As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Nobody Could Have Predicted

The warrantless wiretapping program collected information through far more than warrantless wiretapping.

A new internal government report says President George W. Bush authorized secret intelligence activities shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that went beyond wiretapping without court orders.

Details of those activities remain classified, but are referred to in the newly released report as the President's Surveillance Program.

Practically everyone in the Bush Administration associated with this program, including John Ashcroft, George Tenet, Andrew Card, David Addington and John Yoo, all declined to be interviewed by the Inspectors General for this report. One of the only on-the-record sources for this report is cheerleader Michael Hayden, who as NSA Director when this program was enacted thinks it stopped multiple terrorist attacks (how reliable a narrator is he, really?). As a result we get a pretty murky picture of what exactly happened, with the additional intelligence gathering still classified, and each Inspector General working on the report hitting a wall of difficulty at assessing the effectiveness or even scope of the program. NSA talks it up, CIA wasn't read into the system (although, as Spencer Ackerman reports, they had a deeper role than at first thought), DoJ couldn't really asses it, the Director of National Intelligence has less of a clear idea as well.

There is this, from the report:

The DOJ OIG review concluded that several considerations favored initiating the process of transitioning the PSP (President's Surveillance Program) to FISA authority earlier than had been done, especially as the program became less a temporary response to the September 11 terrorist attacks and more a permanent surveillance tool (emphasis mine). These considerations included the PSP's effect on privacy interests of US persons, the instability of the legal reasoning on which the program rested for several years, and the substantial restrictions placed on FBI agents' access to and use of program-derived information due to the highly classified status of the PSP.

If I had to guess, I'd say all this mystery was intentional. Nobody really knew what was going on with the intelligence-gathering capabilities of the NSA, by design. The only ones who knew directed the policy, and they aren't talking. After the fact they desperately tried to keep the scope of the program a secret. The bottom line is that we still do not know the nature of the program, even after this IG report. Incidentally one Senator who voted for the FISA Amendments Act, which indemnified the telecoms and expanded the intelligence-gathering capabilities under FISA, said that as a consolation to civil libertarians, at least we would get a full accounting of the Bush-era program through this investigation.

His name was Barack Obama.


The Bush administration called its warrantless surveillance efforts “very, very important to protect the national security of this country,” in the words of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in 2005. Today’s Inspectors General report on the President’s Surveillance Program doesn’t really substantiate that assessment. “[M]ost PSP leads were determined not to have any connection to terrorism,” according to the Justice Department’s inspector general.

Former Bush administration officials gave the generic statement that the PSP was “of value,” to quote FBI Director Robert Mueller’s rather conspicuously understated judgment. But there’s no evidence given in the report about valuable contributions that the PSP uniquely provided to the counterterrorism fight, even when conceding that most of that stuff is classified.

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