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In an interview on ABC’s “Nightline,” Vice President Cheney takes exception to recent press reports that he was defeated in his opposition to a Congressional anti-torture bill (see December 15-16, 2005). The line on torture is, he says, whether or not a particular act “shocks the conscience.” Cheney says: “Now you can get into a debate about what shocks the conscience and what is cruel and inhumane. And to some extent, I suppose, that’s in the eye of the beholder.” Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later write that Cheney is using the most primitive form of solipsism to say that torture is not really torture. And Cheney is once again evoking fears of terrorist attacks: “There he was, Dick Cheney, nakedly amoral and driven by fear,” Dubose and Bernstein will write. Cheney continues, “We think it’s important to remember that we are in a war against a group of individuals, a terrorist organization that in fact did slaughter three thousand innocent Americans on 9/11; that it’s important for us to be able to have effective interrogations of those people when we capture them.” The implication, Dubose and Bernstein will write, is that further attacks are inevitable—a matter of when and not if—and an evocation of what author Ron Suskind calls “the one percent doctrine… [i]f there was even a one percent chance of terrorists getting a weapons of mass destruction… the United States must now act as if it was a certainty.” Dubose and Bernstein illustrate how keeping torture as a viable interrogation option plays into this mindset: “The end justified any means necessary. It didn’t matter how effective torture was as long as it provided even a remote chance that it might save American lives.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 197]
Judge James Robertson. [Source: US Courts.gov]US District Judge James Robertson resigns from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), a special, secret court set up to oversee government surveillance operations. Robertson refuses to comment on his resignation from FISC, but two of Robertson’s associates say that Robertson’s resignation stems from his deep concerns that the NSA’s warrantless domestic wiretapping program (see Early 2002) is not legal, and has tainted the work of the court. Robertson, formerly one of ten “revolving” members of FISC who periodically rotate in and out of duty on the court, continues to serve as a Washington, DC district judge. Colleagues of Robertson say that he is concerned that information gained from the warrantless surveillance under Bush’s program subsequently could have been used to obtain warrants under the FISA program, a practice specifically prohibited by the court. Robertson, a Clinton appointee selected for FISC by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, has also been critical of the Bush administration’s treatment of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, and recently issued a decision that sidetracked Bush’s use of military tribunals for some Guantanamo detainees (see November 8, 2004). Even though Robertson was hand-picked for FISC by the deeply conservative Rehnquist, who expressly selected judges who took an expansive view of wiretapping and other surveillance programs, [Associated Press, 12/21/2005] some conservative critics such as Jim Kouri, a vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, call Robertson a “left-leaning, liberal” “Clintonista” jurist with ties to “ultra-liberal” civil rights associations and a desire for media attention (though Robertson has refused to speak to the press about his resignation). Critics also demand that less attention be directed at the NSA wiretapping program and more on finding out who leaked the information that led to the New York Times’s recent revelatory articles on the program (see Early 2002). GOP strategist Mike Baker says in response to Robertson’s resignation, “Only the Democrats make confirmations and appointments of people by Republican President [sic] a question of ideology. The news media try to portray [Robertson] as non-partisan. He’s as liberal as they come and as partisan as they come.” [Men's News, 12/23/2005] Presiding judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly is arranging for a classified briefing of all the remaining FISC judges on the wiretapping program, partly in order to bring any doubts harbored by other justices into the open. Sources say Kollar-Kotelly expects top NSA and Justice Department officials to outline the program for the judges. No one on FISC except for Kollar-Kotelly and her predecessor, Judge Royce Lambeth, have ever been briefed on the program. If the judges are not satisfied with the information provided in this briefing, they could take action, which could include anything from demanding proof from the Justice Department that previous wiretaps were not tainted, could refuse to issue warrants based on secretly-obtained evidence, or, conceivably, could disband the entire court, especially in light of Bush’s recent suggestions that he has the power to bypass the court if he so desires. [Washington Post, 12/22/2005]
Jonathan Alter. [Source: Publicity photo via Greater Talent Network]Reporter and political pundit Jonathan Alter writes that President Bush’s attempt to kill the New York Times domestic wiretapping story (see December 15, 2005 and December 6, 2005), which the Times delayed for over a year at the White House’s request, is not an attempt to protect national security, as Bush will say in his response to the article (see December 17, 2005), but “because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker.” Alter continues, “He insists he had ‘legal authority derived from the Constitution and Congressional resolution authorizing force.’ But the Constitution explicitly requires the president to obey the law. And the post-9/11 congressional resolution authorizing ‘all necessary force’ in fighting terrorism was made in clear reference to military intervention. It did not scrap the Constitution and allow the president to do whatever he pleased in any area in the name of fighting terrorism.” Alter is puzzled that Bush felt the need for the program when the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978) “allows the government to eavesdrop on its own, then retroactively justify it to the court, essentially obtaining a warrant after the fact.” Alter says that only four of “tens of thousands” of FISA requests have ever been rejected, and, “There was no indication the existing system was slow—as the president seemed to claim in his press conference—or in any way required extra-constitutional action.” He concludes: “[Bush] knew publication would cause him great embarrassment and trouble for the rest of his presidency. It was for that reason—and less out of genuine concern about national security—that George W. Bush tried so hard to kill the New York Times story. …We’re seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator, or in his own mind, no doubt, like Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.” [Newsweek, 12/21/2005]
Reporter Arlene Getz equates President Bush’s attempt at controlling the media exposure of the warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005 and December 6, 2005) to similar media manipulation programs undertaken by the white apartheid regime in South Africa during the 1980s, and the acceptance of the controlled media by some South African citizens. Getz, who reported extensively on South Africa’s government, writes: “For anyone who has lived under an authoritarian regime, phone tapping—or at least the threat of it—is always a given. But US citizens have always been lucky enough to believe themselves protected from such government intrusion. So why have they reacted so insipidly to yet another post-9/11 erosion of US civil liberties?” She extends the comparison: “While Bush uses the rhetoric of ‘evildoers’ and the ‘global war on terror,’ Pretoria talked of ‘total onslaught.’ This was the catchphrase of P. W. Botha, South Africa’s head of state from 1978 to 1989.…Botha liked to tell South Africans that the country was under ‘total onslaught’ from forces both within and without, and that this global assault was his rationale for allowing opponents to be jailed, beaten or killed. Likewise, the Bush administration has adopted the argument that anything is justified in the name of national security.” [Newsweek, 12/21/2005]
In the midst of a firestorm of criticism about the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005, December 18, 2005, and December 21, 2005), Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, issues a statement defending the operation and slamming the New York Times for revealing the program’s existence. Harman says, “I believe the program is essential to US national security, and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities.” [Time, 1/3/2006] Evidence will later show that Harman may be defending the program in return for a quid pro quo from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who will quash an FBI investigation into Harman’s alleged improprieties involving Israeli lobbyists charged with felonies (see Late 2005 and April 19, 2009).
Federal appeals court judge J. Michael Luttig, widely considered to be such a reliably conservative supporter of the Bush administration that he is a potential Supreme Court nominee and the author of a highly favorable ruling in the Jose Padilla detention case (see October 9, 2005), is infuriated by the administration’s decision not to charge Padilla with the lurid array of terrorism-related charges it had alleged in Luttig’s courtroom (see November 22, 2005). Luttig believes that he and the rest of the appeals court judges were misled into making a ruling favorable to the administration. Luttig issues a supplementary opinion accusing the White House of manipulating the judicial process to ensure the Supreme Court could not review the precedent his opinion set. The Padilla indictment raises serious questions about the credibility of the government’s accusations against Padilla, and, Luttig writes, leaves “the impression that Padilla may have been held for these years, even justifiably, by mistake.” Luttig and his colleagues take the unusual step of blocking Padilla’s transfer from military custody into the hands of the Justice Department. The move is aimed at attempting to keep the possibility open of a Supreme Court hearing on the Padilla matter, and giving the Court the chance to reverse Luttig’s precedent. The Court will quickly overrule Luttig’s attempt to keep Padilla in military custody and will dismiss Padilla’s appeal because he is no longer classified as an enemy combatant. Author and reporter Charlie Savage will later write: “Just as Luttig had feared, the maneuver ensured that his precedent—written on the assumption that the administration was telling the truth when it said it had good evidence that Padilla was plotting attacks on US soil—was left intact.” Luttig’s move sours his relations with the White House and dooms whatever chance he may have had to be nominated for the high court. He will soon resign from his life-tenured position on the appeals court and take the position of general counsel for Boeing. [Savage, 2007, pp. 200-201]
Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) writes that Congress explicitly rejected several attempts by the Bush administration to provide him with war-making authority and the authority to wiretap and monitor US citizens “in the United States” when it approved the September 18, 2001 authorization to use military force (AUMF) against terrorists (see September 14-18, 2001). Instead, the Bush administration merely usurped that authority and launched—or expanded (see Spring 2001)—its warrantless wiretapping program, conducted by the NSA. Since then, the Bush administration and the Justice Department have both repeatedly asserted that the AUMF gave them the right to conduct the wiretapping program, an assertion that Daschle says is flatly wrong. On December 21, the Justice Department admitted in a letter that the October 2001 presidential order authorizing warrantless eavesdropping on US citizens did not comply with “the ‘procedures’ of” the law that has regulated domestic espionage since 1978, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). FISA established a secret intelligence court and made it a criminal offense to conduct electronic surveillance without a warrant from that court, “except as authorized by statute.” However, the letter, signed by Assistant Attorney General William Moschella, argues that the AUMF gave the administration the authority to conduct the program. [Washington Post, 12/22/2005] The letter continues the argument that Congress gave President Bush the implict authority to create an exception to FISA’s warrant requirements, though the AUMF resolution did not mention surveillance and made no reference to the president’s intelligence-gathering authority. The Bush administration kept the program secret until it was revealed by the New York Times on December 15, 2005. Moschella argues that secret intelligence-gathering, even against US citizens, is “a fundamental incident to the use of military force” and that its absence from the resolution “cannot be read to exclude this long-recognized and essential authority to conduct communications intelligence targeted at the enemy.” Such eavesdropping, he argued, must by necessity include conversations in which one party is in the United States. [William Moschella, 12/22/2005 ] Daschle, one of the primary authors of the resolution, says that Moschella and the Bush administration are wrong in their assertions: “I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against al-Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance” (see September 12-18, 2001). [Washington Post, 12/23/2005]
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Bush administration (43), Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), Al-Qaeda, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden, US Department of Justice, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, New York Times, William E. Moschella, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Tom Daschle
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Chart showing NSA surveillance network. [Source: NSA Watch] (click image to enlarge)The National Security Agency has built a far larger database of information collected from warrantless surveillance of telephone and Internet communications to and from US citizens than the NSA or the Bush administration has acknowledged (see October 2001). On December 15, the New York Times exposed the NSA’s program (see December 15, 2005), which was authorized by President Bush in early 2002 (see Early 2002), but which actually began far earlier (see Spring 2001). The NSA built its database with the cooperation of several major American telecommunications firms (see June 26, 2006), and much of the information was mined directly into the US telecommunications system’s major connections. Many law enforcement and judicial officials question the legality of the program (see May 12, 2006 and December 18, 2005), and many say the program goes beyond the bounds of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). One question is whether the FISA Court, or FISC, can authorize monitoring of international communications that pass through US-based telephonic “switches,” which handle much of the US’s electronic communications traffic. “There was a lot of discussion about the switches” in conversations with FISC, says a Justice Department official. “You’re talking about access to such a vast amount of communications, and the question was, How do you minimize something that’s on a switch that’s carrying such large volumes of traffic? The court was very, very concerned about that.” While Bush and his officials have insisted that the warrantless wiretaps only target people with known links to al-Qaeda, they have not acknowledged that NSA technicials have not only eavesdropped on specific conversations between people with no known links to terrorism, but have combed through huge numbers of electronic communications in search of “patterns” that might point to terrorism suspects. Such “pattern analysis” usually requires court warrants before surveillance can begin, but in many cases, no such warrants have been obtained or even requested. Other, similar data-mining operations, such as the Total Information Awareness program, developed by the Defense Department to track terror suspects (see March 2002), and the Department of Homeland Security’s CAPPS program, which screened airline passengers (see (6:20 a.m.-7:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001), were subjected to intense public scrutiny and outrage, and were publicly scrapped. The Bush administration has insisted that it has no intention of scrapping the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, because, as its officials have said, it is necessary to identify and track terrorism suspects and foil terrorist plots before they can be hatched. Administration officials say that FISC is not quick enough to respond to its need to respond to potential terrorist acts. A former technology manager at a major telecommunications company says that after 9/11, the leading telecom firms have been storing information on calling patterns and giving it to the federal government to aid in tracking possible terrorists. “All that data is mined with the cooperation of the government and shared with them, and since 9/11, there’s been much more active involvement in that area,” says the former manager. “If they get content, that’s useful to them too, but the real plum is going to be the transaction data and the traffic analysis. Massive amounts of traffic analysis information—who is calling whom, who is in Osama Bin Laden’s circle of family and friends—is used to identify lines of communication that are then given closer scrutiny.” And, according to a government expert on communications privacy who used to work at the NSA, says that in the last few years, the government has quietly encouraged the telecom firms to rout more international traffic through its US-based switches so it can be monitored. Such traffic is not fully addressed by 1970s-era laws that were written before the onset of modern communications technology; neither does FISA adequately address the issues surrounding that technology. Computer engineer Phil Karn, who works for a major West Coast telecom firm, says access to those switches is critical: “If the government is gaining access to the switches like this, what you’re really talking about is the capability of an enormous vacuum operation to sweep up data.” [New York Times, 12/24/2005]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Department of Justice, Total Information Awareness, New York Times, US Department of Homeland Security, Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, Bush administration (43), Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, George W. Bush, National Security Agency, Phil Karn
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Suzanne Spaulding, a former counsel for the CIA, the Senate and House intelligence commission, and executive director of the National Terrorism Commission from 1999 through 2000, writes an op-ed criticizing the Bush administration for its domestic surveillance program. She writes that the three main sources of oversight and restraint on Bush’s unfettered efforts to monitor US citizens—Congress, the judiciary, and the American people—have failed to halt what she calls “this extraordinary exercise of presidential power.” Spaulding, who will testify along similar lines before the Senate over a year later (see April 11, 2007), writes, “Ironically, if it is ultimately determined that this domestic surveillance program reflects the exercise of unchecked power in contravention of law, it will wind up weakening the presidency. Once again, we will confront the challenge of restoring Americans’ faith in the rule of law and our system of checks and balances.” The pretense of oversight by the administration, in providing limited and perhaps misleading briefings on the program only to the so-called “Gang of Eight” Congressional leaders, is superficial and ineffective, she writes; the entire process “effectively eliminates the possibility of any careful oversight.” She notes that because of the severe restrictions both in the information doled out to these Congressional leaders, and their strict prohibition on discussing the information with anyone else, even other intelligence panel members, “[i]t is virtually impossible for individual members of Congress, particularly members of the minority party, to take any effective action if they have concerns about what they have heard in one of these briefings. It is not realistic to expect them, working alone, to sort through complex legal issues, conduct the kind of factual investigation required for true oversight and develop an appropriate legislative response.” Congressional oversight is key to retaining the trust of the US citizenry, she writes, and adds that that particular principle was well understood at the CIA while she was there. Oversight “is vital for a secret agency operating in a democracy. True oversight helps clarify the authority under which intelligence professionals operate. And when risky operations are revealed, it is important to have members of Congress reassure the public that they have been overseeing the operation. The briefings reportedly provided on the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program reflect, instead, a ‘check the box’ mentality—allowing administration officials to claim that they had informed Congress without having really achieved the objectives of oversight.” While those few members of Congress are given little real information, the judiciary, particularly the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), is cut out of the process entirely. “Instead of going to a judge on the secret court that was specifically established to authorize foreign intelligence surveillance inside the United States, we are told that an NSA shift supervisor was able to sign off on the warrantless surveillance of Americans,” she writes. “That’s neither a check nor a balance. The primary duty of the NSA shift supervisor, who essentially works for the president, is to collect intelligence. The task of the judge is to ensure that the legal standards set out in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) have been met. Which one has stronger independence to say no, if no needs to be said? The objectives of the surveillance program, as described in news reports, seem laudable. The government should be running to ground the contacts listed in a suspected terrorist’s cell phone, for example. What is troubling is that this domestic spying is being done in apparent contravention of FISA, for reasons that still are not clear.” In her piece she takes issue with the Bush administration’s insistence that its surveillance program is legal and necessary. She makes the following case:
Specious Arguments to Duck FISA Court - The argument that the FISA Court is too slow to respond to immediate needs for domestic surveillance is specious, she says. “FISA anticipates situations in which speed is essential. It allows the government to start eavesdropping without a court order and to keep it going for a maximum of three days. And while the FISA application process is often burdensome in routine cases, it can also move with remarkable speed when necessary, with applications written and approved in just a few hours.” Instead, she says that the Bush administration must have dodged FISC because their wiretaps didn’t meet FISA standards of probable cause. Since FISC is staffed by judges hand-picked by conservative then-Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, “who presumably felt that they had the right temperament and expertise to understand the national security imperatives as well as the need to protect civil liberties,” and since FISC has granted all but four of the more than 5,645 requests for wiretaps and surveillance made by the administration since 2001, to argue that FISC is unresponsive is simply wrong-headed. And, she notes, if the administration felt that FISA’s standards were too strict, it could have moved to amend the law to allow more leniency in obtaining such warrants. It has not done so since the passage of the 2001 Patriot Act. She writes, “The administration reportedly did not think it could get an amendment without exposing details of the program. But this is not the first time the intelligence community has needed a change in the law to allow it to undertake sensitive intelligence activities that could not be disclosed. In the past, Congress and the administration have worked together to find a way to accomplish what was needed. It was never previously considered an option to simply decide that finding a legislative solution was too hard and that the executive branch could just ignore the law rather than fix it.”
No Justification for Keeping Program Secret - In addition, the administration has consistently failed to make a case for keeping the domestic wiretapping policy secret for four years. US-designated terrorist groups already know that the government listens to their cell phone conversations whenever possible, and they are well aware of the various publicly known programs to search through millions of electronic communications, such as the NSA’s Echelon program (see April 4, 2001). “So what do the terrorists learn from a general public discussion about the legal authority being relied upon to target their conversations?” she asks. “Presumably very little. What does the American public lose by not having the public discussion? We lose the opportunity to hold our elected leaders accountable for what they do on our behalf.”
Assertions that Program Authorized by Congress Fallacious - The argument advanced by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that says the program does not violate the law because Congress’s post-9/11 authorization of force against terrorists gives the administration the right to circumvent FISA is equally specious, she argues. “FISA does provide for criminal penalties if surveillance is conducted under color of law ‘except as authorized by statute.’ This is a reference to either FISA or the criminal wiretap statute. A resolution, such as the Use of Force resolution, does not provide statutory authority. Moreover, FISA specifically provides for warrantless surveillance for up to 15 days after a declaration of war. Why would Congress include that provision if a mere Use of Force resolution could render FISA inapplicable? The law clearly states that the criminal wiretap statute and FISA are ‘the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance…and the interception of domestic wire, oral, and electronic communications may be conducted.’ If these authorities are exclusive, there is no other legal authority that can authorize warrantless surveillance. Courts generally will not view such a clear statutory statement as having been overruled by a later congressional action unless there is an equally clear indication that Congress intended to do that.” Therefore, by any legal standard, the administration’s program is, apparently, illegal.
No Inherent Presidential Authority - The ultimate argument by Bush officials, that the president has some sort of inherent authority as commander-in-chief to authorize illegal wiretaps, is the same groundless legal argument recently used to justify the use of torture by US intelligence and law enforcement agents (see December 28, 2001). That argument was withdrawn, Spaulding notes, after it became publicly known. While the courts have not specifically ruled on this particular argument, Spaulding notes that the Supreme Court refused to recognize then-President Harry Truman’s attempt to seize control of the nation’s steel mills to avert a possible strike during the Korean War. The Supreme Court ruled “that the president’s inherent authority is at its weakest in areas where Congress has already legislated. It ruled that to find inherent presidential authority when Congress has explicitly withheld that authority—as it has in FISA—‘is not merely to disregard in a particular instance the clear will of Congress. It is to disrespect the whole legislative process and the constitutional division of authority between president and Congress.’” She notes that in 2004, the Supreme Court rejected the argument for unchecked presidential power in the Hamdi case (see June 28, 2004), with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writing for the court, “We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the Nation’s citizens. …Whatever power the United States Constitution envisions for the Executive in its exchanges with… enemy organizations in times of conflict, it most assuredly envisions a role for all three branches when individual liberties are at stake.” Spaulding concludes, “The rule of law and our system of checks and balances are not a source of weakness or a luxury of peace. As O’Connor reminded us in Hamdi, ‘It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments…that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad.’” [Washington Post, 12/25/2005]
Entity Tags: Sandra Day O’Connor, William Rehnquist, USA Patriot Act, Suzanne Spaulding, National Security Agency, US Supreme Court, Harry S. Truman, Alberto R. Gonzales, “Gang of Eight”, National Commission on Terrorism, Central Intelligence Agency, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Echelon, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Without the knowledge of many in Congress, Vice President Cheney and his allies in Congress manage to insert language into the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 30, 2005) that renders much of the bill nearly worthless. Some of the widest exceptions are inserted without the knowledge of all but a very few Congressmen. One is the exemption for the CIA, which instead of being bound by the interrogation techniques described in the US Army Field Manual, is only forbidden in general to employ “cruel” or “inhuman” methods. Those terms will be defined in light of US constitutional law. Because of the Supreme Court’s decision that cruelty is an act that “shocks the conscience,” Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington, has argued that harsh interrogations would be much less shocking if performed on detainees suspected of planning or taking part in mass casualty terrorist attacks. What “shocks the conscience” is to an extent “in the eye of the beholder,” Cheney has already said. [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
The Justice Department opens an investigation into the leak of classified information about the Bush domestic surveillance program. The investigation focuses on disclosures to the New York Times about the secret warrantless wiretapping program conducted by the National Security Agency since shortly after the 9/11 attacks (see Early 2002). The White House claims that the Justice Department initiated the investigation on its own after receiving a request from the NSA, and that it was not even informed of the investigation until the decision had already been made. But White House spokesman Trent Duffy hails the investigation, and implicitly accuses the Times of aiding and abetting terrorists by printing its stories. “The leaking of classified information is a serious issue,” Duffy says. “The fact is that al-Qaeda’s playbook is not printed on Page One, and when America’s is, it has serious ramifications.” [Associated Press, 12/30/2005] President Bush fuels the attack on the Times when he says, “The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy.” [New York Times, 12/30/2005] Many outside of the administration have accused the wiretapping program, which functions without external oversight or court warrants, of being illegal, and Bush of breaking the law by authorizing it. Administration officials insist that Bush has the power to make such a decision, both under the Constitution’s war powers provision and under the post-9/11 Congressional authorization to use military force against terrorism, even though, as former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle recalls, Congress explicitly refused to give Bush the authority to take military action inside the US itself (see December 21-22, 2005). And, in a recent letter to the chairs of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, the White House claimed that the nation’s security needs outweigh the needs of the citizenry to be secure from secret government surveillance. [Associated Press, 12/30/2005] Others disagree. The American Civil Liberties Union’s Anthony Romero says, “President Bush broke the law and lied to the American people when he unilaterally authorized secret wiretaps of US citizens. But rather than focus on this constitutional crisis, Attorney General [Alberto] Gonzales is cracking down on critics of his friend and boss. Our nation is strengthened, not weakened, by those whistle-blowers who are courageous enough to speak out on violations of the law.” And Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the NSA should be the focus of an investigation to determine if it broke federal surveillance laws. Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project suggests a middle course. His group does not object to a limited investigation into the leak of classified information, but, he says, if the administration does “a blanket witch hunt, which I fear, it would trample all over good government laws” designed to protect government workers who expose wrongdoing. “The whole reason we have whistle-blower laws is so that government workers can act as the public’s eyes and ears to expose illegality or abuse of power.” [New York Times, 12/30/2005] Ultimately, this leak investigation may not achieve much, according to law professor Carl Tobias. “It doesn’t seem to me that this leak investigation will take on the importance of the Plame case,” Tobias says. “The bigger story here is still the one about domestic spying and whether the president intends, as he said, to continue doing it.” [Washington Post, 12/31/2005]
Entity Tags: Anthony D. Romero, Tom Devine, Trent Duffy, American Civil Liberties Union, Al-Qaeda, Tom Daschle, Senate Intelligence Committee, US Department of Justice, National Security Agency, Carl Tobias, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Alberto R. Gonzales, New York Times, Government Accountability Project, George W. Bush, Marc Rotenberg, House Intelligence Committee
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
After months of opposition and a recent, clandestine rewriting of the bill (see Before December 30, 2005), President Bush signs the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA) into law, effectively outlawing torture by government and military officials (see December 15, 2005). However, Bush also inserts a signing statement into the record reserving for himself the right to ignore the law under his powers as commander in chief if he judges that torturing a prisoner is in the interest of national security (see December 30, 2005). Signing statements have no legal status, but serve to inform the nation as to how the president interprets a particular law. In this case, Bush writes that he will waive the restrictions on torture if he feels it is necessary to protect national security. “We consider ourselves bound by the prohibition on cruel, unusual, and degrading treatment,” says a senior administration official, but under unusual circumstances—a “ticking time bomb” scenario, for example, where a detainee is believed to have information that could prevent an imminent terrorist attack, Bush’s responsibility to protect the nation will supersede the law. Law professor David Golove is critical of the White House’s position, saying: “The signing statement is saying ‘I will only comply with this law when I want to, and if something arises in the war on terrorism where I think it’s important to torture or engage in cruel, inhuman, and degrading conduct, I have the authority to do so and nothing in this law is going to stop me.’ They don’t want to come out and say it directly because it doesn’t sound very nice, but it’s unmistakable to anyone who has been following what’s going on.” Bush has issued numerous signing statements signaling his intent to flaunt the law in the areas of domestic surveillance, detaining terrorist suspects without due legal process, and previous legislation forbidding the torture of prisoners. Many legal and civil rights organizations believe that Bush’s signing statement is part of his push for a “unitary executive,” where the president has virtually unlimited powers in the areas of foreign policy and national security, and neither Congress nor the courts have the right to limit his powers (see April 30, 1986). Former Justice Department official and law professor Marty Lederman says: “The whole point of the McCain Amendment was to close every loophole. The president has re-opened the loophole by asserting the constitutional authority to act in violation of the statute where it would assist in the war on terrorism.” Human Rights Watch director Elisa Massamino calls the signing statement an “in-your-face affront” to both McCain and to Congress. “The basic civics lesson that there are three co-equal branches of government that provide checks and balances on each other is being fundamentally rejected by this executive branch. Congress is trying to flex its muscle to provide those checks [on detainee abuse], and it’s being told through the signing statement that it’s impotent. It’s quite a radical view.” [Boston Globe, 1/4/2006; Boston Globe, 4/30/2006]
After President Bush signs the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 30, 2005), his office issues a “signing statement” concerning how he believes the government should enforce the new law. His advisers have spent days composing a statement that declares the administration’s support for the bill. But that statement is never issued. Just before Bush signs the bill, Vice President Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington, intercepts the statement “and just literally takes his red pen all the way through it,” a White House official will later recall. Instead, Addington substitutes a single sentence. Bush, writes Addington, would interpret the law “in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the president to supervise the unitary executive branch and as commander in chief.” Neither Addington nor Cheney have any qualms about ignoring or superseding what Addington calls “interagency treaties” or language “agreed between cabinet secretaries.” Top officials from the CIA, the Justice Department, State Department, and Defense Department oppose the substitution. The White House’s senior national security lawyer, John Bellinger, says that Congress will view the statement as a “stick in the eye.” Nevertheless, with Cheney’s backing, White House counsel Harriet Miers sends the revised statement to Bush for his signature. Bush signs the statement. [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
According to authors Joe and Susan Trento, writing in 2006, the CIA places employees undercover with both airlines and the Federal Air Marshal Service, as a part of a program to allow known terrorists to keep flying (see May 2006). The undercover employees allow the CIA to control arrangements when it wants a terrorist to fly openly without the airlines’ or Marshal Service’s knowledge. [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 194] One example of this is travel in 2006 by Rayed Abdullah, an associate of alleged 9/11 pilot Hani Hanjour. Abdullah is allowed to fly to New Zealand for flight training in the hope he will meet al-Qaeda operatives, who will then be put under surveillance (see February-May 30, 2006).
Former CIA Director George Tenet will write in 2007, “It is my understanding that in 2006, new intelligence was obtained that proved beyond any doubt that the man seen meeting with [a] member of the Iraqi intelligence service in Prague in 2001 was not Mohamed Atta.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 355]
F. Duane Ackerman. [Source: Mark Wilson / Getty Images]The National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC), created in September 1982 by then-president Ronald Reagan’s Executive Order 12382, [National Communications System, 7/19/2006] is apparently facilitating US telecommunication firms’ cooperation with the NSA in conducting surveillance against US citizens. According to journalist Tim Shorrock, NSTAC, which he calls “kind of a murky organization [that] meets twice a year with people at the White House,” advises the White House on national security issues involving the telecommunications system. Vice President Dick Cheney participated in their most recent meeting. NSTAC is chaired by F. Duane Ackerman, the president and CEO of BellSouth, and is made up of executives from a number of telecom companies and other companies that are involved in telecommunications, including Verizon. Shorrock observes, “[T]hey all contract with the intelligence community to do various kinds of work, and, you know, they brag about it in their testimony. They say, you know, ‘We have a long record of cooperation with intelligence,’ and so on. So, these relationships go back many, many years, and I think what we have now is a group of people that meet, and they all have high—they all have security clearances to do this.” [Democracy Now!, 5/12/2006]
Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, an Iraqi intelligence agent captured by the US after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 (see June 2004), is quietly released. Al-Ani gained notoriety after 9/11 when Bush administration officials claimed he had a meeting with 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in Prague, in the Czech Republic (see April 8, 2001). These allegations were eventually debunked (see September 18, 2001-April 2007). He had been secretly detained by the CIA at an unknown location since his capture. He will make the news again in mid-2007 when Czech officials reveal that he has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the Czech government, charging that unfounded Czech intelligence reports resulted in his imprisonment by the CIA. [Washington Post, 10/27/2007]
After 9/11 and, in particular, after the 7/7 bombings in London (see July 7, 2005), British security officials are asked about the wide latitude granted to radical Islamists in Britain in the 1990s and after (see Before 1998). Off-the-record statements by officials emphasize that they were wrong in their assessment of Islamist radicalism, and that they should have paid more attention. For example, in a 2006 book by authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, an anonymous official says: “The French would periodically bombard us with warnings and get very worked up and we decided they were over-exaggerating on Islamic extremists colonizing London. Fact is, they were right and we were wrong, and we have not stopped apologizing since. Frankly, we were not equipped to deal with this menace. For 30 years everything was geared to combating terrorists from Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries in Ireland. That danger was still with us when the French were screaming about Islamic terror cells. We did not know how to monitor these people or how to combat the threat of suicide attacks. We did not have the techniques. We missed our chance to deal with this a lot sooner than we did, but a lot of countries made the same mistake.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 109-110] Most or all of the leading radicals worked with the British security services, were informers for them (see June 1996-February 1997, Early 1997, Spring 2005-Early 2007), and were also monitored by other informers (see Summer 1996-August 1998 and (November 11, 1998)). Several attacks in countries other than Britain were assisted by radicals based in London (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998, 1994, Summer 1998 and After, and November 13, 2001 or Shortly Before).
Sometime in 2006, the deputy commander of the Defense Department’s Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF) at Guantanamo tells the Senate Armed Services Committee (see April 21, 2009) that CITF “was troubled with the rationale that techniques used to harden resistance to interrogations [SERE training—see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002 ] would be the basis for the utilization of techniques to obtain information.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
After 9/11 there was much discussion about how hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar were able to participate in an operation like 9/11, even though they were well known to US intelligence (see, for example, January 5-8, 2000, Early 2000-Summer 2001, and 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001).
FBI Theory - Based on conversations with FBI agents, author Lawrence Wright speculates on why the CIA withheld information it should have given the FBI: “Some… members of the [FBI’s] I-49 squad would later come to believe that the [CIA] was shielding Almihdhar and Alhazmi because it hoped to recruit them.… [They] must have seemed like attractive opportunities; however, once they entered the United States they were the province of the FBI. The CIA has no legal authority to operate inside the country, although in fact, the bureau often caught the agency running backdoor operations in the United States.… It is also possible, as some FBI investigators suspect, the CIA was running a joint venture with Saudi intelligence in order to get around that restriction. Of course, it is also illegal for foreign intelligence services to operate in the United States, but they do so routinely.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 312-313]
Explanation of Acquired Visas - This theory offers a possible explanation, for example, of how Almihdhar and Alhazmi managed to move in and out of Saudi Arabia and obtain US visas there even though they were supposedly on the Saudi watch list (see 1997 and April 3-7, 1999), and why a Saudi agent in the US associated with them (see January 15-February 2000). Wright points out that “these are only theories” but still notes that “[h]alf the guys in the Bureau think CIA was trying to turn them to get inside al-Qaeda.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 313; Media Channel, 9/5/2006]
Participant Does Not Know - Doug Miller, an FBI agent loaned to the CIA who was part of a plot to withhold the information from the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000), will indicate he does not know why he was ordered to withhold the information, but that his superiors may have had a good reason for keeping it from the FBI. Another intelligence source will claim that the CIA withheld the information to keep the FBI away from a sensitive operation to penetrate al-Qaeda. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008]
CIA Wanted to Keep FBI Off Case - Another unnamed FBI agent loaned to Alec Station before 9/11 will say: “They didn’t want the bureau meddling in their business—that’s why they didn’t tell the FBI. Alec Station… purposely hid from the FBI, purposely refused to tell the bureau that they were following a man in Malaysia who had a visa to come to America. The thing was, they didn’t want… the FBI running over their case.” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 20]
Similar Explanation - Wright is not the first to have made the suggestion that Alhazmi and Almihdhar were protected for recruitment purposes. Investigative journalist Joe Trento reported in 2003 that a former US intelligence official had told him that Alhazmi and Almihdhar were already Saudi Arabian intelligence agents when they entered the US (see August 6, 2003).
The CIA misses a chance to kill al-Qaeda leader Khalid Habib. In 2006, the CIA hears from the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, that Habib is staying at a compound in Miram Shah, North Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. An involved CIA officer will later tell the Los Angeles Times that he spends weeks at a nearby military outpost, monitoring live images from a Predator drone. He says, “We had a Predator up there for hours at a stretch, just watching, watching.” The CIA closely studies the layout of the compound in preparation for a drone strike. “They took a shot at the compound a week after I left. We got some bodyguards, but he was not there.” Under US policy at this time, the CIA needs permission from the Pakistani government before any drone strike, and getting the approval can take a day or more. Apparently, such delays contribute to the failure to successfully kill Habib. Habib will finally be killed in a Predator strike in 2008. [Los Angeles Times, 3/22/2009] There are no contemporary media accounts of any Predator strike at Miram Shah in 2006, so the date of the strike remains unknown.
At some point in 2006, an unnamed senior ISI (Pakistani intelligence) official admits that militant leader Jalaluddin Haqqani is a Pakistani asset. The official makes the comment after being asked by a New York Times reporter why the Pakistani military has not moved against Haqqani. Haqqani is head of the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban, based in Pakistan, that is launching attacks against US forces in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 6/17/2008] In 2008, US intelligence will similarly overhear the head of Pakistan’s military call Haqqani a “strategic asset” (see May 2008).
The National Security Council rejects a request from the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) to interview Stephen Hadley. The OIG is conducting an investigation into whether the Defense Department’s Office of Special Plans had been engaged in inappropriate intelligence activities prior to the invasion of Iraq. [Think Progress, 2/9/2007; US Congress, 2/9/2007] During the time period in question, Hadley had been deputy national security adviser, and was reportedly one of the Pentagon office’s main contacts in the National Security Council (see, e.g., Shortly After September 11, 2001 and September 2002).
John Maguire, former deputy chief of the Iraq Operations Group, says the Bush administration made a huge mistake alleging that Saddam Hussein’s government had supported al-Qaeda. According to Maguire, US intelligence “never had anything that said that.” He says that while there had been an occasional meeting between Iraqis and Osama bin Laden’s organization, it was nothing significant because that’s what intelligence agencies do. But “the way this was cast [by the White House] created a picture that was different than reality.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 418]
US intelligence is able to learn the last name of Osama bin Laden’s trusted courier. The courier’s real name is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, but so far, US analysts have only known him by his alias “Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.” In late 2005, intelligence analysts concluded Ahmed was very likely working for bin Laden or some other high ranking al-Qaeda leader (see Late 2005). [MSNBC, 5/4/2011; Associated Press, 6/1/2011] Also in late 2005, dozens of new CIA operatives were sent to Pakistan as part of a new push to get bin Laden, called Operation Cannonball (see Late 2005). Although most of the new operatives are inexperienced, the effort does appear to have an impact. The New York Times will later report, “With more agents in the field, the CIA finally got the courier’s family name”—Ahmed. [New York Times, 5/2/2011] Exactly how it gets the family name is unclear. But in 2007, US analysts will learn Ahmed’s first name as well (see 2007).
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the new “reasonable belief” standard for wiretaps is just another term for “probable cause.” Gonzales’s claim is legally false. The difference between the two standards is significant: while administration officials must present relatively compelling evidence that a US citizen has ties to US-designated terrorist organizations or is involved in terror plots to meet the “probable cause” standard for authorizing electronic surveillance, the “reasonable belief” standard is far more lenient. Gonzales also repeats for the committee President Bush’s claims that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) isn’t “agile” or “nimble” enough to assist the Justice Department and the US intelligence community in finding and arresting terrorists, a claim that FISC judges find baffling. FISC routinely approves almost all warrant requests, and FISA allows the government to conduct surveillance for 72 hours before even applying for a warrant. Additionally, FISC has consistently worked with the government to expedite requests and streamline the warrant-issuance procedure. For example, in March 2002, when the FBI and Pakistani police arrested al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida, agents found that almost all of Zubaida’s contacts were already being monitored under FISA warrants or through international surveillance efforts (see March 28, 2002). One government official says that the Zubaida discovery gave them “some comfort” that surveillance efforts were working as needed. [Washington Post, 2/9/2006]
Douglas Feith. [Source: Whodidit.org]Law professor Phillippe Sands interviews Douglas Feith, the former undersecretary of defense for policy and one of the key architects of the Iraq invasion. [Vanity Fair, 5/2008] Feith is joining the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University as a lecturer. [Washington Post, 5/25/2006] Feith discusses his great pride in his part in the administration’s decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions’ restrictions on interrogating prisoners (see February 7, 2002). Feith says that Geneva merely got in the way of the US doing what it needed to do with regards to the detainees. Since al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives did not function under Geneva, he argues, the US did not need to, either. Feith says that between his arguments and the contempt the civilians in the White House and the Pentagon held for the military officers who stood by the Geneva restrictions, the decision was made to set Geneva aside when circumstances warranted. It was never a matter of questioning Geneva’s status as international law, but deciding to whom and in what circumstances the conventions apply.
Catch 22 - Sands writes that according to Feith’s (and eventually the administration’s) rationale: “Geneva did apply to the Taliban, but by Geneva’s own terms Taliban fighters weren’t entitled to POW status, because they hadn’t worn uniforms or insignia. That would still leave the safety net provided by the rules reflected in Common Article 3—but detainees could not rely on this either, on the theory that its provisions applied only to ‘armed conflict not of an international character,’ which the administration interpreted to mean civil war. This was new. In reaching this conclusion, the Bush administration simply abandoned all legal and customary precedent that regards Common Article 3 as a minimal bill of rights for everyone.… I asked Feith, just to be clear: Didn’t the administration’s approach mean that Geneva’s constraints on interrogation couldn’t be invoked by anyone at Guantanamo? ‘Oh yes, sure,’ he shot back. Was that the intended result?, I asked. ‘Absolutely.… That’s the point.‘… As he saw it, either you were a detainee to whom Geneva didn’t apply or you were a detainee to whom Geneva applied but whose rights you couldn’t invoke.”
Impact on Interrogations - When asked about the difference for the purpose of interrogation, Sands will write: “Feith answered with a certain satisfaction, ‘It turns out, none. But that’s the point.’ That indeed was the point. The principled legal arguments were a fig leaf. The real reason for the Geneva decision, as Feith now made explicit, was the desire to interrogate these detainees with as few constraints as possible.” Reflecting on that time, Feith says with obvious relish, “This year I was really a player.” Sands asks Feith if he ever worried that the Geneva decision might have eroded the US’s moral authority. Feith’s response is blunt: “The problem with moral authority [is] people who should know better, like yourself, siding with the _ssholes, to put it crudely.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2008]
For “much of 2006,” US intelligence has been tracking high-ranking al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid (a.k.a. Sheik Saiid al-Masri) in the mountains of Pakistan. US commanders have been pressing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for an operation to capture al-Yazid. However, Rumsfeld is reluctant to approve the mission. He is reportedly worried about US military casualties and a popular backlash in Pakistan. Finally, in early November 2006, Rumsfeld approves a plan for Navy Seals and Delta Force commandos to capture al-Yazid in Pakistan. But several days later, on November 8, Rumsfeld resigns one day after Republican losses in the US congressional mid-term elections (see November 6-December 18, 2006). The operation is put on hold again. The New York Times will reveal this in 2008 but will not explain why the operation was not tried later, or why the US did not at least attempt to fire a missile from a Predator drone at al-Yazid. It is also not explained if, when, and/or how US intelligence ever loses track of him. [New York Times, 6/30/2008] Al-Yazid has been a member of al-Qaeda’s shura (ruling council) since the group was formed in 1988. In May 2007, al-Qaeda will release a video naming him as the group’s commander of operations in Afghanistan. He allegedly has played a major role in managing al-Qaeda’s finances since at least the early 1990s, and continues to do so. [Washington Post, 9/9/2007]
The National Security Agency’s ‘Trailblazer’ program (see Late 1999), envisioned in 1999 as an overarching state-of-the-art data-mining system capable of sorting through millions of telephone and Internet communications and pluck out items relevant to national security and counterterrorism, is an abject failure, according to multiple sources and reports. The program has soaked up six years of effort and $1.2 billion in taxpayer dollars, with nothing to show except some schematic drawings and a few isolated technological and analytical gadgets, and little hope of much future progress. Matthew Aid, who has advised three federal commissions and panels investigating the 9/11 attacks, says that Trailblazer is “the biggest boondoggle going on now in the intelligence community.” Part of the problem is that over its six years of development, Trailblazer has passed through three separate NSA divisions, each with its own priorities and design goals. Its overseers have failed to exert the proper authority to clearly define the program’s goals and keep the project on track. In 2003, the NSA’s inspector general found that the program suffered from “inadequate management and oversight” of private contractors and overpayment for the work that was done. The lead private contractor for the project, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), has not provided the technical and managerial expertise necessary to create the system. While the Bush administration has touted the NSA wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005) as vital to protecting the nation from terrorism, it allows the agency to mismanage Trailblazer, in essence allowing the agency to go increasingly “deaf” as millions of items of unimportant information overwhelm the agency’s ability to sort out key bits of information, according to a government official. A Congressional investigation of intelligence failures surrounding the 9/11 attacks found that the NSA did not sift out “potentially vital” information that could have predicted or even prevented the attacks—a lapse that Trailblazer was intended to correct. Aid says that the problem is akin to searching for a needle in a haystack that doubles in size every few months. Intelligence experts say that the problem with Trailblazer is like deciding whether to keep a piece of mail or throw it out based only on what is on the outside of the envelope. Approximately 95% of the information gathered by the NSA is discarded without ever being translated from its original binary form; the remaining 5% is turned into plain text for human analysts to survey. Trailblazer was designed to sort through this information to identify patterns, keywords, and links to other data. The program would, in theory, translate all of the information into plain text or voice data, analyze the results to identify items of interest, store the results in an easily searchable database, and forward selected items to the appropriate analysts for follow-up. But after six years of work, there will still be no consensus among agency managers and experts as how to create a system to do this. Interestingly, another, less grandiose program, code-named Thinthread, appeared promising—a 2004 Pentagon report found that Thinthread could work better and be put to use more quickly than Trailblazer—but NSA managers disagreed with the Pentagon report and canceled Thinthread. Instead, Hayden pushed the agency to get Trailblazer up and running after the 9/11 attacks, cutting into time needed for review and corrections. Internal and external warnings that the program was going off-course were ignored; because of its secrecy and technological sophistication, neither Congress nor the NSA was able to effectively monitor the progress of the program’s development. And the agency lost track of much of the $1.2 billion that was allocated by Congress for the program. NSA Inspector General Joel Brenner blames the waste and inefficiency on “inadequate management and oversight.” As of 2006, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, has not investigated Trailblazer simply because no one in Congress had asked it to. Because of the impact of the 9/11 attacks, and the war in Iraq, Congress has never seriously considered cutting back or reviewing any programs such as Trailblazer that might provide information on further terrorist attacks. [Baltimore Sun, 1/29/2006]
The second part of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the mismanagement of intelligence before the Iraq invasion (see July 9, 2004) is being held up by the Pentagon’s internal investigation of former Defense Department official Douglas Feith, one of the department’s primary architects of the war plans (see Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 20, 2001, Fall 2002, and May 9, 2005). The committee is waiting on a report from the Pentagon inspector general on Feith’s alleged role in manipulating pre-war intelligence to support a case for war. Feith is also being investigated by the FBI for his role in an Israeli spy case. One aspect of the committee’s investigation is likely to focus on the efforts by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to procure top-level security clearances for Feith after he was fired from the National Security Council in 1982 over allegations of espionage (see March 1982). Feith is one of a large number of pro-war conservatives to shuttle in and out of the Pentagon despite being involved in intelligence-related scandals (see Late 1969, October 1970, 1978, April 1979, March 1981, 1983, April 13, 1999-2004, 2001, and October 5, 2005), many of whom were provided security clearances by Rumsfeld. The committee’s report is being delayed because both Feith and the Defense Department refuse to provide documents and witnesses to the committee. The committee is investigating whether Feith and other current and former Defense Department officials broke the 1947 National Security Act by refusing to keep the committee “fully and currently informed of all intelligence activities” and refusing to “furnish the Congressional intelligence committees any information or material concerning intelligence activities, other than covert actions, which is within their custody or control, and which is requested by either of the Congressional intelligence committees in order to carry out its authorized responsibilities.” Senate sources say committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) is not pressuring the Pentagon to cooperate, but instead is deferring to the Pentagon’s Inspector General, in essence allowing the Pentagon to investigate itself. [Raw Story, 1/30/2006] The report will be issued in June 2008, with few of the above issues addressed (see June 5, 2008).
Georgetown law professor Marty Lederman, a former Justice Department official under both the Bush and Clinton administrations, notes the recent signing statement from the White House that essentially states President Bush will ignore the newly authorized Detainee Treatment Act (see December 30, 2005). “So much for the president’s assent to the McCain Amendment” (see December 15, 2005), Lederman writes. Of Bush’s signing statement itself, he writes: “Translation: I reserve the constitutional right to waterboard when it will ‘assist’ in protecting the American people from terrorist attacks.… You didn’t think [Vice President] Cheney and [Cheney’s chief of staff David] Addington (see December 30, 2005) were going to go down quietly, did you?” [Marty Lederman, 1/2/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 225]
Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, tells President Bush that his administration’s practice of only briefing a select few Congressional leaders on highly classified programs violates the National Security Act of 1947. Harman is referring to Bush’s practice of briefing the so-called “Gang of Eight,” comprised of the Speaker and Minority Leader of the House, the Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate, and the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, about the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program. Harman, a member of the Gang of Eight since 2003, says that she has found, she writes, “that the practice of briefing only certain Members of the intelligence committees violates the specific requirements of the National Security Act of 1947. The National Security Act requires that ‘The President shall ensure that the congressional intelligence committees are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States….‘…The Act makes clear that the requirement to keep the committees informed may not be evaded on the grounds that ‘providing the information to the congressional intelligence committees would constitute the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.’” Harman notes that the one exception to the president’s duty to keep all committee members informed, covert action that entails “extraordinary circumstances affecting vital interests of the United States” and thereby limits notification to the Gang of Eight, applies only “to covert actions, not intelligence collection activities.” Harman adds, “For all intelligence activities that are not covert actions, the Executive Branch’s duty is clear: the ‘heads of all…entities involved in intelligence activities shall…keep the congressional intelligence committees fully and currently informed of all intelligence activities.” Harman says that merely briefing the Gang of Eight does not provide “effective oversight,” especially in light of the restrictions on the lawmakers: “Members of the Gang of Eight cannot take notes, seek the advice of their counsel, or even discuss the issues raised with their committee colleagues.… As you know, both congressional intelligence committees are select committees, formed of Members who hold the highest security clearances and have a proven ability to safeguard classified information.” Harman concludes, “In my view, failure to provide briefings to the full congressional intelligence committees is a continuing violation of the National Security Act.” [US House of Representatives, 1/4/2006] Two weeks later, the Congressional Research Service will issue a report on the requirements of the Act agreeing with Harman’s conclusion (see January 18, 2006).
Vice President Cheney mentioned NSA intercepts of the 9/11 hijackers’ calls in a speech to the Heritage Foundation. [Source: David Bohrer / White House]Vice President Dick Cheney uses calls between the 9/11 hijackers in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen that were intercepted by the NSA (see Early 2000-Summer 2001) to justify the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). Cheney points out that, “There are no communications more important to the safety of the United States than those related to al-Qaeda that have one end in the United States,” and says that if the NSA’s warrantless program had been implemented before 9/11, “we might have been able to pick up on two hijackers [Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar] who subsequently flew a jet into the Pentagon.” He adds: “They were in the United States, communicating with al-Qaeda associates overseas. But we did not know they were here plotting until it was too late.” [White House, 1/4/2006] Other administration officials make similar claims about the calls by Almihdhar and Alhazmi in the years after the program is revealed by the New York Times (see December 17, 2005).
The three Republican senators who co-sponsored the recently passed Detainee Treatment Act prohibiting torture (see December 15, 2005) criticize President Bush for his signing statement indicating that he would not follow the law if he sees fit (see December 30, 2005). Senators John McCain (R-AZ), the primary sponsor of the bill, and John Warner (R-VA) issue a statement rejecting Bush’s signing statement. “We believe the president understands Congress’s intent in passing, by very large majorities, legislation governing the treatment of detainees,” the senators write. “The Congress declined when asked by administration officials to include a presidential waiver of the restrictions included in our legislation. Our committee intends through strict oversight to monitor the administration’s implementation of the new law.” The third co-sponsor, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), says he agrees with the letter, “and would go a little bit further.” Graham says: “I do not believe that any political figure in the country has the ability to set aside any… law of armed conflict that we have adopted or treaties that we have ratified. If we go down that road, it will cause great problems for our troops in future conflicts because [nothing] is to prevent other nations’ leaders from doing the same.” The White House refuses to respond to the senators’ comments. Law professor David Golove, a specialist in executive power issues, says the senators’ statements “mean that the battle lines are drawn” for an escalating fight over the balance of power between the two branches of government. “The president is pointing to his commander in chief power, claiming that it somehow gives him the power to dispense with the law when he’s conducting war,” Golove says. “The senators are saying: ‘Wait a minute, we’ve gone over this. This is a law Congress has passed by very large margins, and you are compelled and bound to comply with it.’” Elisa Massimino of Human Rights First says the senators’ statements should warn military and CIA interrogators that they could be subject to prosecution if they torture or abuse a detainee, regardless of Bush’s signing statement. “That power [to override the law] was explicitly sought by the White House, and it was considered and rejected by the Congress,” she says. “And any US official who relies on legal advice from a government lawyer saying there is a presidential override of a law passed by Congress does so at their peril. Cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment is illegal.” Golove notes that it is highly unlikely that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would prosecute anyone for performing actions Bush had authorized. [Boston Globe, 1/5/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 225-226]
After a long and difficult struggle with herself, senior CIA case officer and outed covert agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003) resigns from the agency. In 2007, she will reflect that for 20 years, “I had loved what I was doing, but I could no longer continue to do the undercover work for which I had been trained. My career had been done in by stupidity and political payback, and that made me angry. I would… resign—sadly, but on my terms.” Plame Wilson’s boss “literally beg[s]” her “to reconsider her decision, and despite my respect for her and my belief in the mission, I was not tempted for a moment. Leaving was the right choice for me and my family. I was ready to close this chapter in my life.” Plame Wilson will recall: “The young officers whom I had supervised were particularly outraged at what had happened and at the increasing politicization of intelligence that my case exemplified. Like me, they had entered the agency filled with energy, hope, and patriotism, only to emerge a few years later with a realization of their own vulnerabilities, the danger of politicians meddling in intelligence matters, and a clearer sense of the moral ambiguity that characterizes even the most honorable institutions.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 239-240, 389]
Russell Tice. [Source: ABC News]Former National Security Agency (NSA) official Russell Tice says that many of the wiretapping operations he once helped run were illegal. “I specialized in what’s called special access programs,” Tice tells ABC News. “We called them ‘black world’ programs and operations.” Tice is ready to testify before Congress about what he calls the illegal wrongdoings that are part of the Defense Department and the NSA’s wiretapping programs enacted after the 9/11 attacks. Many of these programs were targeted at innocent US citizens. “The mentality was we need to get these guys, and we’re going to do whatever it takes to get them,” he says. The technology used to track and sort through every domestic and international telephone center is impressive. “If you picked the word ‘jihad’ out of a conversation, the technology exists that you focus in on that conversation, and you pull it out of the system for processing.” Intelligence analysts use the information to develop graphs that resemble spiderwebs linking one suspect’s phone number to hundreds or even thousands more. While the president has admitted giving orders that allowed the NSA to eavesdrop on a small number of Americans without warrants, Tice says says the number of Americans subject to eavesdropping by the NSA could be in the millions if the full range of secret NSA programs is used. “That would mean for most Americans that if they conducted, or you know, placed an overseas communication, more than likely they were sucked into that vacuum.” Tice has been subjected to what appears to be bureaucratic punishment for his willingness to blow the whistle on the nation’s warrantless wiretapping programs; last year the NSA revoked his security clearance based on what it calls "psychological concerns," and later fired him. Tice says that is the way the NSA often deals with employees it considers troublemakers and whistleblowers (see January 25-26, 2006). [ABC News, 1/10/2006; ABC, 1/10/2006]
The Internet news site Raw Story learns that Iranian exile and arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar (see December 9, 2001) attempted to peddle a fabricated story of stolen uranium to US and other Western governments in the spring and summer of 2003 (see March 7, 2003 and After). The story comes from US and foreign intelligence sources, and is confirmed by former CIA station chief Bill Murray. Ghorbanifar’s story, of an Iranian intelligence team infiltrating Iraq just before the March 2003 invasion and stealing enriched uranium to use in Iran’s nuclear weapons program, was apparently designed to earn him money as well as to embroil both Iran and Iraq in a spurious WMD plot. It is possible that a June 2003 meeting between Ghorbanifar and two US officials was part of his attempt to peddle the story (see June 2003). Ghorbanifar was extensively involved in the Iran-Contra scandal as a middleman between Iranian government officials and members of the Reagan administration (see July 18, 1985, July 25, 1985, December 8, 1985, and December 1986). [Raw Story, 1/11/2006]
After Human Rights Watch, an organization which works to end torture of government detainees around the globe, claims that the Bush administration has made a “deliberate policy choice” to abuse detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says, “What took place at Guantanamo is a matter of public record today, and the investigations turned up nothing that suggested that there was any policy in the department other than humane treatment.” In 2002, President Bush declared that detainees in US custody should be treated “humanely, and to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles” of the Geneva Conventions (see January 19, 2002). Shortly after Rumsfeld’s statement, White House press secretary Scott McClellan says that Human Rights Watch has damaged its own credibility by making such claims. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]
The American Civil Liberties Union releases documents detailing prisoner abuse at US facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo. The documents prove the existence of a “Special Access Program,” involving a special operations unit, Task Force 6-26, that has been implicated in numerous abuse incidents in Iraq, and whose operatives used fake names to thwart an Army investigation. ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh says: “These documents confirm that the torture of detainees and its subsequent cover-up was part of a larger clandestine operation, in all likelihood, authorized by senior government officials. Despite mounting evidence of systemic abuse authorized or endorsed from above, however, not a single high-level official has thus far been brought to justice.”
Fake Names, Computer Malfunctions Avoid Accountability - An Army memorandum shows that a prisoner was captured by Task Force 6-26 in Tikrit, Iraq, and subsequently beaten into unconsciousness. The task force members used “fake names,” according to the Army memo, and the claim of a computer malfunction to avoid accountability.
SERE Techniques Used - A heavily redacted memo refers to the use of “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape” procedures at Guantanamo (see December 10, 2002). Sworn statements from military interrogators and a written “Chronology of Guard/Detainee Issues” show that the Army began receiving reports of prisoner abuse from Afghanistan as early as January 2002. The abuse continued, the documents show, through 2004 and perhaps beyond (see February 12-16, 2004, March 28, 2004, and May 6, 2004). Documents detail incidents where US soldiers poured peroxide and water over an Iraqi prisoner’s open wounds, and fired slingshot missiles at Iraqi children attempting to steal food from the base. [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/12/2006]
It had been widely reported that the Saudi government began to crack down seriously on al-Qaeda and other radical militants after a 2003 al-Qaeda attack in Saudi Arabia (see May 12, 2003). However, the Los Angeles Times reports that US officials now claim that is not true. While Saudis have been very aggressive and cooperative in cracking down on militants within Saudi Arabia since that attack, they have done little outside the country. Millions of dollars continue to flow from wealthy Saudis through charity fronts to al-Qaeda and other suspected groups, and the Saudi government is doing next to nothing about it. In 2004, the Saudis promised to set up a government commission to police such groups, but they have yet to do so. The Saudi government has also done little to rein in influential radical religious leaders who openly encourage their followers to attack US interests in Iraq and elsewhere in the world. US officials claim that at least five organizations, including the Muslim World League (MWL), the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WML), “are headquartered in Saudi Arabia but continue to engage in highly suspect activity overseas.” A senior US counterterrorism official says that some known terrorist financiers continue to “operate and live comfortably in Saudi Arabia” despite US objections. [Los Angeles Times, 1/15/2006]
Dr. Clive Williams, director of terrorism studies at the Australian National University, claims he has seen evidence indicating that Osama bin Laden is either dead or seriously ill. The evidence was provided by an Indian colleague and indicated bin Laden died of massive organ failure in April 2005. “It does seem reasonably convincing based on the evidence that I’ve been provided with that he’s certainly either severely incapacitated or dead at this stage,” Williams comments, adding that bin Laden has not released a statement for some time. [Sydney Morning Herald, 1/16/2006] Bin Laden releases a new audio statement three days later (see January 19, 2006), but the origin of this tape will be questioned (see January 19, 2006). [Christian Science Monitor, 1/20/2006]
Al Gore speaks to the Liberty Coalition and the American Constitution Society. [Source: American Constitution Society]Former Vice President Al Gore delivers a long, impassioned speech on civil liberties and constitutional issues to the Liberty Coalition and the American Constitution Society. Gore joins former Representative Bob Barr (R-GA) in speaking out against the Bush administration’s infringement on American civil liberties. Gore and Barr have what Gore calls a “shared concern that America’s Constitution is in grave danger.”
Patently Illegal Domestic Surveillance - Gore’s speech is sparked by recent revelations that the NSA has been spying on American citizens for years (see December 15, 2005), and in response, the administration “has brazenly declared that it has the unilateral right to continue without regard to the established law enacted by Congress precisely to prevent such abuses.” As the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA) is perfectly sufficient, there was no need for the Bush administration to circumvent that law. “At present, we still have much to learn about the NSA’s domestic surveillance,” Gore says. “What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law, repeatedly and insistently. A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government.” Gore says he agrees with Bush on the threat of terrorism, but disagrees that the US has to “break the law or sacrifice our system of government” to protect itself, as this will make it “weaker and more vulnerable.” In addition, he says, “once violated, the rule of law is itself in danger,” and, “Unless stopped, lawlessness grows, the greater the power of the executive grows, the more difficult it becomes for the other branches to perform their constitutional roles.” It is patently obvious that the Bush administration has broken the law in conducting and approving its warrantless wiretaps, Gore says, regardless of what arguments and defenses administration officials may put forth (see September 12-18, 2001 and Early 2002). So, Gore says, “When President Bush failed to convince Congress to give him the power he wanted when this measure was passed, he secretly assumed that power anyway, as if Congressional authorization was a useless bother. But as [Supreme Court] Justice [Felix] Frankfurter once wrote, ‘To find authority so explicitly withheld is not merely to disregard in a particular instance the clear will of Congress. It is to disrespect the whole legislative process and the constitutional division of authority between the president and the Congress.‘… And the disrespect embodied in these apparent mass violations of the law is part of a larger pattern of seeming indifference to the Constitution that is deeply troubling to millions of Americans in both political parties.”
Illegal Seizure of American Citizens - Gore notes that Bush has declared that he has “a heretofore unrecognized inherent power to seize and imprison any American citizen that he alone determines to be a threat to our nation, and that notwithstanding his American citizenship that person in prison has no right to talk with a lawyer, even if he wants to argue that the president or his appointees have made a mistake and imprisoned the wrong person” (see November 13, 2001 and March 5, 2002). He says: “The president claims that he can imprison that American citizen—any American citizen he chooses—indefinitely, for the rest of his life, without even an arrest warrant, without notifying them of what charges have been filed against them, without even informing their families that they have been imprisoned.” Gore then says: “No such right exists in the America that you and I know and love. It is foreign to our Constitution. It must be rejected.”
Specious Authority to Torture - Neither does the executive branch have the right to authorize torture, Gore says. After citing horrific examples from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, he calls it “a shameful exercise of power that overturns a set of principles that you’re nation has observed since General George Washington first enunciated them during our Revolutionary War. They have been observed by every president since then until now. They violate the Geneva Conventions, the International Convention Against Torture, and our own laws against torture.”
Unlawful Kidnapping of Foreign Citizens - The president has no right to have foreign citizens kidnapped from their homes and brought to the US for interrogation and imprisonment, or worse, delivered to other nations for harsh interrogations and torture, says Gore. The closest allies of the US have been shocked by such claims.
No Restraint in the Constitution? - Gore asks whether the president really has such powers under the Constitution and, if so, “are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited?” He quotes the dean of Yale’s law school, Harold Koh, who said, “If the president has commander in chief power to commit torture, he has the power to commit genocide, to sanction slavery, to promote apartheid, to license summary execution.” Gore is “deeply troubl[ed]” that “our normal American safeguards have thus far failed to contain this unprecedented expansion of executive power.” He cites the numerous usage of “signing statements” by Bush that signal his intent “not to comply” with particular legislation (see December 30, 2005). When the Supreme Court struck down Bush’s indefinite detention of “enemy combatants” (see June 28, 2004), “the president then engaged in legal maneuvers designed to prevent the court from providing any meaningful content to the rights of the citizens affected.”
Historical Cycles - Since the founding of America, Gore says, the country has abrogated its citizens’ rights in one circumstance or another, and cites numerous examples. But those abrogations were always rectified to some degree in a repeated cycle of what he calls “excess and regret.” Gore is worried that the country may not be in such a cycle now. Instead, he says, the US may be on a path to permanent, state-sanctioned authoritarianism, with the constitutional safeguards American citizens have come to expect eroded and undermined to the point of irretrievability. Gore specifically cites the administration’s support for the so-called “unitary executive” theory of government, which he says “ought to be more accurately described as the unilateral executive.” That theory “threatens to expand the president’s powers until the contours of the Constitution that the framers actually gave us become obliterated beyond all recognition.”
Stark Authoritarianism - Why are Bush and his top officials doing this? Gore says that “[t]he common denominator seems to be based on an instinct to intimidate and control. The same pattern has characterized the effort to silence dissenting views within the executive branch, to censor information that may be inconsistent with its stated ideological goals, and to demand conformity from all executive branch employees.” Gore continues: “Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time. The only check on it is that, sooner or later, a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield. Two thousand two hundred American soldiers have lost their lives as this false belief bumped into a solid reality.”
Gutting Congress - Though serious damage has been done to the judicial branch, Gore acknowledges, “the most serious damage in our constitutional framework has been to the legislative branch. The sharp decline of Congressional power and autonomy in recent years has been almost as shocking as the efforts by the executive to attain this massive expansion of its power.… [T]he legislative branch of government as a whole, under its current leadership, now operates as if it were entirely subservient to the executive branch.… [T]he whole process is largely controlled by the incumbent president and his political organization” (see February 1, 2004). Gore says each member of Congress, Republican and Democrat, must “uphold your oath of office and defend the Constitution. Stop going along to get along. Start acting like the independent and co-equal branch of American government that you are supposed to be under the Constitution of our country.”
We the People - The American people still, for the moment, have the power to enforce the Constitution, Gore says, quoting former President Dwight Eisenhower, who said, “Any who act as if freedom’s defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America.” Gore continues: “Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction.… The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk. Yet in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the full Bill of Rights. Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of nuclear missiles ready to be launched on a moment’s notice to completely annihilate the country?” [Congressional Quarterly, 1/16/2006; American Constitutional Society, 1/16/2006]
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Liberty Coalition, US Supreme Court, Harold Koh, George W. Bush, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., American Constitution Society, Bush administration (43), Convention Against Torture, Felix Frankfurter, George Washington, Geneva Conventions, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Robert “Bob” Barr
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Controversial neoconservative Michael Ledeen, a consultant for the Bush Defense Department, confirms that he was a contributor to the Italian magazine Panorama. A Panorama reporter, Elisabetta Burba, was one of the first to come across forged documents that purported to prove Iraq had attempted to obtain weapons-grade uranium from Niger (see September 12, 2002 and Afternoon October 7, 2002). Ledeen is widely suspected of playing a role in channeling those forged documents to the CIA (see October 18, 2001, December 9, 2001, and April 3, 2005), though he has always denied doing so. Ledeen confirms that “several years ago” he was a “twice a month” contributor to Panorama, but refuses to give further details. He also denies, again, any involvement in the Niger documents: “I’ve said repeatedly, I have no involvement of any sort with the Niger story, and I have no knowledge of it aside from what has appeared in the press,” he writes. “I have not discussed it with any government person in any country.” Reporter Larisa Alexandrovna notes that Ledeen wrote for Panorama during the time that the magazine received the forgeries from an Italian intelligence peddler, and sent them from the US Embassy in Rome via backchannels to the US State Department. Around that same time, Ledeen also allegedly facilitated an unusual meeting between the head of Italy’s military intelligence agency and Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser in the Bush administration
(see September 9, 2002). Hadley has denied discussing anything about uranium during that meeting. [Raw Story, 1/17/2006]
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) finds that the Bush administration broke the law when it refused to provide timely and complete briefings to the appropriate members of Congress on the National Security Agency’s domestic wiretapping program. The CRS’s legal analysis concludes that the administration’s limited briefings are “inconsistent with the law.” The CRS performed the analysis at the request of Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and a member of the so-called “Gang of Eight,” the eight members of Congress that Bush allows to receive limited information on the NSA program. Harman, who calls the CRS report “a solid piece of work,” wrote to Bush on January 4, 2006, to inform him that she believes the information should be provided to all the members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. The briefings, which are intentionally limited in scope, are provided only to eight members of Congress: the Speaker of the House, the House Minority Leader, the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, and the ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. Harman says that an upcoming briefing, scheduled for February 6, should include all members of the intelligence committees. The briefings on the NSA program are held through the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. Though Harman is in agreement with the CRS that the briefings are legally inadequate, House Intelligence Committee chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) has said he believes the briefings are adequate for Congressional oversight.
The CRS finding is based on the requirements of the 1947 National Security Act, that mandates that all of the members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees be “fully and currently informed” of intelligence activities. The Act says that “covert actions” can only be revealed to the “Gang of Eight,” but, the CRS finds, since the NSA’s domestic surveillance program does not appear to be covert, limiting the briefings to just eight members of Congress “would appear to be inconsistent with the law.” The memo gives several options for the administration to bring itself into compliance with the law, noting, for example, that “[t]he executive branch may assert that the mere discussion of the NSA program generally could expose certain intelligence sources and methods to disclosure.” [New York Times, 1/18/2006; Washington Post, 1/19/2006]
A memo from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) finds that President Bush appears to be in violation of the National Security Act of 1947 in his practice of briefing only select members of Congress on the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program. Bush has provided only limited briefings to the so-called “Gang of Eight,” the four Congressional leaders and the four ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. But the 1947 law requires the US intelligence community to brief the full membership of both committees on the program. The memo is the result of a request by Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), who wrote Bush a letter saying that she believes he is required under the Act to brief both committees, and not just the Gang of Eight (see January 4, 2006). The White House claims that it has briefed Congressional leaders about the program over a dozen times, but refuses to provide details; the Congressional members so briefed are forbidden by law to discuss the content or nature of those classified briefings, even with their own staff members. “We believe that Congress was appropriately briefed,” says White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. The CRS agrees with Harman that the single exception to such full briefings under the law, covert actions taken under extraordinary threats to national security, is not applicable in this instance. Unless the White House contends the program is a covert action, the memo says, “limiting congressional notification of the NSA program to the Gang of Eight…would appear to be inconsistent with the law.” [US House of Representatives, 1/4/2006; Congressional Research Service, 1/18/2006 ; Washington Post, 1/19/2006] The day after the CRS memo is released, Senate Democrats John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) and Harry Reid (D-NV), along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Harman, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, write to Vice President Dick Cheney demanding that the full committees be briefed on such intelligence matters in the future. [Washington Post, 1/20/2006] On February 9, Bush will allow Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former NSA chief Michael Hayden to brief the full House Intelligence Committee on the program (see February 8-17, 2006).
Entity Tags: Jane Harman, John D. Rockefeller, National Security Agency, National Security Act, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Michael Hayden, House Intelligence Committee, George W. Bush, Dana Perino, “Gang of Eight”, Alberto R. Gonzales, Harry Reid, Congressional Research Service, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
James Risen. [Source: Publicity photo]The New York Times published reporter James Risen’s December account of NSA domestic wiretapping (see December 15, 2005) without having seen the manuscript of his book on the subject, the media learns. Many observers on the right, most notably Matt Drudge, have accused Risen, who wrote the article with fellow Times reporter Eric Lichtblau, and the Times of printing the article to coincide with the publication of Risen’s book State of War. On the left, critics have blasted the Times for sitting on the story for a year in apparent deference to the Bush administration. The truth is somewhere in the middle, according to numerous informed sources. While the Times did sit on the piece for a year in part because Bush officials did not want the story to run (see December 6, 2005), when Times editors finally approved its publication, they were unsure whether or not Risen’s book manuscript contained the wiretapping story. The editors did not see the manuscript until December 27, a week before it appeared on the shelves. One of the first reviewers of the book, author and national security expert James Bamford, writes, “Among the unanswered questions concerning the domestic spying story is why, if Mr. Risen and The Times had first come upon the explosive information a year earlier, the paper waited until just a few weeks before the release of the book to inform its readers.” It seems that part of the reason is the long, internal disagreement between Risen and the Times over ownership of the book’s contents; internal sources at the Times say that without Risen’s book being published, it is likely that the editors would not have published the article as soon as they did. [New York Observer, 1/19/2006]
A secret witness in the court-martial of a US soldier charged with murdering an Iraqi prisoner (see November 26, 2003 and October 5, 2004) says that the soldier, Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, disregarded interrogation rules so casually that he wrote a memo warning his CIA superiors. The witness testifies in open court, but is shielded behind a curtain to protect his identity. (Defense lawyers accidentally exposed the witness’s ties to the CIA during previous questioning.) The testimony is conducted in public after much legal wrangling, with lawyers from the Colorado Springs Gazette and other media outlets insisting that the witness’s testimony be conducted in open court. The witness says Welshofer, accused of smothering the prisoner, did not seem to care. “He said he was pretty sure they were breaking those rules every day.” Earlier witnesses have testified that the techniques used by Welshofer—which included covering the prisoner’s head with a bag, wrapping electrical cord around the bag, sitting on the man’s chest, and covering his mouth—were forbidden by order of CENTCOM commander Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. Another witness, Chief Warrant Officer Todd Sonnek, a Green Beret assigned to interrogations at the makeshift prison near the Syrian border, says that two days before Mowhoush’s death, he witnessed Welshofer bringing CIA and Iraqi paramilitary fighters in to witness his interrogation of the prisoner, which Welshofer called an implementation of the accepted method called “fear-up,” in which an interrogator attempts to terrify a prisoner into divulging information. Welshofer, along with the CIA officials and Iraqi fighters, questioned Mowhoush, and interrupted the questions with insults and slaps. Instead of cowering in fear, Mowhoush became enraged and broke free from his plastic handcuffs. Sonnek says he wrestled Mowhoush to the ground, and everyone in the room joined in beating and kicking Mowhoush. Sonnek testifies that Mowhoush was able to walk unaided back to his cell; other witnesses have said that it took five soldiers to carry him back to it. [Rocky Mountain News, 1/17/2006; Colorado Springs Gazette, 1/19/2006; Rocky Mountain News, 1/24/2006] Welshofer will be convicted, but will not serve jail time or even be discharged from the Army (see January 24, 2006).
Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, testifying in his own defense on charges of murdering an Iraqi prisoner (see November 26, 2003 and October 5, 2004), says that he was unsure of what interrogation techniques were acceptable and what were not. He also says that he was under orders to treat prisoners very harshly. He testifies: “Basically [an August 30, 2003 memo] said that as far as they [senior commanders] knew there were no ROE [Rules of Engagement] for interrogations. They were still struggling with the definition for a detainee. It also said that commanders were tired of us taking casualties and they [told interrogators they] wanted the gloves to come off.… Other than a memo saying that they were to be considered ‘unprivileged combatants’ we received no guidance from them [on the status of detainees].” [Human Rights First, 2/2006] Welshofer will be convicted, but will not serve jail time or even be discharged from the Army (see January 24, 2006).
The Justice Department (DOJ) issues a 42-page “white paper” detailing its arguments that the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program (see February 2001, Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, Early 2002, September 2002, Late 2003-Early 2004, April 19-20, 2004, June 9, 2005, June 9, 2005, December 15, 2005, December 17, 2005, December 19, 2005, December 24, 2005, January 5, 2006, January 18, 2006, January 18, 2006, January 23, 2006, and January 30, 2006) is legal. The DOJ reiterates two previous arguments (see December 19, 2005 and December 21-22, 2005)—that Congress implicitly authorized the program in 2001 when it authorized the Bush administration to begin military actions against al-Qaeda (see September 14-18, 2001), and that the president has the authority as commander in chief to conduct such a program—even though these arguments have been thoroughly refuted (see January 9, 2006) and overridden by the Supreme Court’s recent Hamdan v. Rumsfeld ruling (see December 15, 2005 and July 8, 2006). In its paper, the DOJ declares that if necessary, it will attack the legality of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in order to stop that law from “imped[ing]” the president’s power to order domestic surveillance. In essence, according to columnist and civil liberties lawyer Glenn Greenwald, the DOJ is asserting that the president’s powers are limitless as long as he or she declares a given action necessary to battle terrorism. “Because the president has determined that the NSA activities are necessary to the defense of the United States from a subsequent terrorist attack in the armed conflict with al-Qaeda, FISA would impermissibly interfere with the president’s most solemn constitutional obligation—to defend the United States against foreign attack,” the DOJ claims. Neither Congress nor the court system has the right to limit or even review the president’s powers, according to the DOJ. Greenwald calls the DOJ’s argument “a naked theory of limitless presidential power.” In fact, Greenwald argues, the DOJ is asserting that FISA itself is unconstitutional, because no law can in any way limit the president’s power to conduct foreign policy or protect the nation’s security. The document is part of a larger Bush administration defense of the USA Patriot Act, and part of the administration’s push to convince Congress to reauthorize that legislation. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sends the document to Congress. Justice Department official Steven Bradbury says, “When it comes to responding to external threats to the country… the government would like to have a single executive who could act nimbly and agilely.” [US Department of Justice, 1/19/2006 ; Glenn Greenwald, 1/20/2006; Washington Post, 1/20/2006]
Dubious Legality - The program has already been found to be of questionable legality by two reports recently released by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (see January 5, 2006 and January 18, 2006). And author James Bamford, a US intelligence expert who has written extensively about the NSA, says that the Justice Department’s arguments are specious in light of Congress’s clear intent in its 1978 passage of FISA to block warrantless wiretapping, and its demonstrated lack of intent to allow any such operations within US borders in the October 2001 legislation. “You could review the entire legislative history in the authorization to use military force and I guarantee you won’t find one word about electronic surveillance,” he says. “If you review the legislative history of FISA, you will find Attorney General Griffin Bell testifying before the intelligence committee saying this was specifically passed to prevent a president from claiming inherent presidential powers to do this again.” [Washington Post, 1/20/2006]
Self-Contradictory Justifications - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write of the “shaky foundation” supporting the administration’s “two-pronged attacks on critics of the wiretapping program and the Patriot Act,” which some officials have claimed authorizes the program. “Beneath the simplistic rhetoric, the administration’s position was self-contradicting,” Savage will write. If Bush has the inherent presidential authority to order warrantless wiretapping, then he needs no authorization from the Patriot Act or any other legislation. But if Congress is endangering the nation by delaying in reauthorizing the Patriot Act and thusly not rendering the program legal, then the wiretapping program is illegal after all. The memo attempts to “paper… over” this problem by claiming that, while Bush has the inherent authority to do whatever he feels is necessary to protect the country, the Patriot Act’s extra police powers are still necessary in “contexts unrelated to terrorism.” Savage will write, “In other words, the administration’s own position, hidden in the fine print, was that the Patriot Act was superfluous and irrelevant to the war on terrorism—a somewhat absurd stance made necessary by their desire to say the wiretapping program was legal.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 315]
Failure to Address Probable Beginning of Program Before Attacks - The Justice Department says nothing about the program apparently beginning well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, James Bamford, Steven Bradbury, US Department of Justice, Griffin Bell, Senate Judiciary Committee, Glenn Greenwald, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Alberto R. Gonzales, Arlen Specter, George W. Bush, Congressional Research Service, Charlie Savage
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
President Bush’s top political adviser, deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove, tells a meeting of the Republican National Committee that the warrantless wiretapping controversy (see December 15, 2005 and December 18, 2005) can be used to boost Republicans’ election chances in the 2006 midterm elections. Republicans should emphasize that the wiretapping proves that Bush is willing to do whatever it takes to defeat terrorism and keep Americans safe. Critics of the program, therefore, can be painted as weak on terrorism. “The United States faces a ruthless enemy, and we need a commander in chief and a Congress who understand the nature of the threat and the gravity of the moment America finds itself in,” Rove says. “President Bush and the Republican Party do; unfortunately, the same cannot be said of many Democrats.… Let me be clear as I can be: President Bush believes if al-Qaeda is calling somebody in America, it is in our national security interests to know who they’re calling and why. Some important Democrats clearly disagree.” [WIS-TV, 1/20/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 203]
Conservative New York Times pundit David Brooks writes: “[D]espite administration hopes, there is scant reason to believe that imagined Iranian cosmopolitans would shut down the nuclear program, or could if they wanted to, or could do it in time—before Israel forced the issue to a crisis point. This is going to be a lengthy and tortured debate, dividing both parties. We’ll probably be engaged in it up to the moment the Iranian bombs are built and fully functioning.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]
In a public speech, former National Security Agency chief Michael Hayden claims that everything the NSA does is with authorization from the White House, specifically the warrantless wiretapping program that spies on US citizens (see Early 2002). “I didn’t craft the authorization,” he says. “I am responding to a lawful order.” Hayden claims that while the NSA continues to use court warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), technological advances and terrorist threats have made the law that created and supports FISC, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (see 1978), obsolete. Therefore, the NSA has carried out domestic surveillance operations with or without FISC warrants. Hayden says the warrantless surveillance operations are “operationally more relevant, operationally more effective” than anything FISA can handle. Hayden repeatedly denies, in the face of reams of evidence collected by journalists and others to the contrary, that the NSA is spying on domestic antiwar groups and religious organizations like the Quakers who publicly advocate nonviolence and peace. [Michael Hayden, 1/23/2006]
Speaking to a cheering crowd of military families in Kansas, President Bush declares that he has no intention of following the laws requiring warrants for wiretaps (see December 15, 2005 and December 18, 2005) because Congress authorized the use of military force against terrorists (AUMF—see September 14-18, 2001), and because he has the power to bypass laws at his own discretion in the interest of national security. The Kansas appearance is part of an election-style “blitz” of appearances around the country designed to build support for the warrantless wiretapping program, and to bolster support for Republicans in the midterm elections (see January 20, 2006). “I’m not a lawyer, but I can tell you what [the AUMF] means,” he says. “It means Congress gave me the authority to use necessary force to protect the American people but it didn’t prescribe the tactics.… If [terrorism suspects] are making phone calls into the United States, we need to know why, to protect you.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 203]
The Lewis Libby defense team files a request to use classified government material as part of Libby’s defense. Legal observers say the Libby request could “bog down” the case for months. The Associated Press reports that the request “puts the Libby case on a dual track: one public, the other secret that often can delay criminal cases from going to trial.” The contents of the filing remain secret, but Libby’s lawyers have implied that they want to reveal the nature of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s work as a CIA operative (see Fall 1985, Fall 1989, Fall 1992 - 1996, and April 2001 and After). Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald opposes the idea that some of the classified documents would be provided (see January 23, 2006). Fitzgerald has already turned over 850 pages of classified information to Libby’s defense lawyers, and is working to declassify more information. [Associated Press, 1/23/2006]
In a letter to Lewis Libby’s defense lawyers, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald says that Libby passed classified information from the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (NIE—see October 1, 2002) to reporters. According to Fitzgerald, Libby did so at the behest of his then-boss, Vice President Dick Cheney. Fitzgerald says the information comes from secret grand jury testimony given by Libby (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). He says Libby testified that he caused at least one other government official to discuss an intelligence estimate with reporters in July 2003. “We also note that it is our understanding that Mr. Libby testified that he was authorized to disclose information about the NIE to the press by his superiors,” Fitzgerald writes. Libby’s lawyer William Jeffress says that regardless of what evidence Fitzgerald may or may not have, his client has no intention of blaming Cheney or other senior White House officials for his actions. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says Cheney should take responsibility if he indeed authorized Libby to share classified information with reporters. “These charges, if true, represent a new low in the already sordid case of partisan interests being placed above national security,” Kennedy says. “The vice president’s vindictiveness in defending the misguided war in Iraq is obvious. If he used classified information to defend it, he should be prepared to take full responsibility.” Fitzgerald says he intends to use Libby’s grand jury testimony to support evidence pertaining to Libby’s meeting with then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). [Office of Special Counsel, 1/23/2006 ; Associated Press, 2/10/2006] The press learns of Libby’s testimony days later (see February 2, 2006).
Deputy Director of National Intelligence and former NSA Director Michael Hayden says that if the NSA’s recently revealed warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005) had been in place before 9/11, “it is my professional judgment that we would have detected some of the 9/11 al-Qaeda operatives in the United States, and we would have identified them as such.” Hayden will later say the NSA would have detected calls between an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen and 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in San Diego (see May 18, 2006). Hayden adds: “You know, the 9/11 Commission criticized our ability to link things happening in the United States with things that were happening elsewhere. In that light, there are no communications more important to the safety of this country than those affiliated with al-Qaeda with one end in the United States.” Before the attacks, the NSA intercepted a series of calls between two of the 9/11 hijackers and a known al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Early 2000-Summer 2001), but failed to notify the FBI about them (see (Spring 2000)). [Press Club, 1/23/2006] Other administration officials make similar claims about the calls by Almihdhar and Alhazmi in the years after the NSA’s warrantless program is revealed by the New York Times (see December 17, 2005).
CWO Lewis Welshofer. [Source: Associated Press / Jerilee Bennett / Salon]Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer is found guilty of causing the death of an Iraqi prisoner, Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush (see November 26, 2003). Welshofer, who was originally charged with murder (see October 5, 2004), is not found guilty of murder, but of far lesser charges of negligent homicide and negligent dereliction of duty. The court-martial board sentences Welshofer, who sat on Mowhoush’s chest and smothered him to death, to a reprimand, a fine of $6,000, and 60 days’ restriction. He is not sentenced to jail; neither is he discharged from the Army or even reduced in rank. Soldiers in the courtroom audience applaud the sentence. Welshofer’s attorney, Frank Spinner, says after the sentence, “The court understood our argument that this was a very difficult environment in which the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment was operating in November 2003.” Army prosecutor Captain Elana Matt had argued for at least two years’ imprisonment and a dishonorable discharge: “Chief Welshofer should have known better, with 19 years in the Army. You heard some bad things about General Mowhoush, but standards don’t apply just to good victims. They apply to everyone. The reputation of the Army has been dishonored at home and abroad.… You may be tempted to believe that this is the kind of guy the Army needs because he gets the job done. Don’t do it, because that would reduce us to the level of our enemies.” But the court was apparently swayed by Welshofer’s denials that he had done anything that could have led to Mowhoush’s death, and by the argument of Spinner and Welshofer’s military lawyer, Captain Ryan Rosauer, who said that Welshofer was confused by hazy interrogation rules (see January 19, 2006), and was merely doing his duty and trying to save lives. For his part, Welshofer begged the panel to allow him to stay out of jail and in the Army. He said that he had “tried to be a loyal soldier, putting the needs of this institution before my own.” [Rocky Mountain News, 1/24/2006; Colorado Springs Gazette, 1/24/2006] Brigadier General David Irvine, a retired intelligence officer who taught prisoner interrogation and military law for 18 years, and human rights activist David Danzig, will call Welshofer’s sentence a “slap on the wrist,” and write that the verdict “spared the defendant, indicted the prosecutor, and found the law irrelevant” (see January 27, 2006). [Salon, 1/27/2006]
President Bush at the National Security Agency. [Source: Eric Draper / White House]President George Bush uses calls between the 9/11 hijackers in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen that were intercepted by the NSA (see Early 2000-Summer 2001) to justify the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). Bush says: “We know that two of the hijackers who struck the Pentagon [Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar] were inside the United States communicating with al-Qaeda operatives overseas. But we didn’t realize they were here plotting the attack until it was too late.” Bush also quotes former NSA Director Michael Hayden, who previously said, “Had this program been in effect prior to 9/11… we would have detected some of the 9/11 al-Qaeda operatives in the United States, and we would have identified them as such” (see January 23, 2006). Bush and other administration officials make similar claims about the calls by Almihdhar and Alhazmi in the years after the program is revealed by the New York Times (see December 17, 2005). [White House, 1/25/2006] Bush made similar remarks at Kansas State University two days previously. [White House, 1/23/2006]
Current and former National Security Agency (NSA) employees say that the agency often retaliates against whistleblowers by labeling them “delusional,” “paranoid,” or “psychotic.” They say such labeling protects powerful superiors who might be incriminated by potentially criminal evidence provided by such whistleblowers, and helps to keep employees in line through fear and intimidation. One NSA whistleblower, former intelligence analyst Russell Tice, is currently the victim of such agency allegations. Tice, along with three other former analysts, Diane Ring, Thomas Reinbold, and another analyst who wishes to remain anonymous, make the allegations of unfounded psychological labeling by the agency; their allegations are corroborated by a current NSA officer who also wishes to remain anonymous. [Cybercast News Service, 1/25/2006]
Identifying a Potential Spy - Tice, a former signals intelligence (SIGINT) officer, is the first NSA whistleblower to capture the media’s attention, when in 2004, the Pentagon investigated possible NSA retaliation against him. In 2001, Tice reported that a co-worker at the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was possibly engaged in espionage for China, possibly connected to California Republican official and Chinese double agent Katrina Leung. [Democracy Now!, 1/3/2006; Cybercast News Service, 1/25/2006] Tice says, “I saw all the classic signs” in the DIA employee. After transferring to the NSA in November 2002, he reported his concerns again, this time adding criticisms of incompetence for the FBI, who in Tice’s view failed to properly investigate his allegations. Instead, Tice was ordered by NSA Security to undergo psychiatric evaluation. He was labeled “paranoid” and “psychotic” by NSA forensic psychologist Dr. John Michael Schmidt; Tice lost his top-secret security clearance as a result. [Cybercast News Service, 1/25/2006]
Fired - He was fired from the NSA in 2005 after spending his last years at the agency pumping gas and working in an agency warehouse. “I reported my suspicion and got blown off,” he says. “I pushed the issue and that ticked them off, the fact that I questioned their almighty wisdom.” [Cox News Service, 5/5/2005] Tice again made news on January 10, 2006 (see January 10, 2006), when he admitted to being a source for the New York Times’s article about a secret NSA electronic surveillance program against American citizens, a program carried out in the name of combating terrrorism. [ABC News, 1/10/2006]
No Evidence of Mental Instability - As for Tice’s own psychological evaluation by Schmidt, according to three other clinical psychologists, there is “no evidence” of either of the disorders in Tice’s mental makeup. And another NSA psychologist pronounced Tice mentally sound in 2002, though having a “somewhat rigid approach to situations.” Tice is described by five retired NSA and intelligence officials as “congenial,” “enthusiastic,” and “a scholar of high intellectual rigor [with] sound judgment [and] unparalleled professionalism.” Tice says of the NSA’s attempts to smear whistleblowers with apparently baseless psychological allegations, “This nonsense has to stop. It’s like Soviet-era torture. These people are vicious and sadistic. They’re destroying the lives of good people, and defrauding the public of good analysts and linguists.” But it has been effective in cowing others who were, in Tice’s words, “too afraid or ashamed to come forward.” [Cybercast News Service, 1/25/2006]
Further Allegations - Another former analyst, now employed by another federal agency and who only allows himself to be identified as “J,” describes similar targeting by the NSA. J is fluent in an unusually high number of languages, and is described by former colleagues as “brilliant” and possessed of “amazing” critical skills. “I believe the abuse is very widespread,” J says. “The targeted person suddenly is described as ‘not being a team player,’ as ‘disgruntled,’ and then they’re accused of all sorts of bizarre things. Soon they’re sent to the psych people.” J himself was targeted in September 1993 (see September 11, 1993) when he and other analysts concluded that the United States was being targeted by Islamic terrorists, and then again in early 2001 after predicting a terrorist attack using planes as weapons (see May 2001).
NSA Like the 'Gestapo' - A third whistleblower, a current NSA officer who refuses to be identified, confirms the allegations and says that baseless psychiatric allegations as a form of retaliation are “commonplace” at the agency. He says, “A lot of people who work there are going through the same thing. People live in fear here. They run it like some kind of Gestapo.” Those identified as “problems” are “yelled at, badgered and abused.…These are really good people, who start to be labeled crazy, but they’re telling the truth.” The official adds that the NSA often plants false evidence in personnel files as part of the intimidation campaign. Tice says the NSA maintains what he calls a “dirt database” of inconsequential but potentially embarrassing information on employees, gathered during routine clearance investigations and used as a form of leverage. The current officer says that an “underground network” has developed to discuss these issues. “It’s like the Nazis have taken over,” he says. [Cybercast News Service, 1/25/2006]
Personal Vendettas - Diane Ring is another former NSA official targeted by her superiors. Unlike Tice, a self-described conservative who believes President Bush should be impeached over the NSA’s illegal wiretapping program, Ring is a Bush supporter who believes the surveillance program is entirely proper. Ring, a former NSA computer scientist, says she was ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluations after coming into conflict with a colonel at the Pentagon. Ring is not a whistleblower per se like the others, but says she was targeted for retaliation because of a personal vendetta against her. The colonel “blew up” at Ring after she missed a meeting and explained that her branch chief had her working on a classified program that took priority over the meeting. Ring also was evaluated by Dr. Schmidt. When she complained about the apparent retaliation, her security clearance was, like Tice’s, revoked, and she was “red-badged,” or put on restricted access within the NSA offices. Ring says she received an excellent job evaluation just three months prior to the actions taken against her. She says her colleagues at the time were told not to talk to her, and she was restricted to working in a room filled with other red-badgers. She thinks she was isolated as part of an intentional campaign to force her to leave the agency. “They had these red-badgers spread out all over the place.” she recalls. “Some were sent to pump gas in the motor pool and chauffeur people around. In our room, some people brought sleeping bags in and slept all day long. Others read. I would think that would incense the taxpaying public.” Schmidt eventually reported that another doctor diagnosed Ring with a “personality disorder,” but Ring has a July 21, 2005 letter from that doctor, Lawrence Breslau, which reads in part, “On mental status examination including cognitive assessment she performs extremely well.” In the letter, Breslau says he never made such a diagnosis. She, like others in her position, went to the NSA Employee Assistance Service (EAS) for confidential counseling, but the current NSA officer says that though those sessions are supposed to be confidential, NSA officials can and do obtain “confidential” sessions for retaliatory purposes. “Their goal is to freak you out, to get inside your mind,” that officer says. Rice claims that NSA General Counsel Paul Caminos lied about her case before a judge, denying that he had sent an internal e-mail forbidding anyone from supporting Ring. Ring says she was “floored” by Caminos’s actions: “I served in Bosnia. We had mines going off all around us, all day long. That was nothing compared to this.” She is currently working on clearing her name with the NSA’s new director, Lieutenant General Keith Alexander. Ring believes that the problem at NSA involves a small number of people, “The whole lot of them is corrupt though. There is zero integrity in the process. And zero accountability.”
'Psychiatric Abuse' 'Very Widespread' - Like his fellow whistleblowers, former NSA officer Thomas Reinbold says the practice of “psychiatric abuse” inside the NSA is “very widespread.” Reinbold, who recelved 26 commendations and awards during his career at the NSA, including a medal for the intelligence he provided during the 1991 Gulf War, says, “They call it ‘doing a mental’ on someone.” Such practices have a “chilling effect” on other potential whistleblowers: “They fear for their careers because they fear someone will write up bad [psychological] fitness reports on them.” Reinhold was labeled “paranoid” and “delusional” by Schmidt after he complained to an inspector general on February 25, 1994, that the federal government was guilty of contract tampering; Schmidt’s evaluation contradicts a psychological evaluation he conducted on Reinbold eight months before that found he was mentally sound. At the time, Reinbold worked as a contracting officer representative for the Naval Security Group (NAVSECGRU) in Virginia. Reinbold had his high-level security clearance revoked, and was escorted off the grounds by armed security officers. Reinbold says NSA officials fabricated evidence in his personnel file to force him out; that evidence included allegations that he was a danger to himself and others, and that he had said “if [he] was going down, [he] would take everyone with him.” In September 1995, an administrative hearing found that the revocation of Reinbold’s security clearance was unjustified and recommended restoring his clearance, but did not allow the damaging information to be removed from his personnel file. He later sued the agency, and then retired because of diabetes. “I gave 29 years of my life to the intelligence community,” he recalls. “They couldn’t get me out the door fast enough. There are very good people, getting screwed and going through hell.”
Helping Those Who Come After - Some of the whistleblowers hope to gain the assistance of politicians to help their cases. But Tice is less optimistic. “Our time is over,” Tice says he told Ring. “But we can make a difference for those who come behind us.” The five whistleblowers have the support of the whistleblower advocacy group Integrity International. Its founder and director, Dr. Don Soeken, himself a whistleblower while he was with the US Public Health Service in the 1970s, says, “When this retaliation first starts, there’s a tendency by bosses to use code words like ‘delusional,’ ‘paranoid’ and ‘disgruntled’. Then they use psychiatric exams to destroy them. They kill the messenger and hope the PR spin will be bought by the public.” Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project says that “psychiatric retaliation” is a knee-jerk reaction against whistleblowers: “It’s a classic way to implement the first rule of retaliation: shift the spotlight from the message to the messenger. We call it the ‘Smokescreen Syndrome.’” Superiors investigate and smear the whistleblower for anything from financial irregularities to family problems, sexual practices, bad driving records, or even failure to return library books, Devine says. “It’s a form of abuse of power.” The Whistleblower Protection Act was written to protect those like Tice, Ring, Reinbold, and Soeken, but, says Beth Daly of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), the act has serious flaws. “You have to go through the inspector general or the director of the CIA to let them know if you’re going to Congress and what you’re going to disclose,” she says. “And inspector generals are notorious for revealing who whistleblowers are.”
Entity Tags: Paul Caminos, Project for Government Oversight, Naval Security Group, Russell Tice, Tom Devine, Thomas Reinbold, National Security Agency, US Public Health Service, Keith Alexander, Lawrence Breslau, Diane Ring, Defense Intelligence Agency, Beth Daly, Don Soeken, House National Security Subcommittee, Government Accountability Project, John Michael Schmidt, Integrity International, “J”
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Brigadier General David Irvine, a retired intelligence officer who taught prisoner interrogation and military law for 18 years, and human rights activist David Danzig write an angry response to the recent court-martial of Army interrogator Lewis Welshofer. Welshofer was found guilty of negligent homicide in causing the death of an Iraqi prisoner (see November 26, 2003 and October 5, 2004), but was given what Irvine and Danzig consider an absurdly light sentence: a reprimand, a small fine, two months’ restriction, and no jail time (see January 24, 2006). Irvine and Danzig believe that the verdict points to a larger problem: “The Welshofer case puts a fine point on a question that has plagued us since Abu Ghraib: Is the Army institutionally capable of dealing with the debacle of torture? The Army and the nation cannot afford to have soldiers draw the obvious lesson from the case’s nonsensical outcome: that in combat, the ends justify the means, and the Geneva Conventions and the McCain anti-torture amendment are subject to change depending on the circumstances or executive whim. Since the Army seems to have no inclination to enforce the principles of command discipline and accountability among the senior ranks, the corrosive effects of US torture in Iraq and elsewhere will continue to haunt any efforts to regain lost stature and credibility in the world.” [Salon, 1/27/2006]
New York Times journalist James Risen writes in his new book, State of War: “[B]oth before and after 9/11, President Bush and his administration have displayed a remarkable lack of interest in aggressively examining the connections between Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and the Saudi power elite. Even as the Bush administration spent enormous time and energy trying in vain to prove connections between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden in order to help justify the war in Iraq, the administration was ignoring the far more conclusive ties with Saudi Arabia. Those links are much stronger and far more troubling than has ever been previously disclosed, and until they are thoroughly investigated, the roots of al-Qaeda’s power, and the full story of 9/11, will never be known.” [Risen, 2006]
In his State of the Union address, President Bush insists that his authority to wiretap Americans’ phones without warrants (see December 15, 2005 and December 18, 2005) is validated by previous administrations’ actions, saying that “previous presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have.” He fails to note that those presidents authorized warrantless wiretaps before court orders were required for such actions (see June 19, 1972 and 1973). Since the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act passed (see 1978), no president except Bush has ever defied the law. Law professor David Cole calls Bush’s assertion of authority “either intentionally misleading or downright false.” Fellow law professor Richard Epstein predicts that the Supreme Court will strike down any such assertions, if it ever addresses the issue. “I find every bit of this legal argument disingenuous,” he says. Even many conservatives refuse to support Bush, with columnist George Will calling his arguments “risible” and a “monarchical doctrine” that is “refuted by the plain text of the Constitution.” David Keene, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, says the legal powers claimed by Bush and his officials can be used to justify anything: “Their argument is extremely dangerous.… The American system was set up on the assumption that you can’t rely on the good will of people with power.” Conservative activist Grover Norquist says flatly, “There is no excuse for violating the rule of law.” And former Justice Department official Bruce Fein says Bush and his officials have “a view that would cause the Founding Fathers to weep. The real conservatives are the ones who treasure the original understanding of the Constitution, and clearly this is inconsistent with the separation of powers.” Even former George H. W. Bush official Brent Scowcroft says that Bush’s interpretation of the Constitution is “fundamentally in error.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 203-204]
Electronic Frontier Foundation logo. [Source: Flickr.com]The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a civil liberties and privacy-advocacy organization, files a lawsuit against telecommunications giant AT&T for allegedly violating the law and the privacy of its citizens by cooperating with the National Security Agency in the NSA’s construction of what the EFF calls a “massive, illegal program to wiretap and data-mine Americans’ communications.” EFF lawyer Kevin Bankston says: “Our goal is to go after the people who are making the government’s illegal surveillance possible. They could not do what they are doing without the help of companies like AT&T. We want to make it clear to AT&T that it is not in their legal or economic interests to violate the law whenever the president asks them to.”
Unprecedented Access to Communications System - EFF alleges that as part of the NSA’s domestic spying program, AT&T has allowed the NSA direct access to the phone and Internet communications passing over its network, and has given the government “unfettered access to its over 300 terabyte ‘Daytona’ database of caller information—one of the largest databases in the world.” One of AT&T’s databases, nicknamed “Hawkeye,” contains 312 terabytes of data detailing nearly every telephone communication on AT&T’s domestic network since 2001, the lawsuit alleges. The suit goes on to claim that AT&T allowed the NSA to use the company’s powerful Daytona database management software to quickly search this and other communication databases. AT&T, the suit claims, is in violation of the First and Fourth Amendments, federal wiretapping statutes, telecommunications laws, and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The suit requests fines up to $22,000 for each AT&T customer, and punitive fines—damages that could potentially reach into the billions of dollars. The EFF lawsuit is one of over 30 lawsuits filed for similar reasons (see June 26, 2006). The lawsuit will survive a number of initial legal challenges by the Justice Department and AT&T, including AT&T’s contention that “whatever we did, the government told us to do” and therefore it should be immune from such lawsuits, and the Justice Department’s invocation of “national security” and the possibility of the revelation of “state secrets” (see March 9, 1953). EFF retorts, “In this country we follow the law, we don’t just follow orders.” Bankston tells a reporter, “If state secrecy can prevent us from preserving the rights of millions upon millions of people, then there is a profound problem with the law.”
Suit Alleges Criminal Actions, Does Not Challenge Government's Right to Wiretap - The lawsuit does not challenge the government’s right to electronically monitor legitimate terrorism suspects, nor does it challenge the judicial right to issue warrants for such surveillance. Rather, EFF writes: “Wiretaps on terrorists are allowed under the law, and this lawsuit is not challenging the wiretap laws. We have sued AT&T for breaking those laws—the telecommunications giant gave the government access to its communications switches and its huge databases of information on millions of ordinary Americans. These are AT&T customers who have not even been accused of affiliations with terrorists. Americans can be both safe and free: if the government truly believes it has cause to wiretap a suspect, it can order AT&T to provide information under FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act]—for up to 72 hours before going to the court. But AT&T has no business providing direct access to the communications of millions of ordinary Americans, without the checks and balances of Congress or the courts.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 1/31/2006; Wired News, 1/31/2006]
In 2003, Afghan President Hamid Karzai presented Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf with a list of Taliban leaders living openly in Pakistan, but Musharraf took no action in response (see April 22, 2003). In February 2006, Karzai and Musharraf meet again, in Islamabad, Pakistan, and Karzai again gives Musharraf a list of Taliban leaders living in Pakistan. Amrullah Saleh, head of Afghanistan’s intelligence service, is also at the meeting, and will later say, “It was a target list—locations, training camps, telephone numbers, and everything.” Musharraf responds by giving Karzai a report of the Indian government funding rebels in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan through Afghanistan. Western intelligence officials say India is funding these rebels, but not through Afghanistan. Musharraf again takes no action against the Taliban leaders living in his country. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2006; Rashid, 2008, pp. 286]
The Navy’s former general counsel, Alberto Mora, now the general counsel for Wal-Mart’s international operations, ends a long, self-imposed silence about his opposition to the military’s advocacy of torture and abuse of terror suspects (see July 7, 2004). Mora tells New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer that the administration’s legal response to the 9/11 attacks was flawed from the outset, triggering a series of subsequent errors and misjudgments that were virtually impossible to correct. In particular, the determination to ignore the Geneva Conventions “was a legal and policy mistake,” but “very few lawyers could argue to the contrary once the decision had been made.” Mora continues, “It seemed odd to me that the actors weren’t more troubled by what they were doing.” Many administration lawyers seemed to be ignorant of history. “I wondered if they were even familiar with the Nuremberg trials—or with the laws of war, or with the Geneva Conventions. They cut many of the experts on those areas out. The State Department [whose lawyers and officials often opposed the use of abusive interrogation tactics] wasn’t just on the back of the bus—it was left off the bus.… [P]eople were afraid that more 9/11s would happen, so getting the information became the overriding objective. But there was a failure to look more broadly at the ramifications. These were enormously hardworking, patriotic individuals. When you put together the pieces, it’s all so sad. To preserve flexibility, they were willing to throw away our values.” [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]
Counterterrorism expert Micah Zenko will later claim that in February 2006, an unnamed senior civilian official serving at US Central Command tells him that he has been disappointed to learn the search for Osama bin Laden is being worked at a lower level than he would have suspected. Central Command, which covers the US military’s operations in the Middle East and South Asia, has other issues that are deemed more important. [New York Times, 5/3/2011]
In an article published in Foreign Affairs magazine, former CIA senior analyst Paul Pillar says that prewar-intelligence was misused by the administration to support its case for war. Pillar, the CIA’s national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, writes: “In the wake of the Iraq war, it has become clear that official intelligence analysis was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made.” The administration “went to war without requesting—and evidently without being influenced by—any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq.” According to Pillar, it was not until a year after the invasion that he first received a request for such an assessment. He also says that there was pressure on intelligence analysts to make their assessments conform to the administration’s policy, a claim that several others have made as well (see September 11, 2001-March 17, 2003; September 11, 2001-March 17, 2003). He describes a “poisonous atmosphere,” which “reinforced the disinclination within the intelligence community to challenge the consensus view about Iraqi WMD programs; any such challenge would have served merely to reaffirm the presumptions of the accusers.” Pillar also rejects the view that the administration went to war because of Iraq’s presumed ties to al-Qaeda. Rather the White House “hitch[ed] the Iraq expedition to the ‘war on terror’ and the threat the American public feared most, thereby capitalizing on the country’s militant post-9/11 mood.” Pillar suggests that the decision to go to war was instead driven by the idea that shaking up the Middle East would hasten the “spread of more liberal politics and economics in the region.” [CNN, 2/10/2006; Foreign Affairs, 3/2006]
A federal judge rules that the USA Patriot Act allows the federal government to trace e-mail information without court warrants or evidence of criminal behavior. As part of a secret ongoing grand jury investigation, the Justice Department asked the court to approve the monitoring of an unnamed person’s e-mail correspondents—not the contents of the e-mails, which would require evidence of wrongdoing, but instead the identities and e-mail header information. The magistrate judge in that case refused, and asked the Justice Department to submit an additional brief demonstrating that its request would be legal. Instead of submitting the brief, the Justice Department went to US District Judge Thomas Hogan, a Reagan appointee. Hogan reviewed the federal law dealing with “pen register” and “trap and trace” devices, terms having to do with telephone wiretapping, and today rules that those laws “unambiguously” authorize such e-mail surveillance. Hogan rules that the Patriot Act authorizes that sort of e-mail surveillance, as long as prosecutors note that such surveillance might be “relevant” to an investigation. [United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/10/2001; CNET News, 2/9/2006]
The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) opens an internal investigation into the department’s role in approving the Bush administration’s domestic warrantless wiretapping program. OPR counsel Marshall Jarrett informs Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) of the investigation into the program, initiated after the 9/11 attacks by the National Security Agency and authorized via a secret executive order from President Bush shortly thereafter (see Early 2002). Jarrett writes that the OPR probe will include “whether such activities are permissible under existing law.” Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos says the inquiry will be quite limited: “They will not be making a determination on the lawfulness of the NSA program but rather will determine whether the department lawyers complied with their professional obligations in connection with that program.” Scolinos calls the OPR probe “routine.” Hinchey says he welcomes the probe, which may determine “how President Bush went about creating this Big Brother program.” [Washington Post, 2/16/2006] The OPR inquiry is derailed after the NSA, with Bush’s authorization, refuses to give routine security clearances to OPR lawyers that would allow them to examine the relevant documents (see May 9, 2006).
Seven telecommunications executives confirm to the press that large telecommunications companies such as AT&T, MCI, and Sprint have cooperated with the National Security Agency’s domestic warrantless wiretapping program. Those firms, along with BellSouth, previously denied they had cooperated with the NSA (see October 2001). In typical domestic investigations, telecom companies require court warrants before mounting any surveillance operations, but this has not been the case with the NSA program. Apparently, the companies decided to assist the NSA in tracking international telephone and Internet communications to and from US citizens and routed through “switches” which handle millions of communications, both domestic and international, every day. The telecom firms in question have undergone several mergers and reorganizations—BellSouth, another firm accused of cooperating with the NSA, is now part of AT&T, MCI (formerly WorldCom) was recently acquired by Verizon, and Sprint has merged with Nextel. The companies comply with the NSA requests for information once the NSA determines that there is a “reasonable basis” for believing that the communications may have a connection with militant Islamic organizations such as al-Qaeda. The firms do not require court warrants, but rather implement the monitoring on nothing more than oral requests from senior NSA officials. [USA Today, 2/5/2006]
Two former CIA officials directly involved in producing intelligence estimates on Iran’s nuclear program (see August 2, 2005) say that the Bush administration’s policy of threatening to use military force against Iran is a driving force behind that nation’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran is fearful of such an attack, the two officials say, and therefore wants nuclear weapons as a way to divert such a threat. Paul Pillar, who managed the writing of all NIEs on Iran from 2000 through 2005 as the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, says, “Iranian perceptions of threat, especially from the United States and Israel, were not the only factor, but were in our judgment part of what drove whatever effort they were making to build nuclear weapons.” Had the US tried to reassure Iran on its security fears, Pillar says, that would have had a significant effect on Iranian policies. Iran has made several diplomatic overtures to the US since 2003 (see May 4, 2003), Pillar says, that have not been reciprocated by the Bush administration. While Iran wishes to be the “dominant regional superpower” in the Middle East, the NIEs state, it is not pursuing that aspiration by means that would jeopardize the possibility of thawed relations with the US. According to Ellen Laipson, who managed several NIEs on Iran as national intelligence officer for the Near East from 1990 through 1993, and closely followed others as vice-chair of the National Intelligence Council from 1997 to 2002, says the Iranian fear of a US attack has long been “a standard element” in NIEs on Iran. Laipson is “virtually certain the estimates linked Iran’s threat perceptions to its nuclear program.” The 1991 Gulf War heightened fears of US attacks on Iran, Laipson says, and the recent belligerence of the Bush administration have again agitated Iran’s rulers. Iran’s 2002 listing as one of seven countries that might be targeted by US nuclear weapons, and President Bush’s 2002 naming of Iran as a member of the so-called “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002), further heightened Iranian fears of a US strike. In return, Iran has tried to counterbalance that threat with the threat of its own nuclear weapons as well as attempts to shore up relations with the US. Non-proliferation expert Joseph Cirincione says that US attempts to ease Iran’s fears would go a long way to convincing Iran to give up its nuclear program. “No nation has ever been coerced into giving up a nuclear program,” Cirincione says, “but many have been convinced to do so by the disappearance of the threat.” He cites the examples of three former Soviet republics, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, and Libya as nations who gave up their nuclear ambitions after fundamental international or internal changes eliminated the security threats that were driving their nuclear weapons programs. [Inter Press Service, 2/10/2006]
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 ; Savage, 2007, pp. 147-148]
In an interview with PBS’s Gwen Ifill, Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says she supports the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Spring 2001), a position that places her at odds with most Congressional Democrats. “Well, I said then and I say now that I support the program,” she tells Ifill. Harman is critical of the insider leaks that led to the public divulgance of the program (see December 15, 2005), saying, “Well, I think the leaks have done a lot of damage, and I deplore the leaks of this critical program.” She goes on to complain that the administration “says it adequately oversees this program,” but “the system of checks and balances that we have… requires that Congress as an independent branch of government pass the laws, fund the programs, and oversee how all that works.” In addition to requesting greater cooperation on oversight with Congress, she adds that “the courts need to be cut back in,” and thinks the “entire program” should be brought under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. [PBS, 2/8/2006] Four days later, Harman reiterates her position on NBC’s Meet the Press. She tells moderator Tim Russert, “If the press was part of the process of delivering classified information, there have to be some limits on press immunity.” Russert asks, “But if [the NSA leak] came from a whistleblower, should the New York Times reporter be prosecuted?” Harman answers: “Well, it’s not clear it was a whistleblower. You have to prove that first. If it’s protected by the whistleblower statute, then it’s protected.… By the way, I deplore that leak. This is a very valuable foreign [intelligence] collection program. I think it is tragic that a lot of our capabilities are now [spread] across the pages of the newspapers.” [MSNBC, 2/12/2006; NewsMax, 2/12/2006]
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
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
During a speech defending his campaign against al-Qaeda, President Bush describes a previously obscure al-Qaeda plot to crash an airplane into the Library Tower (since renamed the US Bank tower) in Los Angeles in 2002 (see October 2001-February 2002). It is the tallest building on the West Coast of the US. The plot was first briefly mentioned in a Bush speech in October 2005 (see October 6, 2005), but Bush and his aides now provide new details. The plot was allegedly masterminded by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, but was foiled when the four Asians recruited for the plot were arrested in Asia. Bush’s speech on the plot comes on the same day as a Senate hearing into the NSA’s illegal domestic wiretapping program. The Washington Post comments, “several US intelligence officials played down the relative importance of the alleged plot and attributed the timing of Bush’s speech to politics. The officials… said there is deep disagreement within the intelligence community over the seriousness of the Library Tower scheme and whether it was ever much more than talk.” One intelligence official “attributed the [speech on the plot] to the administration’s desire to justify its efforts in the face of criticism of the domestic surveillance program, which has no connection to the incident.” [Washington Post, 2/10/2006] The New York Times will similarly comment, “Bush’s speech came as Republicans are intent on establishing their record on national security as the pre-eminent issue in the 2006 midterm elections, and when the president is facing questions from members of both parties about a secret eavesdropping program that he describes as pivotal to fighting terrorism.” [New York Times, 2/10/2006]
John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, sends a letter to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney asking about recent revelations that Cheney authorized the leak of classified information to reporters (see January 23, 2006 and February 2, 2006). Conyers writes that such an authorization, if true, would constitute “an abuse of power at best, and may be outright unlawful at worst.… [I]t would appear that neither classified nuclear information nor Valerie Plame’s status as a covert agent or the name of her employer warranted declassification.” Conyers asks whether the report is true, and whether Bush, Cheney, or any of their staff members authorized former Cheney aide Lewis Libby or anyone else “to declassify and leak information to the media relating to the Iraq war and the use of pre-war intelligence on any occasions,” and if so, what the legal basis for such declassifications would be. He also asks if Bush intends to stand by his promise to “take the appropriate action” against anyone who leaked classified information” (see September 30, 2003). [Jeralyn Merritt, 2/10/2006]
The online news site Raw Story publishes an article claiming that the exposure of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, and July 14, 2003) caused more damage to US national security than has previously been admitted, particularly in the area of containing foreign nuclear proliferation. Editor and reporter Larisa Alexandrovna sources the story from a number of anonymous current and former intelligence officials. Plame Wilson, the officials say, was an integral part of an operation tracking distribution and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction technology to and from Iran. Alexandrovna writes, “Their [the officials’] accounts suggest that Plame [Wilson]‘s outing was more serious than has previously been reported and carries grave implications for US national security and its ability to monitor Iran’s burgeoning nuclear program.” The officials say that while previous reports indicate Plame Wilson may have been involved in monitoring nuclear “black market” activities, particularly those involving Abdul Qadeer Khan (see Late February 1999), her real focus was Iran, though her team would have come into contact with Khan’s black market network during the course of its work on Iran’s nuclear program. Khan’s network is believed to have been the primary source of Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts. The officials refuse to identify the specifics of Plame Wilson’s work, but do say that her exposure resulted in “severe” damage to her team and significantly hampered the CIA’s ability to monitor nuclear proliferation. [Raw Story, 2/13/2006] The officials also say that the CIA conducted an “aggressive” in-house assessment of the damage caused by Plame Wilson’s exposure shortly after the White House leaked her identity to the press, and found the damage done by the leak “severe” (see Before September 16, 2003).
The progressive Internet news site Washington Note writes a follow-up to the day’s revelation that the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a covert CIA agent caused heavy damage to the CIA’s ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear weapons program (see February 13, 2006). The Note reports that, according to its source, Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, included information about Iran’s nuclear program in the report from his 2002 trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and March 4-5, 2002). Note reporter Steve Clemons says he cannot be sure of the accuracy of the claim, “so please take the following with a grain of salt until further sourced.” Clemons describes his source as “[s]omeone with knowledge of the classified report that Joe Wilson ‘orally’ filed after his now famed investigative trip to Niger.” Wilson allegedly included two notes in his debriefing that related to Iran and its possible activities in Niger. Clemons writes that “various intelligence sources” speculate that if Iran was indeed attempting to acquire Nigerien uranium, it would be to avoid “the international intelligence monitoring of Iran’s domestic mining operations.” Wilson, according to the source, may have reported that Iran, not Iraq, tried to acquire 400 to 500 tons of Nigerien uranium (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001). Clemons writes that the notes from Wilson’s Niger debriefing have been destroyed, making it much harder to verify the claims. [Washington Note, 2/13/2006]
Former National Security Agency (NSA) intelligence analyst and current whistleblower Russell Tice tells the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations that he worries about what he calls a “special access” electronic surveillance program that is far more wide-ranging than the warrantless wiretapping recently exposed by the New York Times. However, Tice says he is forbidden by law to reveal specifics of the program to Congress. Tice says he believes the program violates the Constitution’s protection against unlawful search and seizures, but for him to discuss it with anyone in Congress or even with the NSA’s inspector general would violate classification laws. A spokesman for Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) says both Kucinich and committee chairman Christopher Shays (R-CT) believe that a few members of the Armed Services Committee have high enough security clearances for Tice’s information: “Congressman Kucinich wants Congressman Shays to hold a hearing [on the program]. Obviously it would have to take place in some kind of a closed hearing. But Congress has a role to play in oversight. The [Bush] administration does not get to decide what Congress can and can not hear.” In January 2006, it emerged Tice was one of the sources for the New York Times’s revelation that the NSA is engaged in possibly illegal wiretapping of American civilians as part of the war on terror (see January 10, 2006). Tice was fired from the NSA in 2005 and labeled “paranoid,” a classification Tice says was pasted on him in retaliation for his whistleblowing both inside the agency and to the public (see January 25-26, 2006). [United Press International, 2/14/2006] Author James Bamford, an expert on US intelligence, says, “The congressional intelligence committees have lost total control over the intelligence communities. You can’t get any oversight or checks and balances; the Congress is protecting the White House and the White House can do whatever it wants.” [In These Times, 5/15/2006]
Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) says that he is in contact with people who are still able to do data mining on pre-9/11 data, and, in “those data runs that are now being done today, in spite of what DOD [Department of Defense] said, I have 13 hits on Mohamed Atta.” He also says that additional Able Danger material continues to be found in Pentagon files, and that in early February, a general was present as Able Danger was recovered from filing cabinets. This came from the early 2000 version of Able Danger that supposedly had all of its data destroyed by Erik Kleinsmith. Weldon also claims, “At least one additional witness has come forward who just retired from one of the intelligence agencies, who will also testify under oath that he was well aware of and identified Mohamed Atta’s both name and photo prior to 9/11 occurring.” The Defense Department claims to have performed recent data mining on pre-9/11 data and failed to find Mohamed Atta’s name. A Defense Department official also says one day after Weldon’s claims: “It is true that in the course of this more recent review, we have indeed unearthed additional documents related to Able Danger. These documents were found, I must say, with some considerable effort, only because they were filed and misfiled and in a place where they weren’t easily gotten to, not because they were being hidden.” [Associated Press, 2/14/2006; CNS News, 2/15/2006; US Congress, 2/15/2006]
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]
The US interagency National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) maintains a watch list of 325,000 names of international terrorism suspects, a number that has more than quadrupled since the the list was created in 2003 by merging other watch lists together. NCTC officials estimate that, due to aliases, some 200,000 individuals are represented on the list. The main US watch list at the time of 9/11 had 60,000 names on it (see December 11, 1999). An administration official says, “The vast majority are non-US persons and do not live in the US.” However, officials refuse to state how many on the list are US citizens and how many names on the list were obtained through the controversial wiretapping program run by the National Security Agency (NSA). Civil liberties and privacy advocates claim that the scale of the list heightens their concerns that watch lists include the names of large numbers of innocent people. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that he cannot discuss specifics but says, “Information is collected, information is retained, and information disseminated in a way to protect the privacy interests of all Americans.” A September 2003 presidential directive instructs agencies to supply data for the list only about people who are “known or appropriately suspected to be… engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism.” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the scope of the NCTC list highlights the “false positive” problem, in which innocent people have been stopped from flying because their names are wrongly included or are similar to suspects’ names. “If there are that many people on the list, a lot of them probably shouldn’t be there. But how are they ever going to get off?” [Washington Post, 2/15/2006] Numerous problems with the list will be found in 2006 (see March 2006).
A second open Congressional hearing on Able Danger is held. Deputy Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone testifies that an extensive review of Able Danger under his direction failed to locate the chart with Mohamed Atta’s picture and failed to find any other pre-9/11 references to Atta. Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) repeatedly spars with Cambone, and says that since 9/11, “There’s been no investigation! There’s been no analysis [of Able Danger] by the 9/11 commission or anyone else.” Three members of the Able Danger team, Eric Kleinsmith, Anthony Shaffer, and James D. Smith, testify in public. All three of them say that the 9/11 attacks might have been prevented if law-enforcement agencies had acted on the information about al-Qaeda they discovered. The three of them had been prevented from testifying in the first public hearings on Able Danger in September 2005 (see September 21, 2005). [Sacramento Bee, 2/15/2006] Captain Scott Phillpott, the former head of Able Danger, apparently joins other former team members in closed testimony. [McClatchy News Service, 2/15/2006] The Congressional committee asked 9/11 Commission staff member Dietrich Snell to testify. But Snell’s boss, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, said that Snell would not be available. Weldon has said he wants to ask Snell under oath why Snell did not inform any of the 9/11 Commissioners what he had learned about Able Danger. [US Congress, 2/15/2006]
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]
Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking minority member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, writes a letter to John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, regarding his belief that author and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward revealed classified and potentially damaging information in his 2004 book, Plan of Attack. Rockefeller writes, “According to [Woodward’s] account, he was provided information related to sources and methods, extremely sensitive covert actions, and foreign intelligence liaison services.” Rockefeller is as yet unaware that Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the then-chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was authorized by President Bush to reveal such information (see April 5, 2006). Two former government officials confirm to reporter Murray Waas that Woodward’s book contains information that has not been made public. The information was provided by the White House in an attempt to bolster its argument that Iraq had WMD, and most of it was later found unreliable. One former senior official says, “The information was never presented to the public because it was bunk in the first place.” Rockefeller writes: “I [previously] wrote both former Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) George Tenet and Acting DCI John McLaughlin seeking to determine what steps were being taken to address the appalling disclosures in [Woodward’s book]. The only response that I received was to indicate that the leaks had been authorized by the administration.” [National Journal, 4/6/2006]
The Lewis Libby defense team files a rejoinder to the special counsel’s request that the team not be granted access to classified White House documents (see February 16, 2006). Libby’s lawyers call the request “entirely unconvincing” and based on “phantom concerns” over executive privilege, “graymail” (see After October 28, 2005, January 31, 2006, February 6, 2006, and (February 16, 2006)), and “illusory grand jury secrecy interests.” The motion requests that all documents previously requested be provided to the defense by the special counsel. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 2/21/2006 ; Jurist, 2/22/2006] “Denying Mr. Libby’s requests because they pertain to ‘extraordinarily sensitive’ documents would have the effect of penalizing Mr. Libby for serving in a position that required him to address urgent national security matters every day,” Libby’s lawyers write. Responding to the accusations of “graymail,” they write, “The government’s ‘greymail’ accusation is not only false, but insulting.” [Associated Press, 2/22/2006] One of Libby’s lawyers, Theodore Wells, files a separate affidavit in support of the team’s motion. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 2/21/2006 ]
US Army Major General Rick Lynch speaks to reporters in Baghdad and claims that there was no warning in advance about a possible attack on the “Golden Mosque” in Samarrah. This directly contradicts claims from internal Iraqi government sources that say the national security ministry sent a warning to the Iraqi government about a breach of security at the mosque weeks before the bombing occurred (see Early February 2006). [Washington File, 2/23/2003]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Defense Department documents showing that senior Pentagon officials approved harsh interrogation techniques that FBI agents termed abusive, ineffective, and unlawful. “We now possess overwhelming evidence that political and military leaders endorsed interrogation methods that violate both domestic and international law,” according to ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer. “It is entirely unacceptable that no senior official has been held accountable.” One document shows that FBI personnel at Guantanamo questioned harsh methods being used by military interrogators (see May 30, 2003). Another shows that senior Pentagon officials approved interrogation methods considered abusive by FBI agents (see May 5, 2004). The ACLU says that, combined with a memo from Navy general counsel Alberto Mora (see January 15-22, 2003), evidence “show[s] conclusively that Pentagon officials at the highest levels authorized the abuse of prisoners and persisted in their endorsement of unlawful interrogation methods even after FBI and Navy personnel objected to those methods orally and in writing.” The documents released by the ACLU also show that interrogators from the Department of Homeland Security identified themselves as FBI agents while using harsh methods against detainees. One FBI memo observed, “The next time a real agent tries to talk to that guy, you can imagine the result.” The documents also show that while FBI agents expressed concern about the harsh interrogation methods being employed by military and other interrogators, the FBI itself did little to counter such tactics (see January 24, 2004). [American Civil Liberties Union, 2/23/2006]
In a court hearing, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald argues that Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a covert CIA official (see Fall 1992 - 1996) is irrelevant to the perjury charges pending against former White House official Lewis Libby (see October 28, 2005). “We’re trying a perjury case,” Fitzgerald tells Judge Reggie Walton. Even if Plame Wilson had never worked for the CIA at all, Fitzgerald continues, even if she had been simply mistaken for a CIA agent, the charges against Libby would still stand. Furthermore, Fitzgerald tells Walton, he does not intend to offer “any proof of actual damage” caused by the disclosure of Plame Wilson’s identity. Libby’s defense lawyer Theodore Wells objects to Fitzgerald’s statement, saying that in the actual trial, Fitzgerald will likely tell the jury that the leak of Plame Wilson’s identity either damaged or could have damaged the CIA’s ability to gather critical intelligence (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, and February 13, 2006). Wells says he may call either Plame Wilson, her husband Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), or both to testify in the case, as well as CIA employees. “I might call Ms. Wilson” to testify, he says. “I might call her husband. There are going to be CIA employees as witnesses in this.… Was she just classified because some bureaucracy didn’t declassify her five years ago when they should have?” Wells asks if Plame Wilson may have been “classified based on a piece of paper.” One anonymous source tells a National Review columnist: “She was definitely undercover by agency standards at the time in question. That was a classified bit of information, and is sufficient as far as the agency is concerned to bring it to the attention of the Justice Department. You can argue whether she should have been, but as far as the agency was concerned it was classified.” [National Review, 2/27/2006] In his statement to the court, Fitzgerald notes: “[T]he issue is whether [Libby] knowingly lied or not. And if there is information about actual damage, whatever was caused or not caused that isn’t in his mind, it is not a defense. If she turned out to be a postal driver mistaken for a CIA employee, it’s not a defense if you lie in a grand jury under oath about what you said and you told people, ‘I didn’t know he had a wife.’ That is what this case is about. It is about perjury, if he knowingly lied or not.” [Truthout (.org), 3/18/2006]
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).
Entity Tags: Wendell Belew, Suliman al-Buthe, Taliban, Washington Post, United Nations, Saudi National Commission for Relief and Charity Work Abroad, US Department of the Treasury, National Security Agency, Thomas Nelson, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, Al-Qaeda, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (Oregon branch), Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Asim Ghafoor, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Ronald Neumann. [Source: US State Department]The Taliban carry out their largest offensive in Afghanistan since 2001. Suicide bombings increase four-fold to 141 and roadside bombings double (see 2004-2007). 191 US and NATO soldiers die in 2006, making it nearly as statistically dangerous to fight in Afghanistan as in Iraq. But US assistance to Afghanistan drops 38 percent from $4.3 billion in 2005 to $3.1 billion in 2006. Ronald Neumann, US ambassador to Afghanistan, argued against the cut. He also warns in a February 2006 cable to his superiors that the Taliban is planning a strong spring offensive. Afghan president Hamid Karzai and some US military officials make similar warnings. But despite such warnings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will later say, “There was no doubt that people were surprised that the Taliban was able to regroup and come back in a large, well-organized force.” The US will boost aid to $9 billion in 2007 in response to the offensive. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
Several problems with the US international no-fly list, which is designed to prevent suspected terrorists from flying to the US, are found by investigative reporters Joe and Susan Trento. The list has grown rapidly since 2003 (see February 15, 2006), and was found to be inaccurate in 2005 (see June 14, 2005).
The list contains the names of fourteen 9/11 hijackers, who are thought to be dead (see March 2006).
The list deliberately omits the names of some known terrorists, apparently so that intelligence agencies can track them as they fly (see May 2006).
The information on the list makes it difficult to distinguish between people with similar names. For example, FBI special agent John E. Lewis is often stopped, as a suspected terrorist has a similar name to his. Several people called Robert Johnson are stopped regularly.
The list includes Francois Genoud, who had ties to both Islamic extremists and the Nazis and committed suicide in the mid-1990s at the age of 81.
The list only includes two people involved in the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring; dozens of their associates are omitted.
Numerous anti-Castro Cubans with records of suspicious and criminal activity are missing from the list.
However, left-wing Bolivian president Evo Morales is on the list.
A high-level official at United Airlines calls the list “a joke.” A Transportation Security Administration official says: “No-fly doesn’t protect anyone. It is every government agency’s cover-your-ass list of names. Many of the really bad guys are never put on the list because the intelligence people think the airlines are not trustworthy. That makes the incomplete list we give the airlines next to worthless.” [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 188-221; CBS News, 6/10/2006] The list will be reported to have over half a million names by June 2007 (see June 13, 2007).
When journalists Joe and Susan Trento obtain a copy of the US international no-fly list, which the Transportation Security Administration uses to prevent known terrorists from flying to the US and other countries, they find that 14 of the alleged 9/11 hijackers are still on it. They are: Satam Al Suqami, Waleed Alshehri, Wail Alshehri, Abdulaziz Alomari, Hamza Alghamdi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Ahmed Alghamdi, Mohand Alshehri, Majed Moqed, Hani Hanjour, Salem Alhazmi, Saeed Alghamdi, Ahmed Alnami, and Ahmed Alhaznawi. Shortly after 9/11, it was reported that some of the hijackers were still alive (see September 16-23, 2001) and this may be the reason for the apparent error, although the set of hijackers reported to be still alive and the set of 14 hijackers still on the no-fly list only partially overlap. [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 189-192] The no-fly list also contains manifold problems and at least one other dead terrorist is on it (see March 2006).
Entity Tags: Salem Alhazmi, Satam Al Suqami, Wail Alshehri, Waleed Alshehri, Susan Trento, Mohand Alshehri, Saeed Alghamdi, Joseph Trento, Majed Moqed, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Abdulaziz Alomari, Ahmed Alnami, Hamza Alghamdi, Hani Hanjour, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Ahmed Alghamdi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Sam Karmilowicz, a former security officer at the US embassy in Manila, suggests in an interview with CounterPunch magazine, that US intelligence may have failed to properly follow leads in a counterterrorism case because of a potential link to Pakistani intelligence. In September 1994, Karmilowicz allegedly received information that a Pakistani businessman with possible ties to the ISI was part of a plot to assassinate President Clinton during his November 1994 visit to Manila (see September 18-November 14, 1994). An interagency US security team that was tasked with investigating the tip ended its investigation after only a few weeks. “My experience in the Philippines shows the US government has compartmentalized information… in order to cover-up its gross incompetence or its complicity in illegal and questionable activities conducted by, or against, foreign powers,” Karmilowicz says. [CounterPunch, 3/9/2006]
Rayed Abdullah. [Source: Scoop]Rayed Abdullah, an associate of hijacker pilot Hani Hanjour (see October 1996-December 1997 and October 1996-Late April 1999), enters New Zealand despite being on the watch list there and takes further pilot training. The New Zealand government claims it only ascertains his real identity after he has been in the country several months. Abdullah is then arrested and deported to Saudi Arabia, even though he was traveling on a Yemeni passport. [Associated Press, 6/9/2006; New Zealand Herald, 6/10/2006] However, FBI agents and CIA officers later say that the US released Abdullah after 9/11 in an attempt to use him to spy on al-Qaeda for Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency. The CIA ensures he is allowed into New Zealand as a part of a joint operation. However, the New Zealanders get cold feet when Abdullah starts flight training again. A CIA official will say: “[W]e know if Rayed was part of the [9/11] plot, someone in al-Qaeda will reach out for him, and we have a chance of making that connection.” An FBI official will comment: “The amazing thing is the CIA convinced itself that by getting [Abdullah] tossed out of New Zealand, he would then be trusted and acceptable to Saudi intelligence and useful in al-Qaeda operations. For this tiny chance of success they put passengers at risk to enter into a partnership with Saudi intelligence.” [Stories that Matter, 10/9/2006]
The CIA refuses to release a raft of classified agency documents requested by the Lewis Libby defense team (see January 31, 2006 and February 27, 2006). Meeting the Libby team’s request, CIA spokeswoman Marilyn Dorn says in a court filing, would “impose an enormous burden” and divert CIA analysts from more important tasks. To compile and provide those documents, Dorn says, would take around nine months. Libby’s lawyers say the CIA is exaggerating the difficulty of finding and releasing the documents, calling the argument “astonishing,” but also scale back their requests in hopes that Judge Reggie Walton will compel the agency to comply with the document demands. Some of the information originally requested includes CIA copies of the Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs) from an 11-month period in 2003 and 2004. Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has accused the Libby team of engaging in “graymail” (see (February 16, 2006)), demanding unobtainable classified government documents in order to shut down the prosecution. Libby’s team has called that accusation “not only false but insulting” (see February 6, 2006). Libby’s lawyers now say they will be satisfied with the PDBs provided to Vice President Dick Cheney. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/2/2006 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/7/2006 ; Washington Post, 3/8/2006]
Zacarias Moussaoui. [Source: WNBC / Jonathan Deinst]Zacarias Moussaoui becomes the first and only person charged in direct connection with the 9/11 attacks to stand trial in the US. [Associated Press, 3/17/2006] He was preparing to hijack an aircraft and fly it into a target when he was arrested 26 days before 9/11 (see August 16, 2001 and April 22, 2005). Although there has been disagreement whether Moussaoui was to take part in the actual attack of 9/11 or a follow-up plot (see January 30, 2003), the prosecution alleges that Moussaoui had information related to the attacks (see August 16, 2001) and facilitated them by lying and not disclosing everything he knew to the FBI. He is charged with six counts, including conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism and conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 12/11/2001 ] The trial receives much media coverage and the highlights include the playing of United 93’s cockpit recorder (see April 12, 2006), a row over a government lawyer coaching witnesses (see March 13, 2006), and testimony by FBI agent Harry Samit (see March 9 and 20, 2006), former FBI assistant director Michael Rolince (see March 21, 2006), and Moussaoui himself (see March 27, 2006).
Moussaoui is forced to wear a stun belt, controlled by one of the marshalls, under his jumpsuit. The belt is to be used if Moussaoui lunges at a trial participant. [New York Times, 4/17/2006] He has already pleaded guilty (see April 22, 2005) and the trial is divided into two phases; in the first phase the jury decides that Moussaoui is eligible for the death penalty, but in the second phase it fails to achieve unanimity on whether Moussaoui should be executed (see May 3, 2006). [Associated Press, 4/3/2006; New York Times, 4/17/2006]
Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee refuse to allow an inquiry into the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005 and December 18, 2005), with the committee voting 10-8 along party lines to reject such a probe. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) had advocated such a probe, but White House officials refused to cooperate with his committee, saying they would only cooperate via classified briefings to the Intelligence Committee. However, committee Republicans, led by chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), have no intention of allowing such an inquiry. Roberts and his fellows say they will push to impose limitations on the program. Committee Democrats accuse their Republican colleagues of colluding with the administration to block the inquiry. “The committee is, to put it bluntly, is basically under the control of the White House,” says ranking committee member John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). “You can’t legislate properly unless you know what’s going on.” The Republicans have left Congress to “legislate in darkness and ignorance,” he says. Republicans say that a new, select subcommittee will increase oversight of the administration’s wiretapping. “It provides for a case-by-case examination and oversight by the United States Congress,” says Mike DeWine (R-OH), who is helping draft the bill for the new oversight subcommittee. “It will be very consistent with what our constitutional obligations are.” DeWine’s bill would allow the administration to ignore restrictions on wiretapping merely by invoking national security, and would not allow the committee to intervene even in clearly unjustified cases of wiretapping. “The White House could just decide not to tell them everything, and there’s no sanction,” says Bruce Fein, a former Reagan administration lawyer. “And the president can still claim that he has inherent power to conduct surveillance.” The bill is “extremely generous to the president,” says conservative law professor Douglas Kmiec. “It is not significantly different from the status quo. And I think the president would be quite delighted by that.” [Boston Globe, 3/8/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 204]
President Bush signs the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 into law. The bill, which extends and modifies the original USA Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001), was driven through Congress primarily by the Republican majorities in both Houses. However, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) cosponsored the Senate bill, numerous Democrats in both Houses voted with the Republicans in favor of the bill, and the final bill sailed through the Senate by an 89-10 vote on March 2. [GovTrack, 3/9/2006; Library of Congress, 3/9/2006] In the signing ceremony, Bush calls the Reauthorization Act “a really important piece of legislation… that’s vital to win the war on terror and to protect the American people.” He repeatedly evokes the 9/11 attacks as a reason why the new law is needed. [Government Printing Office, 3/9/2006]
Provisions for Oversight Added - One of the reasons why the reauthorization bill received such support from Congressional moderates on both sides of the aisle is because Congress added numerous provisions for judicial and Congressional oversight of how government and law enforcement agencies conduct investigations, especially against US citizens. Representative Butch Otter (R-ID) said in 2004 that Congress came “a long way in two years, and we’ve really brought an awareness to the Patriot Act and its overreaches that we gave to law enforcement.” He adds, “We’ve also quieted any idea of Patriot II, even though they snuck some of Patriot II in on the intelligence bill” (see February 7, 2003). [Associated Press, 1/23/2004]
Opposition From Both Sides - Liberal and conservative organizations joined together in unprecedented cooperation to oppose several key provisions of the original reauthorization and expansion of the Patriot Act, including easing of restrictions on government and law enforcement agencies in obtaining financial records of individuals and businesses, “sneak-and-peek” searches without court warrants or the target’s knowledge, and its “overbroad” definition of the term “terrorist.” Additionally, lawmakers in Congress insisted on expiration dates for the various surveillance and wiretapping methodologies employed by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies (see Early 2002). [Associated Press, 5/23/2005] The final bill mandates that anyone subpoenaed for information regarding terrorist investigations has the right to challenge the requirement that they not reveal anything about the subpoena, those recipients will not be required to tell the FBI the name of their lawyer, and libraries that are not Internet service providers will not be subject to demands from “national security letters” for information about their patrons. Many of the bill’s provisions will expire in four years. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/3/2006]
Reauthorizing Original Provisions - The bill does reauthorize many expiring provisions of the original Patriot Act, including one that allows federal officials to obtain “tangible items,” such as business records from libraries and bookstores, in connection with foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations. Port security provisions are strengthened, and restrictions on the sale of over-the-counter cold and allergy medicine that can be used in the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine are imposed, forcing individuals to register their purchases of such medicines and limiting the amounts they can buy. [CBS News, 3/9/2006]
Bush Signing Statement Says He Will Ignore Oversight Mandates - But when he signs the bill into law, Bush also issues a signing statement that says he has no intention of obeying mandates that enjoin the White House and the Justice Department to inform Congress about how the FBI is using its new powers under the bill. Bush writes that he is not bound to tell Congress how the new Patriot Act powers are being used, and in spite of what the law requires, he can and will withhold information if he decides that such disclosure may “impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative process of the executive, or the performance of the executive’s constitutional duties.” [Statement on Signing the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act, 3/9/2006; Boston Globe, 3/24/2006] Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says that Bush’s assertion that he can ignore provisions of the law as he pleases, under the so-called “unitary executive” theory, are “nothing short of a radical effort to manipulate the constitutional separation of powers and evade accountability and responsibility for following the law.” Law professor David Golove says the statement is illustrative of the Bush administration’s “mind-bogglingly expansive conception” of executive power, and its low regard for legislative power. [Boston Globe, 3/24/2006] Author and legal expert Jennifer Van Bergen warns of Bush using this signing statement to avoid accountability about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, writing: “[I]t is becoming clearer every day that Bush has no qualms about violating either international laws and obligations or domestic laws. The recent revelations about the secret NSA domestic surveillance program revealed Bush flagrantly violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which was specifically enacted to prevent unchecked executive branch surveillance. … His signing statements, thus, are nothing short of an attempt to change the very face of our government and our country.” [Institute for Public Accuracy, 3/27/2006]
Request to Rescind Signing Statement - In late March, Democratic House members Jane Harman and John Conyers will write to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales requesting that the administration rescind the signing statement, writing: “As you know, ‘signing statements’ do not have the force of law. Legislation passed by both Houses and signed by the president does. As Article 1, Section 7, of the Constitution states: ‘Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it.’” Bush and Gonzales will ignore the request. [US House of Representatives, 3/29/2006]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, David Golove, Alberto R. Gonzales, Butch Otter, Dianne Feinstein, Patrick J. Leahy, USA Patriot Act, John Conyers, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Jennifer Van Bergen, Jane Harman, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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