation will be forwarded to the US Attorney for the District of Columbia. The two resolutions passed hold Bolten and Miers in contempt, and allow for the House to file a civil suit against the Bush administration to compel the aides’ testimony. “I hope this administration will realize this Congress is serious about its constitutional role of oversight,” says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Pelosi says she “had hoped that this day would never have come,” and adds that if the White House instructs Justice Department attorneys not to prosecute the contempt citations, “we will have power to go to federal court and seek civil enforcement of our subpoenas.” [The Hill, 2/14/2008; Associated Press, 2/14/2008]
White House Conditions 'Beyond Arrogance' - The White House has already said it will not allow the Justice Department to pursue the contempt charges, claiming that the information is off-limits because of executive privilege, and that Bolten and Miers are immune from prosecution. House Democrats such as Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) had tried for months to work with the White House to win its approval for the aides’ testimony, but were unwilling to accept the White House’s restrictive conditions—investigators would not have been allowed to make transcripts of the testimony, to copy documents presented in the testimony, or to seek any more information after the single session. Pelosi said of the White House’s conditions, “This is beyond arrogance. It’s hubris taken to the ultimate degree.”
Republicans Say Testimony Would 'Undermine' Power of Executive Branch - Republicans such as David Dreier (R-CA) warn that such a case might “undermine the power of the first [executive] branch of government.” [The Hill, 2/14/2008; Associated Press, 2/14/2008]
Miller: Bush Attempting to 'Decide by Decree' - Representative Brad Miller (D-NC) says during the deliberations, “The president cannot decide by decree. The president cannot announce with absolute unreviewable authority what information the administration will provide or withhold. The framers of our Constitution had just fought a war against an autocratic king. It is inconceivable that they intended to create an executive branch with the power the Bush administration now claims and that the minority now supports.” [Speaker of the House, 2/14/2008]

Entity Tags: Harriet E. Miers, Bush administration (43), John Boehner, Joshua Bolten, Brad Miller, US Department of Justice, Tom Lantos, Nancy Pelosi

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

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

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

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