Archive for the ‘NSA’ Category

NSA Spying: What Did Pelosi Know? By Ray McGovern

October 17, 2007

NSA Spying: What Did Pelosi Know? By Ray McGovern

Dandelion Salad

By Ray McGovern
Consortium News
October 15, 2007

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has admitted knowing for several years about the Bush administration’s eavesdropping on Americans without a court warrant. She said she was briefed on it when she was ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. But was she told that the illegal surveillance began well before 9/11?

Referring to her briefing in an apologia-sans-apology Washington Post op-ed on Jan. 15, 2006, she wrote: “This is how I came to be informed of President Bush’s authorization for the NSA to conduct certain types of surveillance.”

Demonstrating her unconstitutionally subservient attitude toward the Executive Branch, Pelosi wrote:

“But when the administration notifies Congress in this manner, it is not seeking approval. There is a clear expectation that the information will be shared by no one, including other members of the intelligence committees. As a result, only a few members of Congress were aware of the president’s surveillance program, and they were constrained from discussing it more widely.”

How did the American people react upon learning in December 2005 of this glaring infringement on their Constitutional rights. Most reacted as they have been conditioned to act—out of the old fear-factor shibboleth: “After 9/11/2001, everything changed.”

Yes, just as after 2/27/1933, the night of the burning of the German Parliament (Reichstag) in Berlin, everything changed.

As a German attorney there at the time put it:

“What one can blame them [German politicians and populace] for, and what shows their terrible collective weakness of character, is that this settled the matter. With sheepish submissiveness the German people accepted that, as a result of the fire, each one of them lost what little personal freedom and dignity was guaranteed by the Constitution; as though it followed as a necessary consequence. If the Communists burned down the Reichstag, it was perfectly in order that the government took ‘decisive measures.’” [Defying Hitler, A Memoir, by Sebastian Haffner, p. 121]

And if the terrorists attacked on 9/11, it was perfectly in order that the Bush administration took “decisive measures”—Patriot Act and illegal measures. In reaction to the PR offensive to manipulate and exploit the trauma we all felt from 9/11, far too many of our politicians and fellow citizens exhibited sheepish submissiveness.

Pre-9/11 Spying

Now we learn that it is even worse. The eavesdropping abuses began as soon as the Bush administration came into office — WELL BEFORE 9/11.

In recent days, thanks to an enterprising reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, we learned that the president, vice president, and CIA director—not to mention the credulous crowd around Nancy Pelosi—have all been regurgitating a king-sized whopper aimed at providing “justification” for the National Security Agency program.

The White House PR folks made this easy by retroactively applying a clever label to the program: the “Terrorist Surveillance Program.” Nothing to fear, folks, unless you’re telephoning or e-mailing Osama bin-Laden.

Whopper? Well yes. It turns out that seven months before the threat of terrorism got President George W. Bush’s attention (despite the best efforts of then-counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke to install it on everyone’s screen-saver, so to speak), the administration instructed NSA to suborn American telecommunications companies to spy illegally on Americans.

The general counsel of Qwest Communications advised management that what NSA was suggesting was illegal. And to his credit, the head of the company at that time stuck to a firm “No,” unless some way were found to perform legally what NSA wanted done.

Qwest’s rivals, though, took their cue from the White House, and adopted a flexible attitude toward the law—and got the business. They are now being sued. Lawsuit filings claim that, seven months before 9/11, AT&T “began development of a center for monitoring long-distance calls and Internet transmissions and other digital information for the exclusive use of the NSA.”

Adding insult to injury, draft legislation now being pushed by the White House would hold AT&T and other collaborators harmless for playing fast and loose with our right to privacy in order to enhance their bottom line.

For its principled but, in government eyes, recalcitrant attitude, Qwest indicates that it lost out on lucrative government contracts.

Yes, BEFORE 9/11.

These illegal operations were enabled by Michael Hayden, then head of NSA and now head of CIA. Despite this history, Hayden has been out front “justifying” the illegal eavesdropping by citing what happened on 9/11.

Did he know the warrantless domestic spying was illegal? That one is a no-brainer. While at NSA, Hayden emphasized what was known as NSA’s First Commandment: “Thou Shalt Not Eavesdrop on Americans.”

When an unauthorized disclosure revealed the program to the press in late 2005, Hayden agreed to play point man with smoke and mirrors to conceal the full story. Small wonder that the White House later deemed him the perfect man to head the CIA.

Martinet

In testimony at his CIA confirmation hearings in May 2006, Hayden said that in the wake of 9/11 he “could not not do” what the president dubbed the “Terrorist Surveillance Program.”

A whiff of conscience showed through his nomination hearing, though, when he flubbed the answer to a soft-pitch from administration loyalist, Sen. Kit Bond, R-Missouri:

“Did you believe that your primary responsibility as director of NSA was to execute a program that your NSA lawyers, the Justice Department lawyers, and White House officials all told you was legal and that you were ordered to carry it out by the president of the United States?”

Instead of the simple “Yes” that was in the script, Hayden paused and spoke rather poignantly—and revealingly: “I had to make this personal decision in early October 2001, and it was a personal decision…I could not not do this.”

Why should it be such an enormous personal decision whether or not to obey a White House order? No one asked Hayden, but it requires no particular acuity to figure it out.

This is a military officer who, like the rest of us, had sworn to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; a military man well aware one must never obey an unlawful order.

President Bush assured us on Jan. 23, 2006, “I had all kinds of lawyers review the process.” Seems so. The same ones who were at the same time devising ways to “legalize” torture and indefinite detention without due process.

No American, save perhaps Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, who was present at the creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (and who has said the eavesdropping program is illegal), knew FISA better than Hayden.

Nonetheless, Hayden conceded that he did not even require a written legal opinion to satisfy himself that the surveillance program, to be implemented without warrant and without adequate consultation in Congress, could pass the smell test.

Small wonder that one of Hayden’s predecessors as NSA director, upon learning what Hayden had agreed to do, said angrily, “He ought to be court-martialed.”

And who was the NSA general counsel at the time? It appears to have been one Robert L. Deitz, who is now a “trusted aide” to CIA Director Hayden. Deitz has just been launched on an investigation of the CIA Inspector General, who apparently made the mistake of being too honest in investigating abuses like torture. Remarkable. [NYT, Oct. 11, 2007]

Where Was Congress?

What was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi doing all this time?

When the illegal eavesdropping was exposed, many asked why the administration did not simply go to Congress to secure changes in the already flexible FISA law, if such were needed. In an unguarded moment at a press conference on Dec. 19, 2005, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales let slip that the administration did take soundings in Congress:

“This is not a backdoor approach. We believe Congress has authorized this kind of surveillance. We have had discussions with Congress in the past – certain members of Congress – as to whether or not FISA could be amended to allow us to adequately deal with this kind of threat, and we were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible.”

Were you one of those with whom Gonzales had discussions, Nancy?

Either way you were woefully derelict in your duty. Either they told you or they didn’t. Either way you come off as no leader.

Time to fish or cut bait. Assuming the Bush regime did not inform you regarding eavesdropping on Americans before 9/11, do not any longer cover up for the White House. Rather, these crimes demand impeachment.

If they did keep you fully informed and, out of obeisance to the executive branch you acquiesced and said nothing, you should lay down your duties as House leader, examine your conscience, and consider resigning.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer from 1962-64, and then a CIA analyst for 27 years. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

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Stampeding Congress, Again

August 3, 2007

August 3, 2007

Editorial (NYT)

Stampeding Congress, Again

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration has repeatedly demonstrated that it does not feel bound by the law or the Constitution when it comes to the war on terror. It cannot even be trusted to properly use the enhanced powers it was legally granted after the attacks.

Yet, once again, President Bush has been trying to stampede Congress into a completely unnecessary expansion of his power to spy on Americans. And, hard as it is to believe, Congressional Republicans seem bent on collaborating, while Democrats (who can still be cowed by the White House’s with-us-or-against-us baiting) aren’t doing enough to stop it.

The fight is over the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires the government to obtain a warrant before eavesdropping on electronic communications that involve someone in the United States. The test is whether there is probable cause to believe that the person being communicated with is an agent of a foreign power or a terrorist.

Mr. Bush decided after 9/11 that he was no longer going to obey that law. He authorized the National Security Agency to intercept international telephone calls and e-mail messages of Americans and other residents of this country without a court order. He told the public nothing and Congress next to nothing about what he was doing, until The Times disclosed the spying in December 2005.

Ever since, the White House has tried to pressure Congress into legalizing Mr. Bush’s rogue operation. Most recently, it seized on a secret court ruling that spotlighted a technical way in which the 1978 law has not kept pace with the Internet era.

The government may freely monitor communications when both parties are outside the United States, but must get a warrant aimed at a specific person for communications that originate or end in this country. The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that the court that issues such warrants recently ruled that the law also requires that the government seek such an individualized warrant for purely foreign communications that, nevertheless, move through American data networks.

Instead of asking Congress to address this anachronism, as it should, the White House sought to use it to destroy the 1978 spying law. It proposed giving the attorney general carte blanche to order eavesdropping on any international telephone calls or e-mail messages if he decided on his own that there was a “reasonable belief” that the target of the surveillance was outside the United States. The attorney general’s decision would not be subject to court approval or any supervision.

The White House, of course, insisted that Congress must do this right away, before the August recess that begins on Monday — the same false urgency it used to manipulate Congress into passing the Patriot Act without reading it and approving the appalling Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Senator Jay Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, offered a sensible alternative law, as did his fellow Democrat, Senator Russ Feingold. In either case, the attorney general would be able to get a broad warrant to intercept foreign communications routed through American networks for a limited period. Then, he would have to justify the spying in court. This fix would have an expiration date so Congress could then dispassionately consider what permanent changes might be needed to FISA.

Congress was debating this issue yesterday, and the final outcome was unclear. But there are very clear lines that must not be crossed.

First, all electronic surveillance of communication that originates or ends in the United States must be subject to approval and review by the FISA court under the 1978 law. (That court, by the way, has rejected only one warrant in the last two years.)

Second, any measure Congress approves now must have a firm expiration date. Closed-door meetings under the pressure of a looming vacation are no place for such serious business.

The administration and its Republican supporters in Congress argue that American intelligence is blinded by FISA and have seized on neatly timed warnings of heightened terrorist activity to scare everyone. It is vital for Americans, especially lawmakers, to resist that argument. It is pure propaganda.

This is not, and has never been, a debate over whether the United States should conduct effective surveillance of terrorists and their supporters. It is over whether we are a nation ruled by law, or the whims of men in power. Mr. Bush faced that choice and made the wrong one. Congress must not follow him off the cliff.

NSA Spying Part of Broader Effort

August 2, 2007

NSA Spying Part of Broader Effort
Intelligence Chief Says Bush Authorized Secret Activities Under One Order
By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 1, 2007; A01

The Bush administration’s chief intelligence official said yesterday that President Bush authorized a series of secret surveillance activities under a single executive order in late 2001. The disclosure makes clear that a controversial National Security Agency program was part of a much broader operation than the president previously described.

The disclosure by Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, appears to be the first time that the administration has publicly acknowledged that Bush’s order included undisclosed activities beyond the warrantless surveillance of e-mails and phone calls that Bush confirmed in December 2005.

In a letter to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), McConnell wrote that the executive order following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks included “a number of . . . intelligence activities” and that a name routinely used by the administration — the Terrorist Surveillance Program — applied only to “one particular aspect of these activities, and nothing more.”

“This is the only aspect of the NSA activities that can be discussed publicly, because it is the only aspect of those various activities whose existence has been officially acknowledged,” McConnell said.

The program that Bush announced was put under a court’s supervision in January, but the administration now wants congressional approval to do much of the same surveillance without a court order.

McConnell’s letter was aimed at defending Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales from allegations by Democrats that he may have committed perjury by telling Congress that no legal objections were raised about the TSP. Gonzales said a legal fight in early 2004 was focused on “other intelligence activities” than those confirmed by Bush, but he never connected those to Bush’s executive order.

But in doing so, McConnell’s letter also underscored that the full scope of the NSA’s surveillance program under Bush’s order has not been revealed. The TSP described by Bush and his aides allowed the interception of communication between the United States and other countries where one party is believed to be tied to al-Qaeda, so other types of communication or data are presumably being collected under the parts of the wider NSA program that remain hidden.

News reports over the past 20 months have detailed a range of activities linked to the program, including the use of data mining to identify surveillance targets and the participation of telecommunication companies in turning over millions of phone records. The administration has not publicly confirmed such reports.

A spokesman for McConnell declined to elaborate on the letter. The Justice Department also declined to comment.

Specter was noncommittal yesterday on whether McConnell’s explanation resolved his questions about the accuracy of Gonzales’s previous testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Specter is the ranking Republican. Specter said he was waiting for a separate letter from the attorney general to provide additional clarification.

“If he doesn’t have a plausible explanation, then he hasn’t leveled with the committee,” Specter said on CNN. Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said that “the department will continue to work with Senator Specter to address his concerns” but declined to comment further.

McConnell’s letter leaves maneuvering room for both sides in the political fracas over whether Gonzales has been truthful in his testimony. On the one hand, the NSA was clearly engaged in activities that were distinct enough to require different “legal bases” authorizing their use, according to McConnell’s account.

“If you think about it technically, it is pretty clear that the NSA desk that does communications intercepts is separate from the desk that does data mining of call records,” said Kim Taipale, executive director of the Center for Advanced Studies in Science and Technology Policy, a New York-based nonprofit group. “Those are separate processes, and to think of them as separate programs is not a stretch.”

On the other hand, the activities were authorized under a single presidential order and were all part of an NSA effort to gather communications about suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11 attacks. That helps explain why many Democratic lawmakers and administration officials — including FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III — viewed the wiretapping as part of a larger NSA program, rather than a separate effort, as Gonzales’s testimony has suggested.

“Both sides have a legitimate case, if you want to be legalist about it,” Taipale said.

The 45-day reauthorization of a single presidential order was probably a “bureaucratic convenience” that eliminated the need to issue multiple authorizations, he added.

Kate Martin, executive director of the Center for National Security Studies, said the new disclosures show that Gonzales and other administration officials have “repeatedly misled the Congress and the American public” about the extent of NSA surveillance efforts.

“They have repeatedly tried to give the false impression that the surveillance was narrow and justified,” Martin said. “Why did it take accusations of perjury before the DNI disclosed that there is indeed other, presumably broader and more questionable, surveillance?”

Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), who was among a group of four Democratic senators who called last week for a perjury investigation of Gonzales, said: “The question of whether Attorney General Gonzales perjured himself looms as large now as it did before this letter.

“This letter is no vindication of the attorney general,” he said.

Staff writer Joby Warrick and staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.