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Context of 'January 19, 2009: Bush Administration Requests Stay in Judge’s Decision to Allow Lawsuit to Proceed'

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Former State Department official Marc Grossman, who has testified that he is one of the officials who divulged former CIA covert official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to former White House aide Lewis Libby (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), tells reporters that former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger (see March 4-5, 2002) had nothing to do with Plame Wilson being Wilson’s wife, as many of Libby’s defenders assert. Grossman wrote a memo detailing Wilson’s trip to Niger (see June 10, 2003) that was given to Libby and other White House officials. Grossman, speaking anonymously, says: “It wasn’t a Wilson-Wilson wife memo. It was a memo on uranium in Niger and focused principally on our [the State Department’s] disagreement” with the White House. The memo noted, erroneously, that Plame Wilson helped engineer Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003), but Grossman says it did not identify her as an undercover CIA agent, nor did it identify her as Valerie Plame, which was her maiden name and cover name at the CIA. Grossman says the fact that the CIA official and Wilson were a married couple was largely an incidental reference. (Associated Press 7/20/2005) Grossman will be revealed as the anonymous source who speaks to reporters at this time in April 2006. (Leopold 4/14/2006)

CIA official Robert Grenier, who in 2003 was the agency’s Iraq mission manager and who informed former White House official Lewis Libby that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA official (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), testifies about his knowledge of the Plame Wilson identity leak to the grand jury investigating it. (Marcy Wheeler 1/24/2007) Grenier has already testified to the FBI about his conversation with Libby (see December 10, 2003).

Douglas Dickerson.Douglas Dickerson. [Source: US Army]The Air Force’s Office of Special Investigation sends word to Sibel Edmonds’ attorney Mark Zaid that it is reopening the investigation into Edmonds’ former co-worker Melek Can Dickerson and her husband, Douglas Dickerson. Edmonds had warned her superiors in early 2002 that the couple was involved in espionage (see December 4, 2001). Journalist David Rose, who recently authored a lengthy piece on the Sibel Edmonds case for Vanity Fair magazine, believes the investigation may have been re-opened in part because of that article and because he submitted about 150 different questions about the case to the Air Force and other parts of the Pentagon, the Justice Department, and the FBI. (Democracy Now! 8/10/2005)

The Connecticut Four, from left to right: Janet Nocek, Peter Chase, George Christian, and Barbara Bailey.The Connecticut Four, from left to right: Janet Nocek, Peter Chase, George Christian, and Barbara Bailey. [Source: Robert Deutsch/ USA Today]A case filed against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales by four plaintiffs from Connecticut’s Library Connection, Inc.—George Christian, Barbara Bailey, Peter Chase, and Janet Nocek—goes to trial in federal district court (see July 13, 2005). The trial is filed as Doe v. Gonzales because the government has filed a gag order against the plaintiffs forbidding them from identifying themselves or discussing the case publicly. The case involves a demand for information from the FBI for information concerning library usage by patrons of a Connecticut library; the four plaintiffs, on behalf of their data management firm Library Connection, have refused. The case revolves around the use of a National Security Letter (NSL) by the FBI; the plaintiffs, with support from the American Civil Liberties Union, want the NSL voided, the gag order lifted, and such use of NSLs found unconstitutional. Christian and his three colleagues are not allowed to attend the hearings in person because of the possibility that they might be identified as the plaintiffs; they are forced to watch the proceedings on a closed-circuit broadcast from a locked room in the Hartford courthouse. When the judge in the proceeding asks to review the government’s evidence for keeping the gag rule in place, Justice Department lawyers insist on submitting secret evidence directly to the judge, without providing that evidence to the plaintiff’s lawyers. The judge is not pleased, and rules, as did her predecessor in New York, that a perpetual gag order amounts to prior restraint, and thereby is unconstitutional. She adds that her review of the secret evidence gives no national security rationale for keeping the plaintiffs gagged. The Justice Department immediately appeals the ruling, and the plaintiffs stay silent and gagged. While the four plaintiffs remain silent about the NSL and the court case, the Justice Department’s primary lawyer, Kevin O’Conner, does not: O’Conner has frequently debated one of the plaintiffs, Chase, about the Patriot Act, and though Chase is now required to remain silent, O’Conner continues to make frequent public appearances touting the Patriot Act. Christian later says, in 2007 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee (see April 11, 2007), that the continuing gag order causes the four “John Does” considerable professional and personal distress, especially after the national media begins reporting the story. The media eventually learns, through the careless redaction of information by government lawyers, of Chase’s identity as one of the four plaintiffs, and reveals that Library Connection is the firm involved in the lawsuit. Christian’s name comes to light shortly thereafter. The attorneys warn Christian and the others that even though their identities and their firm have been revealed, they still cannot comment at all on the case. Christian, for one, wants to testify before Congress in regards to the upcoming reauthorization of the Patriot Act (see March 9, 2006), but cannot. The four plaintiffs quickly become known in the media as the “Connecticut John Does” or the “Connecticut Four.”
Appeals Court - In November 2005, a New York court of appeals hears the case. Christian and his colleagues are allowed to be present at the case this time, but are required to conceal their identities by entering and leaving the court building separately, are not allowed to sit together, and are not allowed to confer with, or even make eye contact with, each other or their attorneys. The Justice Department lawyers argue that even revealing themselves as recipients of a NSL would violate national security, an argument refuted by submission of the raft of news articles identifying Christian, Chase, and Library Connection. The government argues that those news reports don’t matter because no one in Connecticut reads the primary newspaper carrying the story, the New York Times, and that surveys prove that most people don’t believe what they read in the news anyway. The Justice Department also tries to get the news articles to be kept under seal in court papers. Christian characterizes the entire proceeding as “absurd.” The court refuses to admit the plaintiff’s claim that 48 states, including Connecticut, have laws protecting the privacy of library patrons, but does admit into evidence the claims by Gonzales that there is no statutory justification for claims of privacy. In an attempt to get the gag order lifted before the Patriot Act reauthorization, the plaintiff’s attorneys make an emergency appeal directly to the Supreme Court, but are rebuffed. (Senate Judiciary Committee 4/11/2007) In June 2006, Nocek tells a reporter, “Imagine the government came to you with an order demanding that you compromise your professional and personal principles. Imagine then being permanently gagged from speaking to your friends, your family or your colleagues about this wrenching experience.… Under the Patriot Act, the FBI demanded Internet and library records without showing any evidence or suspicion of wrongdoing to a court of law. We were barred from speaking to anyone about the matter and we were even taking a risk by consulting with lawyers.” (Interview: George Christian 6/2/2006)
Gag Order Lifted, Case Dropped - Weeks after President Bush signs into law the Patriot Act reauthorization (see March 9, 2006), the FBI voluntarily lifts the gag order without waiting for a court order. The agency then tries to get the original ruling against the gag order vacated, an attempt that the appeals court refuses. The appellate judges are clearly disturbed by the breadth of the NSL gag provisions; one appellate judge writes, “A ban on speech and a shroud of secrecy in perpetuity are antithetical to democratic concepts and do not fit comfortably with the fundamental rights guaranteed American citizens… Unending secrecy of actions taken by government officials may also serve as a cover for possible official misconduct and/or incompetence.” The appeals court refers the case back to district court, allowing the original opinion to stand. Weeks later, the FBI withdraws its NSL, saying that it no longer needs the information it originally requested. Christian later testifies, “In doing so, they removed the Patriot Act from the danger of court review.” Christian later says that he believes the entire procedure was managed as an attempt to prevent the case from becoming public knowledge before Congress could vote on the reauthorization of the Patriot Act. (Senate Judiciary Committee 4/11/2007)

Lawyers for Sibel Edmonds file a petition with the Supreme Court asking it “to provide guidance to the lower courts about the proper scope and application of the state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953), and to prevent further misuse of the privilege to dismiss lawsuits at the pleading stage.” The petition also urges the court to affirm that the press and public may not be barred from court proceedings in civil cases without just cause. In May, the federal appeals court had closed the courtroom to the public and media. Edmonds’ lawyers include the American Civil Liberties Union and Mark Zaid of Krieger and Zaid, PLLC. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Edmonds, she will return to the lower courts and start her case again. (Petition for a writ of certiorari. Sibel Edmonds v. Department of Justice, et all. 8/4/2005, pp. 2 pdf file; Strohm 8/8/2005)

Camp Casey.Camp Casey. [Source: Indybay (.org)]Antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan, of Vacaville, California, sets up “Camp Casey” three miles outside of President Bush’s Crawford, Texas ranch. Bush has come to his ranch for his yearly August vacation; Sheehan has come to demand a meeting with Bush to discuss the loss of her son, Casey, in Iraq. Sheehan chooses the date to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the briefing that warned Bush of Osama bin Laden’s intention to attack the US (see August 6, 2001). Camp Casey begins as a single pup tent in a ditch by the side of a dirt road, in which Sheehan intends to stay for whatever time it takes to secure a meeting with Bush. Author and media critic Frank Rich later writes that because Bush is so firmly ensconsced in the protective “bubble” that shields him from awareness of criticism, he and his top officials are blindsided by the media response to Sheehan’s lonely vigil. Casey Sheehan, who died in April 2004 a mere two weeks after his arrival in Iraq (see April 4, 2004), will become, Rich will write, emblematic of both “the noble intentions of those who volunteered to fight the war [and] also the arrogance, incompetence, and recklessness of those who gave the marching orders.”
Bush Refuses to Meet with Sheehan - Bush will refuse to meet with Sheehan and the increasing number of peace activists who gather at Camp Casey, causing him inordinate embarrassment (see August 12, 2005) as more and more reporters begin questioning his motives in refusing to meet with the bereaved mother of a fallen US soldier. Bush even ignores the advice of some of his public relations staffers and fellow Republicans, who ask him to reconsider, as Senator George Allen (R-VA) says, “as a matter of courtesy and decency.” Rich will write: “Only someone as adrift as Bush would need to be told that a vacationing president couldn’t win a standoff with a grief-stricken parent commandeering TV cameras and the blogosphere 24/7. But the White House held firm. In a particularly unfortunate gesture, the presidential motorcade, in a rare foray out of the vacation compound, left Sheehan in the dust on its way to a fundraiser at a fat cat’s ranch nearby” (see August 12, 2005). (Rich 2006, pp. 193-196) Political analyst Charlie Cook says: “Anything that focuses media and public attention on Iraq war casualties day after day—particularly [something] that is a good visual for television, like a weeping Gold Star mother—is a really bad thing for President Bush and his administration.… Americans get a little numb by the numbers of war casualties, but when faces, names, and families are added, it has a much greater effect.” Republican strategist Kellyanne Conway agrees, saying: “Cindy Sheehan has tapped into a latent but fervent feeling among some in this country who would prefer that we not engage our troops in Iraq. She can tap into what has been an astonishingly silent minority since the end of last year’s presidential contest. It will capture attention.” University professor Stephen Hess says that Sheehan’s “movement… can be countered by a countermovement” and therefore negated, but “I think the president might have defused the situation if he had invited her in instantly.” Hess predicts that Sheehan will soon be targeted by Republican strategists in a counterattack (see August 11, 2005 and After).
Focus of Antiwar Movement - Camp Casey quickly becomes the focus of the American antiwar movement, with organizations such as MoveOn.org and Code Pink pitching in to help expand and coordinate the camp, and high-profile Democratic operatives such as Joe Trippi organizing support among left-wing bloggers. MoveOn’s Tom Mattzie says: “Cindy reached out to us.… Cindy is a morally pure voice on the war, so we’re trying to keep the focus on her and not jump in and turn it into a political fight.” (Calvo and Chen 8/11/2005)

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and White House deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin meet with antiwar protester Cindy Sheehan (see August 6, 2005 and After) for about 45 minutes. Sheehan, who has requested a meeting with President Bush during his vacation at his ranch in Texas, says she is not satisfied with the meeting with Hadley and Hagin. “I don’t believe his phony excuses for the war,” she says. “I want him to tell me why my son died (see April 4, 2004). If he gave the real answer, people in this country would be outraged—if he told people it was to make his buddies rich, that it was about oil.” (Calvo and Chen 8/11/2005)

Lawyers refile a civil suit against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on behalf of “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who has been in US custody since late 2001 (see December 12, 2001) and was designated as an enemy combatant a year and a half later (see June 23, 2003). Al-Marri is asking the federal district court in South Carolina to declare unconstitutional what he, through his lawyers, calls the severe and unnecessary deprivations and restrictions to which he has been subjected since he was placed in military custody. Al-Marri had already filed a suit challenging the legality of his detention on habeas corpus grounds, a lawsuit that was ultimately dismissed (see October 4, 2004). Human Rights Watch director Jamie Fellner says: “It is bad enough that al-Marri has been held indefinitely without charges and incommunicado. Now we learn that his life in the brig has also been one of cruelty and petty vindictiveness.” (Human Rights Watch 8/8/2005)
Allegations of Cruel Treatment - Al-Marri is currently the only known person designated as an enemy combatant still in legal limbo. He has been in solitary confinement since his December 2001 arrest, and in Guantanamo since mid-2003. Al-Marri was sent to the Charleston, South Carolina Naval brig once he was designated as an enemy combatant, isolated in a lightless cell hardly larger than a closet, and since then, his lawyers say, he has been subjected to deprivations of the most basic kinds, including shoes, socks, blankets, toilet paper, toothpaste, and sunlight. Sometimes he is denied water. During the day his mattress is removed. His captors often turn the temperature down in his cell to near-freezing conditions, but do not give him extra clothes or blankets. He is provided three short “recreation” sessions a week—in handcuffs and leg irons—but those are often denied him. He is allowed three showers a week, again in handcuffs and leg irons. He has been denied access to medical care. A devout Muslim, he is not given the basic necessities for religious observances—his captors even refuse to tell him which way to face towards Mecca, an essential element of daily devotions. Letters from his wife and children are heavily censored. Privileged notes he has written to his lawyer have been confiscated and not returned. He is subjected to constant video surveillance. He was repeatedly interrogated, his lawyers say, but has not been interrogated for a year. His captors have repeatedly threatened his family, telling him that he would be sent to Egypt or Saudi Arabia, where he would be tortured and sodomized and his wife raped in front of him. According to the lawsuit, his captors falsely told him that, because of him, his father and four of his brothers were in jail, and that if he cooperated, they would be released.
Commentary - “Mr. al-Marri has been detained at a naval brig for two-and-a-half years in cell that is 9 feet by 6 feet,” says law professor Jonathan Hafetz, who will become one of al-Marri’s lawyers. “During that time he has long been denied books, news, any contact with the outside world other than his attorneys, including his wife and five children, who he has neither seen nor spoken to. I mean things that we don’t even do to people who’ve been convicted of crimes.” Fellner says: “It’s the combination of restrictions imposed on al-Marri that offends basic norms of decency. There is no security justification for them. The Pentagon apparently believes it can hold him under any conditions they choose for as long as they choose.” (Human Rights Watch 8/8/2005; Collins 8/9/2005; Al-Marri v. Rumsfeld 8/9/2005 pdf file; Hirschkom 12/13/2005)
Military Denies Mistreatment - The military denies that al-Marri has been mistreated. (Hirschkom 12/13/2005) Defense spokesman Navy Lieutenant Commander J. D. Gordon says in 2007, “The government in the strongest terms denies allegations of torture, allegations made without support and without citing a shred of record evidence. It is our policy to treat all detainees humanely.” (Thompson 3/2007)

The outgoing Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Turki al-Faisal, criticizes the Blair government over its lack of response to terrorism and says that MI5 is hampering efforts to clamp down. Prince Turki describes his experience: “When you call somebody, he says it is the other guy. If you talk to the security people, they say it is the politicians’ fault. If you talk to the politicians, they say it is the Crown Prosecution Service. If you call the Crown Prosecution service, they say, no, it is MI5. So we have been in this runaround…” Turki particularly criticizes the government’s failure to act against Saad al-Fagih of the movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia and Mohammed al-Massari. Al-Fagih is accused of being involved in the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) and a plot to assassinate King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. (Beeston and Binyon 8/10/2005)

Right-wing commentators react to the sudden media presence of antiwar activist and bereaved mother Cindy Sheehan (see August 6, 2005 and After) with vitriolic criticism. (Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write of his belief that the anti-Sheehan campaign is orchestrated from the White House: “The attack was especially vicious because there was little the White House feared more than a critic who had more battle scars than a president or a vice president who had avoided Vietnam.”) Weekly Standard writer Fred Barnes tells Fox News viewers that Sheehan is a “crackpot.” Right-wing bloggers begin spreading lurid, and sometimes false, stories of her recent divorce and the opposition Sheehan receives from some of her family members. Because some of the Camp Casey protesters showed the recent Iraq documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), many right-wing commentators and pundits accuse Sheehan of being a tool of documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. Conservative pundit Michelle Malkin accuses Sheehan and other bereaved family members opposing the war of using their losses to promote their ideological agenda, and calls them “grief pimps.” The American Spectator says Sheehan’s own peace organization, Gold Star Families for Peace, “seeks to impeach George W. Bush and apparently to convince the US government to surrender to Muslim terrorists.” Talk-show host Rush Limbaugh makes the extraordinary claim that Sheehan is making up the entire story of her son’s death (see April 4, 2004), claiming that her loss “is nothing more than forged documents—there’s nothing about it that’s real.” Rich later notes that what he calls “the Swift Boating of Cindy Sheehan” has “failed, utterly.” He will continue: “The hope this time was that we’d change the subject to Cindy Sheehan’s ‘wacko’ rhetoric and the opportunistic left-wing groups that have attached themselves to her like barnacles. That way we would forget about her dead son. But if much of the 24/7 media has taken the bait, much of the public has not.… The public knows that what matters this time is Casey Sheehan’s story, not the mother who symbolizes it.” (Calvo and Chen 8/11/2005; Fletcher 8/13/2005; Rich 8/21/2005; Rich 2006, pp. 194-195)

The Bush motorcade drives past Camp Casey; Texas police officers stand between the motorcade and the camp.The Bush motorcade drives past Camp Casey; Texas police officers stand between the motorcade and the camp. [Source: American Patriot Friends Network]President Bush and his motorcade drive past the growing camp of war protesters and peace activists nicknamed “Camp Casey” (see August 6, 2005 and After) without stopping, leaving the gathered protesters and bereaved family members literally in the dust. Bush is on his way to a fundraising barbecue expected to raise at least $2 million for the Republican National Committee. Camp founder Cindy Sheehan holds a sign that reads, “Why do you make time for donors and not for me?” The Associated Press reports, “It was unclear whether Bush, riding in a black Suburban with tinted windows, saw the demonstrators.” Bush has continued to refuse to meet with Sheehan and the others in Camp Casey, a makeshift camp three miles outside of his Crawford, Texas vacation ranch. The camp is attracting war protesters, peace activists, and bereaved family members who have lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Associated Press 8/12/2005) The New York Times notes that in less than a week, Camp Casey has grown from one woman’s lonely vigil to a gathering of well over 100 protesters and family members, with visits from celebrities such as actor Viggo Mortensen and a full-time police presence. War supporters have blasted Sheehan and her companions, calling her everything from a traitor to a terrorist supporter, and arguing that the death of her son does not give her the right to criticize the war effort. Local supporters of Bush have suggested, among other things, that they unleash a gaggle of skunks on the camp to drive the protesters away; some have pretended to drive their pickup trucks into the crowds, and splashed protesters with mud as they revved their engines. (Kornblut 8/13/2005) Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write that the images of Bush’s motorcade ignoring Sheehan and the other protesters become embarrassing fodder for media comment and criticism. (Rich 2006, pp. 194) The Times writes, “[Bush’s] five-week sojourn at his 1,600-acre ranch offers the protesters ample opportunity to camp out for extended periods in front of the national media at a time of sharp spikes in the casualties in Iraq, and as public polling data suggests the lowest support for the war since it began.” In a recent television ad paid for by her peace organization Gold Star Families for Peace, Sheehan said: “All I wanted was an hour out of his extended vacation time, but he’s refused to meet with me and the other military families. We just want honest answers.” (Kornblut 8/13/2005)

Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who has already tendered his resignation, gives his farewell speech to an assemblage in the Justice Department. Comey makes what author and reporter Charlie Savage will later call “a cryptic reference to the fights over warrantless surveillance and torture issues that he had fought alongside [former Office of Legal Counsel chief Jack] Goldsmith and the other non-team players” (see Late 2003-2005 and June 17, 2004). Comey tells the assembled employees that, during his tenure, he had dealt with issues that “although of consequence almost beyond my imagination, were invisible because the subject matter demanded it.” In these disputes, he says he worked with people whose loyalty “to the law… would shock people who are cynical about Washington.” Those people, he says, “came to my office, or my home, or called my cell phone late at night, to quietly tell me when I was about to make a mistake; they were people committed to getting it right—and to doing the right thing—whatever the price. These people know who they are. Some of them did pay a price for their commitment to [do] right, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.” (US Department of Justice 8/15/2005; Parry 2/8/2006; Savage 2007, pp. 199) Comey will later testify that one of the people he is referring to is former Justice Department lawyer Patrick Philbin. (Savage 2007, pp. 199)

Prince Bandar, Saudi ambassador to the US since 1983, steps down and is replaced by Prince Turki al-Faisal. It is said that Prince Bandar had been suffering health problems and is not close to the new Saudi King Abdullah (see August 1, 2005). Prince Turki was Saudi intelligence minister from the late 1970s until about one week before 9/11 (see August 31, 2001). Then he served three years as Saudi ambassador to Britain. Prince Turki has had a controversial past. He was considered a mentor to bin Laden, and encouraged him to represent Saudi Arabia in the Afghanistan war against the Soviet Union. There are allegations that Prince Turki took part in a series of secret meetings between bin Laden and the Saudis over a period of many years (see Summer 1991; May 1996; Spring 1998; June 1998; July 1998; July 4-14, 2001). There are also allegations that he went falcon hunting in Afghanistan with bin Laden during much of the 1990s (see 1995-2001). In the wake of his appointment as ambassador, US officials try to downplay his past. One unnamed US official says, “Yes, he knew members of al-Qaeda. Yes, he talked to the Taliban. At times he delivered messages to us and from us regarding Osama bin Laden and others. Yes, he had links that in this day and age would be considered problematic, but at the time we used those links.” The official adds that Prince Turki seems to have “gotten out of that business” since 2001 and “he understands that times have changed.” He was sued in 2002 by a group of 9/11 victims’ relatives for allegedly supporting al-Qaeda, but his name was dropped from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see August 15, 2002). (Weisman 7/21/2005)

Tammy Pruett weeps while watching Bush’s presentation.Tammy Pruett weeps while watching Bush’s presentation. [Source: Jim Watson / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]The White House presents Tammy Pruett, whose four sons are serving in Iraq, as a counter to antiwar protester Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son Casey in Iraq (see August 6, 2005 and After). Unlike Sheehan, Pruett and her family staunchly support the war; also unlike Sheehan, Pruett has not lost any of her sons. Apparently the White House found Pruett after learning of her family’s appearance on CNN in June 2004, where she defended the war effort, and contacted the family a week before the event. “An obviously delighted President Bush,” who has repeatedly refused to meet with Sheehan (see August 12, 2005), flies to Idaho to introduce Pruett to what the Washington Post calls “a boisterous invitation-only audience mostly made up of military families.” Bush tells the audience: “There are few things in life more difficult than seeing a loved one go off to war. And here in Idaho, a mom named Tammy Pruett—I think she’s here—knows that feeling six times over. Tammy has four sons serving in Iraq right now with the Idaho National Guard—Eric, Evan, Greg, and Jeff. Last year, her husband Leon and another son, Eren, returned from Iraq, where they helped train Iraqi firefighters in Mosul. Tammy says this—and I want you to hear this—‘I know that if something happens to one of the boys, they would leave this world doing what they believe, what they think is right for our country. And I guess you couldn’t ask for a better way of life than giving it for something that you believe in.’ America lives in freedom because of families like the Pruetts.” Bush kisses Pruett on the cheek after the speech, then sends her out to talk to the press. (Froomkin 8/25/2005)
Pruetts Offer Condolences to Sheehan, Other Bereaved Families - But the Pruetts are not willing to merely serve as props for the White House’s pro-war agenda. Both Leon and Tammy Pruett are quick to offer tearful condolences to families who have lost loved ones overseas, specifically naming Sheehan. Tammy says while her family supports the war, they do not want to be seen as criticizing those who oppose it. “We don’t feel like we’re out here trying to be a poster family, we’re just proud of our sons,” she says. (O'Donnell 8/24/2005)
Careful Staging - The Post notes that the Pruett speech is viewed by White House planners “as a crucial opportunity for Bush to show both compassion and resolve when his conduct of the war is increasingly being publicly questioned, and polls of public support are flirting with Vietnam War-era depths.” The speech and presentation are carefully crafted, with a drum corps playing the themes of each of the five branches of service, and Bush placed before a group of soldiers dressed in fatigues and arrayed in front of a huge red, white, and blue backdrop festooned with photographs of soldiers, police officers, firefighters, and rescue workers beneath the heading “Honoring America’s Soldiers.” The entire event, Knight Ridder reporter William Douglas writes, is designed to “creat[e] a visual link between the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq.” (O'Donnell 8/24/2005; Froomkin 8/25/2005)

The FBI begins to build cases against high value detainees held by the US in Guantanamo Bay, due to Defense Department fears that evidence obtained from the detainees by the CIA will be inadmissible or too controversial to present at their upcoming war crimes tribunals. The investigation, which involves up to 300 agents in a “Guantanamo task force,” runs for at least two years and FBI agents travel widely to collect evidence. According to former officials and legal experts, “The [FBI] process is an embarrassment for the Bush administration, which for years held the men incommunicado overseas and allowed the CIA to use coercive means to extract information from them that would not be admissible in a US court of law—and might not be allowed in their military commissions….” In fact, the techniques used to extract the confessions even cause some CIA officials to question whether they are believable, much less sustainable in court, particularly as CIA officers are not trained to obtain evidence that can be used in such a setting. In addition, if the information is used, this may focus the trials on the actions of the CIA and not the accused. The detainees will be designated enemy combatants in 2007 in preparation for military commissions (see March 9-April 28, 2007 and August 9, 2007), but this process will be questioned by a judge (see June 4, 2007). The Los Angeles Times will also comment, “The FBI’s efforts appear in part to be a hedge in case the commissions are ruled unconstitutional or never occur, or the US military detention center at Guantanamo Bay is closed. Under those scenarios, authorities would have to free the detainees, transfer them to military custody elsewhere, send them to another country, or have enough evidence gathered by law enforcement officials to charge them with terrorism in US federal courts.” (Meyer 10/21/2007)

In a Guardian op-ed, British MP and former cabinet minister Michael Meacher suggests that Saeed Sheikh, known for his alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks and the murder of reporter Daniel Pearl, may have played a role in the 7/7 London bombings despite being held in a high-security Pakistani prison since 2002. Meacher states that “reports from Pakistan suggest that Sheikh continues to be active from jail, keeping in touch with friends and followers in Britain.” He cites the India-based Observer Research Foundation, which argues that there are even “grounds to suspect that the [7/7 London bombings] were orchestrated by [Saeed] Sheikh from his jail in Pakistan.” (Meacher 9/10/2005) While there have been no firm reports linking Sheikh to the 7/7 bombings, he did work with Pakistani militant leader Maulana Masood Azhar (in fact both were released in 1999 as part of a deal to end an airplane hijacking (see December 24-31, 1999)), and there are reports that two of the 7/7 bombers called Azhar and had dealings with others linked to Azhar’s militant group (see August 1, 2005).

The Washington Post reports that four years after the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), the FBI investigation is growing cold. (Lengel 9/16/2005) A New York Times article from the same day also concludes the investigation has stalled. The FBI has found itself on the defensive amid claims that they publicly smeared Steven Hatfill when lacking other viable suspects. (Shane 9/16/2005)

A Spanish court sentences a number of people to prison for connections to al-Qaeda. The main defendant, Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, is convicted of leading an al-Qaeda cell in Madrid and conspiring to commit the 9/11 attacks by hosting a meeting in Spain in July 2001 attended by Mohamed Atta, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and others (see July 8-19, 2001). He is sentenced to 27 years in prison. (McLean 9/27/2005) However, in 2006, Spain’s supreme court will overturn his 9/11 conspiracy conviction, after prosecutors reverse themselves and ask that the conviction be dismissed. One of the reasons for the dismissal is that the US, which possesses evidence supporting the convictions, is reluctant to provide it (see Mid-2002-June 1, 2006). This will leave Zacarias Moussaoui the only person in the world jailed for a role in the 9/11 attacks. Yarkas will still have to serve a 12-year sentence for leading an al-Qaeda cell. (Naughton 6/1/2006) Seventeen men besides Yarkas, mostly Syrians, are also found guilty and are given sentences of six to eleven years. One of these is Tayseer Allouni, a correspondent for the Al Jazeera satellite network. He is convicted of giving $4,500 to a family of Syrian exiles in Afghanistan. The prosecutor alleged the family were al-Qaeda operatives, while Allouni argued he gave the money for humanitarian reasons. Two others, a Moroccan named Driss Chebli and a Syrian named Ghasoub al-Abrash Ghalyoun, were acquitted of being involved in the 9/11 plot, but Chebli was convicted of collaborating with a terrorist group. Ghalyoun was accused of videotaping the World Trade Center and other American landmarks in 1997 for the 9/11 plotters, but he claimed he was just a tourist (see 1998). (McLean 9/27/2005; Green 9/27/2005; Crawford 9/27/2005)

Representative Jane Harman (D-CA) is recorded telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would intervene with the Justice Department to try to get charges against two Israeli lobbyists reduced. In return, the Israeli agent promises to help Harman secure the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee. The Israeli agent will remain unidentified; the two lobbyists, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, are charged with espionage after they allegedly passed along classified information to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC—see April 13, 1999-2004). The conversation between Harman and the Israeli agent is recorded on an wiretap, reportedly by the NSA, mounted as part of a federal investigation into AIPAC’s potential espionage operations against the US (see October 5, 2005). According to transcripts of the wiretapped conversation, Harman agrees to “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference.” The Israeli agent asks Harman if she could speak with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Rosen’s and Weissman’s behalf. Harman replies that Gonzales might not cooperate, because he “just follows White House orders,” but other officials might be more pliable. In return, the Israeli agent promises to contact House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and attempt to persuade her to name Harman as chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee if the Democrats win control of the House in the November 2006 elections. Harman tells the agent, “This conversation doesn’t exist,” and hangs up. The contents of the conversation will later be confirmed by three separate sources, including two former senior national security officials. (Stein 4/19/2009) Reporter Marc Ambinder will later write that Harman’s conversation may have been recorded by the FBI, and not the NSA, as part of the its investigation into Rosen and Weissman. (Ambinder 4/20/2009)

Defense Department analyst Larry Franklin pleads guilty to passing government secrets to two employees of a pro-Israel lobbying group and to an Israeli government official, a violation of the Espionage Act. He is later sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison. (Markon 10/6/2005; Markon 1/21/2006; Savage 2007, pp. 173) Franklin, an Iran specialist, gave details of US policy towards Iran to Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, two members of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) which the Washington Post calls “one of Washington’s most influential lobbying organizations.” He also admits to giving classified information directly to Naor Gilon, chief of political affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Gilon returned to Israel, but Rosen and Weissman have been charged in what prosecutors claim was a conspiracy to obtain and illegally pass classified US information to foreign officials and news reporters. Franklin reportedly has been cooperating with investigators in return for a relatively lenient sentence. (Markon 10/6/2005; Markon 1/21/2006) It appears that Franklin was caught by accident in 2003 as part of a larger FBI investigation into Israeli spying that began in 2001 (see September 9, 2001). Investigators had been monitoring Gilon and were reportedly “floored” to watch Franklin sit down and eat lunch with him. (Sale 12/9/2004)

Dulmatin.Dulmatin. [Source: Rewards for Justice]The US announces a $10 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Dulmatin, a leader of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), al-Qaeda’s main affiliate in Southeast Asia. A $1 million reward is also offered for Umar Patek, who apparently is a little-known aide to Dulmatin. The reward for Dulmatin is as large as any other cash reward the US has offered for any al-Qaeda linked figure, except for $25 million rewards for Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Dulmatin is believed to have been one of the masterminds of the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002). Since then, it is believed that he is hiding out in the Philippines and has not been linked to any other bombings. (Schweid 10/7/2005) The announcement is met with puzzlement in Indonesia, because it comes just six days after a second set of bombings in Bali (see October 1, 2005), and Dulmatin has no known role in those bombings. However, Azhari Husin and Noordin Mohammed Top were quickly found to be the masterminds of the bombings. Furthermore, Husin and Top have been named as masterminds to the 2002 Bali bombings and every major bombing in Indonesia since then, including the 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing (see August 5, 2003) and the 2004 Australian embassy bombing (see September 9, 2004). Later in the month, Hank Crumpton, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, is asked by an Indonesian journalist why cash rewards have been given for Dulmatin and even Patek but not Husin or Top. Crumpton replies, “We believe [Dulmatin] is a threat to the region,” but he declines to be more specific or to explain why there were no rewards for Husin or Top. (Bonner 10/19/2005) Husin is killed in a shootout in Indonesia one month later (see October 1, 2005). Dulmatin is listed on the US Rewards for Justice website, but he is one of only two out of the 37 suspects listed without actual rewards given for them. The other is Zulkarnaen, who is also said to be involved in the 2002 Bali bombings and 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing. (Rewards for Justice 8/10/2007; Rewards for Justice 8/10/2007; Rewards for Justice 8/11/2007)

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rules that President Bush, as commander in chief, can continue to hold Jose Padilla (see June 9, 2002), a US citizen arrested on US soil (see June 8, 2002), indefinitely as an enemy combatant. Padilla is to be treated the same as an American captured on a foreign battlefield (see June 28, 2004). The majority ruling is written by Judge J. Michael Luttig, often thought of as a potential Bush Supreme Court nominee. Luttig rules there is “no difference in principle between [Yaser Esam] Hamdi (see June 28, 2004) and Padilla.” Bush’s “powers include the power to detain identified and committed enemies such as Padilla, who associated with al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime, and who entered the United States for the avowed purpose of further prosecuting [terrorism] by attacking American citizens and targets on our own soil.” Luttig ignores the fact that Padilla has never been charged, much less convicted, of any crime. When the Bush administration later charges Padilla as an ordinary criminal—and does not charge him with with any of the terrorist activities it had long alleged he had committed—many administration critics will conclude that, just as in the Hamdi case, the administration had used inflammatory rhetoric and baseless charges to obtain a judicial decision it wanted (see October 10, 2004). When Luttig learns of the administration’s actions, he will issue a supplementary opinion excoriating the White House (see December 21, 2005). (Savage 2007, pp. 200)

CIA Director Porter Goss announces that the agency will not pursue disciplinary action against any current or former CIA officials who have been severely criticized in an internal report produced by John Helgerson, the CIA’s inspector general. Those who have read the classified report say that it faults about 20 intelligence officials, including former CIA Director George Tenet, his former Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt, and the former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center Cofer Black (see June 2005). Tenet in particular is faulted for focusing too little attention on combating al-Qaeda as a whole in the years prior to 9/11. However, he and others who are singled out strongly object to the report’s conclusions, and have prepared lengthy rebuttals. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, of which Goss was ironically the co-chairman, had formally requested the report in November 2002, as it was finishing its investigation. The 400-page document was completed in June 2004, but its release was delayed (see June-November 2004). John Helgerson finally delivered it to Congress in August 2005, and had urged Goss to convene “accountability boards” to assess the performance of officers it criticized. However, Goss says he has decided not to do this. He says the report in no way suggests “that any one person or group of people could have prevented 9/11,” and that “[o]f the officers named in [Helgerson’s] report, about half have retired from the Agency, and those who are still with us are amongst the finest we have.” Goss also claims the report “unveiled no mysteries,” and states that it will remain classified. (Jehl 10/5/2005; Miller 10/6/2005; Linzer and Pincus 10/6/2005) In response to Goss’s statement, Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the senior Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, asks, “What failures in performance, if not these, warrant the convening of an accountability board at the CIA?” 9/11 victim’s relative Kristen Breitweiser comments, “No one has been held accountable for the failures on 9/11.” (Reuters 10/5/2005)

Abdurrahman Wahid.Abdurrahman Wahid. [Source: Indonesian Embassy in the Netherlands]In an interview with the Australian public television station SBS, Abdurrahman Wahid, president of Indonesia from 1999 to 2001, suggests that the country’s military or police may have been behind the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002). The Australian reports: “Wahid told SBS’s Dateline program that he had grave concerns about links between Indonesian authorities and terrorist groups and believed that authorities may have organized the larger of the two 2002 Bali bombings which hit the Sari Club, killing the bulk of the 202 people who died.… Asked who he thought planted the Sari Club bomb, Mr Wahid said: ‘Maybe the police… or the armed forces. The orders to do this or that came from within our armed forces, not from the fundamentalist people.’” Wahid believes the smaller bomb was indeed planted by Islamist militants. (SBS Dateline 10/12/2005; Stewart and Powell 10/13/2005) Counterterrorism expert John Mempi also comments, “Why this endless violence [in Indonesia]? Why are there acts of terrorism year in, year out? Regimes change, governments change, but violence continues. Why? Because there is a sort of shadow state in this country. A state within a state ruling this country.” (SBS Dateline 10/12/2005) In 2008, Imam Samudra, imprisoned and sentenced to death for being one of the Bali bombings masterminds, will make comments similar to Wahid’s. While he admits being involved in the bombings, he claims that they never meant to kill so many people. He says the second explosion was much bigger than they had expected and suggests that “the CIA or KGB or Mossad” had somehow tampered with the bomb. (Sheridan 3/2/2008)

David Wurmser, an aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, begins cooperating with the investigation into the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA agent. This follows the news that another Cheney aide, John Hannah, is also cooperating (see Before October 17, 2005). The news that Wurmser is cooperating comes from sources close to the investigation. He is expected to provide special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald with evidence that the leak of Plame Wilson’s identity was part of a coordinated effort to discredit her husband, war critic Joseph Wilson (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006). Wurmser is Cheney’s adviser on Middle East affairs, and formerly served as an assistant to then-Undersecretary of State John Bolton (see May 29, 2003). The sources say Wurmser is cooperating in order to negate potential criminal charges for his role in exposing Plame Wilson’s identity. Wurmser was a key member of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002), the propaganda group that operated primarily out of Cheney’s office. The sources say that in June 2003, Wurmser and Hannah were ordered by their superiors in Cheney’s office to leak Plame Wilson’s name and CIA identity in an attempt to discredit her husband, Joseph Wilson. In 2004, Wurmser was questioned by the FBI for his role in divulging classified national security information to Israel, an investigation that included Hannah and several prominent neoconservatives in the Defense Department. Wilson says: “John Hannah and David Wurmser, mid-level political appointees in the vice president’s office, have both been suggested as sources of the leak.… Mid-level officials, however, do not leak information without the authority from a higher level.” (Leopold and Alexandrovna 10/19/2005)

The US and Britain send a team to search for the body of Osama bin Laden in the rubble of the Pakistani town of Balakot, according to the British Sunday Express newspaper. The al-Qaeda leader is thought to have been buried there following a recent earthquake. The British component comprises members of the foreign intelligence service MI6 and the SAS Special Forces unit; the Americans are US Special Forces. The team, whose deployment is approved by President Bush, is flown in from Afghanistan equipped with imagery and eavesdropping technology, high-tech weapons systems, and linguists. The search is motivated by the fact that, days before the earthquake happened, an American satellite spotted an al-Qaeda training camp in a nearby area and obtained high-resolution close-ups. A senior intelligence officer in Washington says: “One of those photos bore a remarkable resemblance to bin Laden. His face looked thinner, which is in keeping with our reports that his kidney condition has worsened.” This is a reference to the rumor that bin Laden has kidney problems (see November 23, 1996). The Sunday Express will report: “In recent weeks, both MI6 and the CIA have established that bin Laden has received a portable kidney dialysis machine from China but it requires electricity to power it. Drones, unmanned aircraft that US Special Forces launched from Afghanistan last week, have reported that the area along the border has lost all power supplies.” However, the state of bin Laden’s kidneys will still be shrouded in mystery two years later (see Late 2007). According to the report, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has agreed to keep other rescue teams working to locate survivors away from the border area where the search for bin Laden is concentrated. (Daily Times (Lahore) 10/20/2005) There are no reports that the search is a success. A man thought to be bin Laden will continue to release audio messages (see, for example, January 19, 2006).

President Bush signs Executive Order 13388, which dramatically expands the powers of the US government to monitor and collect data on US citizens. (Executive Order 13388 of October 25, 2005 10/25/2005) The order augments the power of “National Security Letters,” authorized in 1981 by then-President Ronald Reagan (see December 4, 1981), but rarely used against US citizens until the advent of the Bush administration and the USA Patriot Act. Thanks to the order, the data files are even more accessible to what the order calls “state, local, and tribal” governments as well as the undefined “appropriate private sector entities,” presumably private data-mining corporations that collect personal and financial data on US citizens for the government.
Over 30,000 NSLs a Year - The FBI now issues over 30,000 NSLs a year, a hundredfold increase from earlier administration usages. NSLs are issued by FBI field supervisors at their discretion without court warrant or oversight by the judiciary or Congress. NSLs force their recipients—librarians, booksellers, employers, Internet providers, and others—to turn over any and all personal data on their customers and employees and are legally required not to tell the targets of the investigations about the letters or the data collection. An FBI supervisor can, without oversight or reasonable suspicion of terrorist activity, collect data on what a citizen makes, spends, invests, gambles, reads in books and on the Internet, buys online, and with whom that citizen lives, works, associates, telephones, and exchanges e-mails. Senior FBI officials admit that the huge spike in NSLs stems from the FBI’s new authority to collect tremendous amounts of data on US citizens not accused of criminal activities. And NSLs are now used to generate leads against terrorist suspects and not merely pursue them.
NSLs Handled With Discretion, Officials Insist - FBI and White House officials insist that NSLs are handled with discretion and with a recognizance of Americans’ right to privacy. Joseph Billy Jr, the FBI’s deputy director for counterterrorism, says he understand that “merely being in a government or FBI database… gives everybody, you know, neck hair standing up.” But innocent Americans “should take comfort at least knowing that it is done under a great deal of investigative care, oversight, within the parameters of the law.” (Gellman 11/6/2005)

David Addington.David Addington. [Source: Richard A. Bloom / Corbis]David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Dick Cheney, is named Cheney’s chief of staff to replace Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame Wilson case (see February 13, 2002). (Waas and Singer 10/30/2005; MSNBC 11/4/2005) Addington is described by one White House official as “the most powerful man you never heard of.” A former Justice Department official says of Addington, “He seems to have his hand in everything, and he has these incredible powers, energy, reserves in an obsessive, zealot’s kind of way.” He is, according to former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, Cheney’s “eyes, ears, and voice.” (Ravagan 5/21/2006) Addington is a neoconservative ideologue committed to dramatically expanding the power of the presidency, and a powerful advocate of the “unitary executive” theory of presidential power. He has been with Cheney for years, ever since Cheney chose him to serve as the Pentagon’s chief counsel while Cheney was Defense Secretary under Ronald Reagan. During that time, Addington was an integral part of Cheney’s battle to keep the Iran-Contra scandal from exploding (see 1984). (Milbank 10/11/2004; Waas and Singer 10/30/2005; MSNBC 11/4/2005; Ravagan 5/21/2006) According to Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, documentary evidence shows that Cheney’s office, and Addington in particular, were responsible for giving at least tacit approval for US soldiers to abuse and torture prisoners in Iraq (see January 9, 2002). In an administration devoted to secrecy, Addington stands out in his commitment to keeping information away from the public. (Milbank 10/11/2004) Though Addington claims to have a lifelong love affair with the Constitution, his interpretation of it is somewhat unusual. One senior Congressional staffer says, “The joke around here is that Addington looks at the Constitution and sees only Article II, the power of the presidency.” (Ravagan 5/21/2006) Addington’s influence in the White House is pervasive. He scrutinizes every page of the federal budget, hunting for riders that might restrict the power of the president. He worked closely with Gonzales to oppose attempts by Congress to pry information from the executive branch, and constantly battles the State Department, whose internationalist philosophy is at odds with his and Cheney’s own beliefs. (Milbank 10/11/2004) Former Reagan Justice Department official Bruce Fein calls Addington the “intellectual brainchild” of overreaching legal assertions that “have resulted in actually weakening the presidency because of intransigence.” According to Fein, Addington and Cheney are doing far more than reclaiming executive authority, they are seeking to push it farther than it has ever gone under US constitutional authority. They have already been successful in removing executive restraints formerly in place under the War Powers Act, anti-impoundment legislation, the legislative veto and the independent counsel statute. “They’re in a time warp,” Fein says. “If you look at the facts, presidential powers have never been higher.” (Milbank 10/11/2004) “He thinks he’s on the side of the angels,” says a former Justice Department official. “And that’s what makes it so scary.” (Ravagan 5/21/2006)

In an op-ed, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial staff accuses special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald of “criminalizing politics” in his investigation of the Plame Wilson leak. Fitzgerald’s investigation, the editorial reads, has taken two years, cost millions of dollars, jailed a reporter (see July 6, 2005), “and preoccupied some of the White House’s senior officials.” The investigation has culminated in the indictment of former White House official Lewis Libby (see October 28, 2005), not for leaking Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press, but for what the Journal calls “contradictions between his testimony and the testimony of two or three reporters about what he told them, when he told them, and what words he used.” The Journal writes that there is no evidence, at least to the public’s knowledge, that Libby lied to anyone, be it the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003), the grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004), or anyone else. Nowhere has anyone alleged a motive for Libby’s alleged perjury, the Journal states (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006). And, the Journal notes, Libby was not a source for the column that actually outed Plame Wilson as a CIA official. The Journal questions the existence of any White House “conspiracy to silence administration critics,” and if there was, it writes, “it was more daft than deft.” Instead, the Journal writes, the Libby indictment “amounts to an allegation that one official lied about what he knew about an underlying ‘crime’ that wasn’t committed.” Fitzgerald is merely involving himself in what the Journal calls “a policy dispute between an elected administration and critics of the president’s approach to the war on terror, who included parts of the permanent bureaucracy of the State Department and CIA.” (Wall Street Journal 10/29/2005)

The Washington Post prints an article by reporter Barton Gellman about the intelligence leaks from the White House that led to the outing of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson. The article examines the question of whether Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, obstructed the FBI investigation into Plame Wilson’s exposure in order to protect Cheney. (Gellman 10/30/2005) According to journalist and blogger Joshua Micah Marshall, the Post deleted a key portion of Gellman’s story shortly after it appeared on the Post’s Web site (the edited version is what makes it into print). The deleted portion noted that on July 12, 2003, Cheney told Libby “to alert reporters of an attack launched that morning on [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s credibility by Fleischer, according to a well-placed source” (see July 12, 2003 and 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003). (Joshua Micah Marshall 10/30/2005) A criminal lawyer who blogs under the moniker “Anonymous Liberal” speculates that the Post may have removed the reference to Fleischer because Fleischer was a source for Post reporter Walter Pincus. Pincus is identified in Gellman’s article as receiving information from an unidentified White House source who, like Libby, attacked Wilson and implied that he was sent to Niger by his wife (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005). (Anonymous Liberal 10/30/2005)

Mustafa Setmarian Nasar.Mustafa Setmarian Nasar. [Source: Public domain]Around this date, al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, a.k.a. Abu Musab al-Suri, is arrested in a raid in Quetta, Pakistan. The US posted a $5 million reward for his capture in 2004. A red-haired, light-skinned Syrian citizen, he also is a citizen of Spain and long-time resident there. The raid takes place in a Quetta shop used as an office for the Madina Trust, a Pakistani charity that is linked to the Pakistani militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed. A man arrested with Nasar is believed to be a Jaish-e-Mohammed member; another man is killed in the raid. (CNN 11/5/2005; Associated Press 11/5/2005; Associated Press 5/2/2006) He is believed to have taught the use of poisons and chemicals at Afghanistan training camps and he is suspected of a role in the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) and the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005). But he is best known for his strategic writings. The Washington Post calls him “one of the jihad movement’s prime theorists.” He long advocated a decentralized militant movement, and was often critical of bin Laden’s and al-Qaeda’s mistakes. He says, “Al-Qaeda is not an organization, it is not a group, nor do we want it to be. It is a call, a reference, a methodology.” He is soon flown out of Pakistan and into US custody. In 2006, US intelligence sources will claim that he is now in the secret custody of another unnamed country. (Whitlock 5/23/2006; Wright 9/4/2006) In 2006, Baltasar Garzon, a Spanish judge involved in many al-Qaeda related cases, will complain that the US has not shared any information about Nasar since his secret arrest. He adds, “I don’t know where he is. Nobody knows where he is. Can you tell me how this helps the struggle against terrorism?” (Sciolino 6/4/2006)

By November 2005, when the CIA destroys videotapes of the interrogations of al-Qaeda leaders Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November 2005), there are numerous reasons to not destroy them, some of them possibly legal requirements. (Mazzetti 12/8/2007)
bullet In February 2003, Porter Goss, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in 2003, Congressperson Jane Harman, the top Democrat on the committee, requested that the videotapes be preserved (see February 2003).
bullet Beginning in 2003 and continuing through 2005, White House officials, including White House deputy chief of staff Harriet Miers, requested that the videotapes be preserved (see Between 2003-Late 2005).
bullet In 2003, Justice Department lawyers also advised the CIA to preserve the videotapes (see 2003).
bullet Beginning in 2003, lawyers in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial have requested access to evidence of interrogations of al-Qaeda leaders like Zubaida. The CIA twice misinformed the judge in the trial about the existence of the videotapes (see May 7-9, 2003 and November 3-14, 2005). The trial will not be concluded until mid-2006 (see May 3, 2006).
bullet In September 2004, a judge rules the CIA has to preserve all records about the treatment of detainees overseas, as part of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The videotapes of Zubaida and al-Nashiri would clearly qualify, since both are held overseas (see September 15, 2004).
bullet Beginning in May 2005, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of the Senate Intelligence Committee asked the CIA to preserve over 100 documents about the CIA interrogation program. One of the documents requested is a report about the videotapes of interrogations and their possible illegality (see May-September 2005).
bullet In June and July 2005, two judges ordered the CIA to preserve all evidence relevant to detainees being held in Guantanamo prison. The interrogation videotapes are indirectly relevant because the cases of some detainees hinge on their alleged ties to Zubaida (see June-July 2005).
bullet In the summer of 2005, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte met with CIA Director Porter Goss and “strongly advised” him not to allow the videotapes to be destroyed (see Summer 2005).
bullet The videotapes are also needed for a trial of Jose Padilla, who is indicted in November 2005 (see November 22, 2005).
An unnamed official familiar with the case will comment, “Everybody from the top on down told them not to do it and still they went ahead and did it anyway.” (Meyer 12/9/2007) Despite this, many later reports will indicate that the National Clandestine Service (NCS), the CIA unit that takes the decision to destroy the tapes, believes the advice about their destruction is ambiguous. NCS head Jose Rodriguez will be said to feel he never gets a straight answer to the question of whether the tapes should be destroyed, despite extensive correspondence about the issue at the CIA. (Isikoff and Hosenball 12/11/2007; Isikoff and Hosenball 12/24/2007) A former intelligence official will say, “They never told us, ‘Hell, no.’ If somebody had said, ‘You cannot destroy them,’ we would not have destroyed them.” (Mazzetti and Shane 12/11/2007)

Following a request that the CIA be exempted from a US ban on torture, claims about alleged CIA mistreatment of prisoners begin to appear in the media, apparently fueled by CIA employees unhappy with the practices the CIA is employing. On November 2, the Washington Post reveals information about the CIA’s network of secret prisons, including facilities in Europe, which is kept secret from “nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA’s covert actions.” The rationale for the policy is that the CIA apparently needs to hold people without the restrictions imposed by the US legal system, in order to keep the country safe. Detainees are said to be tortured, and this is not only questionable under US law, but, in some cases, against the law of the host country. (Priest 11/2/2005) On November 9, the New York Times reveals that in 2004, the CIA’s Inspector General secretly concluded that the CIA’s aggressive interrogation techniques in use up until that time were likely in violation of a 1994 international treaty against torture signed by the US (see May 7, 2004). (Jehl 11/9/2005) After the network is revealed, there is much interest in what actually goes on in it and more important details are uncovered by ABC News on November 18. Apparently, the CIA’s interrogation techniques have led to the death of one detainee and include sleep deprivation, physical violence, waterboarding, and leaving prisoners in cold cells (see Mid-March 2002). The intelligence generated by these techniques is said to be questionable, and one source says: “This is the problem with using the waterboard. They get so desperate that they begin telling you what they think you want to hear.” (Ross and Esposito 11/18/2005) Some videotapes of CIA interrogations of detainees are destroyed this same month, although what date this happens exactly is unclear (see November 2005). The CIA is also so alarmed by these revelations that it immediately closes its secret prisons in Eastern Europe and opens a new one in a remote section of the Sahara desert (see November 2005).

On November 3, 2005, Leonie Brinkema, the judge in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial, asks the CIA about recordings of interrogations of detainees who are related to the Moussaoui case. Eleven days later, the CIA again incorrectly claims to prosecutors in that trial that it has no such recordings. The CIA made a similar claim in 2003 (see May 7-9, 2003), but in fact the CIA secretly videotaped detainee interrogations in 2002 (see Spring-Late 2002). Some of these videotapes are destroyed this month (see November 2005), however it is unknown if the destruction takes place before or after this date. In late 2007, the CIA will reveal that it did have some videotapes after all and prosecutors will finally be able to view some of them (see September 19 and October 18, 2007). But it will also be revealed that most of the videotapes were destroyed (see December 6, 2007). Prosecutors will later claim that neither the video nor the audio recordings contained material relevant to the Moussaoui trial, and some of the content of the interrogations was provided during discovery. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 10/25/2007 pdf file; Vicini 11/13/2007)

The US charges British citizen Binyam Ahmed Mohamed (see May-September, 2001), who has allegedly used the aliases Talha al-Kini, Foaud Zouaoui, Taha al-Nigeri, and John Samuel, with conspiracy to foment and carry out terrorist attacks against US targets. Mohamed, who was arrested in Pakistan in April 2002, is charged with “attacking civilians; attacking civilian objects; murder by an unprivileged belligerent; destruction of property by an unprivileged belligerent; and terrorism,” though the charge sheet is unclear whether Mohamed carried out any of these actions himself, or whether he was part of a larger conspiracy by the al-Qaeda terrorist organization. The charges allege links between Mohamed and “shoe bomber” Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001), radical Islamist Abu Zubaida, 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla. Mohamed is alleged to have been part of the Padilla bomb plot. (US Defense Department 11/4/2005 pdf file) Much of the evidence against Mohamed comes from confessions he allegedly made while in US custody at the detention camp at Bagram Air Force Base (see January-September 2004), and in Guantanamo Bay (see September 2004 and After). He was also held in Pakistan (see April 10-May, 2002 and May 17 - July 21, 2002), and “rendered” to a secret prison in Morocco (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004). Through his lawyers, Mohamed has claimed that he was tortured in all four detention sites. The British judiciary will later establish that British officials facilitated Mohamed’s interrogation in Pakistan, and had “full knowledge of the reported conditions of his detention and treatment” (see February 24, 2009). (Guardian 2/5/2009) As with Padilla, the charges relating to the “dirty bomb” plot will later be dropped due to lack of evidence, and all charges against Mohamed will eventually be dropped (see October-December 2008 and February 4, 2009).

New York Post editorial writer Deborah Orin echoes charges made by previous columnists in the Wall Street Journal that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald is conducting a partisan political prosecution of former White House official Lewis Libby (see October 29, 2005 and October 31, 2005), and repeats charges by former Reagan Justice Department official Victoria Toensing that the CIA is behind the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity (see November 3, 2005). Orin repeats previously made assertions that the CIA allowed Plame Wilson’s exposure by allowing her to send her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger (see February 13, 2002, February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005), failed to have Wilson sign “the usual confidentiality agreement,” and failed to require him to write a written report (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002), and March 8, 2002). Orin accuses Wilson of only voicing his public criticism of the Bush administration’s Iraq invasion after he “joined” the presidential campaign of John Kerry (D-MA) in May 2003, even though he began publicly criticizing the administration a year earlier (see May 2002, October 13, 2002, November 2002, December 9, 2002, January 28-29, 2003, February 13, 2003, February 28, 2003, March 3, 2003, March 5, 2003, and March 8, 2003), and the White House began its retaliatory attack against his criticisms in March 2003 (see March 9, 2003 and After). Orin also repeats Toensing’s sourceless assertion that Wilson’s New York Times op-ed about his findings in Niger (see July 6, 2003) “sharply conflicted with what he’d told the CIA.” It was the CIA’s actions, not the White House’s, that led to Plame Wilson’s exposure, Orin avers (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, and July 12, 2003). Orin quotes Toensing, who said: “It [the Plame Wilson exposure] was a planned CIA covert action against the White House. It was too clever by half.” The reason, Orin says, was to divert attention from its intelligence failures surrounding the US failure to find WMD in Iraq: “Having Wilson go public was very useful to the CIA, especially the division where his wife worked—because it served to shift blame for failed ‘slam dunk’ intelligence claims away from the agency. To say that Bush ‘twisted’ intelligence was to presume—falsely—that the CIA had gotten it right.” The White House was merely defending itself from the CIA’s propaganda onslaught, Orin writes, adding that since Plame Wilson was not a covert agent (see Fall 1992 - 1996), the agency was “dishonest” in claiming that its intelligence operations had been damaged by her exposure (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, October 29, 2005, and February 13, 2006). (Orin 11/7/2005)

Brett Tolman.Brett Tolman. [Source: ABC4 (.com)]Brett Tolman, a Republican Senate Judiciary Committee official, tells Assistant Attorney General William Moschella that he will perform a “comprehensive fix” to the USA Patriot Act reauthorization coming up for approval in Congress (see March 9, 2006). Tolman and Moschella are referring to a provision in the reauthorization legislation that would allow the attorney general to appoint interim US Attorneys on an indefinite basis without having them go through Senate confirmation, and remove the ability of a federal court to appoint a US Attorney (see July 2005 - March 2006). Moschella suggests Tolman use the “comprehensive fix” of repealing Section 546 of Title 28 of the United States Code, subsections C and D, and replacing them with the following language: “A person appointed as United States Attorney under this section may serve until the qualification of a United States Attorney for such district appointed by the president under section 541 of this title.” Late the same evening, Tolman receives an email from Moschella instructing him to quietly insert the provision in the USA Patriot Act reauthorization bill that would eliminate a 120-day limit for “interim” US Attorneys to serve without Senate confirmation. In essence, the provision would allow such “interims” to serve indefinitely, cutting the Senate entirely out of the process of naming US Attorneys and allowing the attorney general to make political appointments without oversight. Tolman replies, “I will get the comprehensive fix done.” He slips the provision into a draft of the bill while it is in conference committee. None of the members notice the provision, and it is part of the bill as signed into law in March 2006 (see March 9, 2006). Tolman himself is one of the first beneficiaries of the new provision, becoming the US Attorney for Utah. When the new provision comes to light in early 2007, both chambers of Congress vote overwhelmingly to repeal it. This is one of numerous “stealth provisions” the White House will have inserted into legislation with the help of compliant Congressional Republicans and staffers. (Savage 2007, pp. 316; US Department of Justice 3/23/2007 pdf file) Moschella will later take the credit for the provision, and will tell reporters that he made the change on behalf of the Justice Department “without the knowledge or coordination of his superiors at the Justice Department or anyone at the White House.” (Thomas 2011)

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sends a letter to a federal judge in Montana, assuring him that US Attorney William W. Mercer is not violating federal law by spending almost all of his time in Washington as a temporary Justice Department official. The same day, Mercer has a Republican Senate staffer insert language into the USA Patriot reauthorization bill (see March 9, 2006) that would retroactively change the rules and allow federal prosecutors such as himself to live outside their districts and serve in other positions. Congress will include the language in the bill when it passes the legislation. Mercer and a small number of other Justice Department employees are the only ones to benefit from the provision. In 2007, when the provision is revealed to the public, Justice Department officials will say the provision was necessary to ensure that prosecutors such as Mercer could fill temporary positions in Washington, Iraq, and elsewhere. Critics will accuse Gonzales of being, in the Washington Post’s words, “less than truthful” about the actions of himself, his staff, and the White House. The question surrounding Mercer involves residency. Mercer is the US Attorney for Montana, appointed in 2001. In June 2005, he was appointed to serve as principal associate deputy attorney general, at Gonzales’s request. US District Chief Judge Donald W. Molloy of Billings has become increasingly irked at Mercer’s absence from Montana for the last two years. In October, Molloy wrote Gonzales to say that Mercer was violating federal law because he “no longer resides in Montana” and was living with his family in the Washington area. Gonzales replies three weeks later to tell Molloy that Mercer “is in compliance with the residency requirement” under federal law because he “is domiciled there, returns there on a regular basis, and will live there full-time as soon as his temporary assignment is completed.” At the same time Gonzales writes Molloy, Mercer has a Senate staffer, Brett Tolman, insert the provision into the Patriot Act legislation. Tolman is the counsel for Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Tolman will later be named the US Attorney for Utah. Specter’s office will characterize the provision as “unremarkable” and aboveboard. Mercer currently serves as acting associate attorney general and has been nominated for the position on a permanent basis. He spends only about three days a month in Montana and delegates almost all of his duties as US Attorney to underlings. (ePluribus Media 3/26/2007; Eggen 5/2/2007) Mercer will be nominated to serve as associate attorney general, the third-highest position in the Justice Department, in September 2006. He will not be confirmed for the position by the Senate, as confirmation would require his leaving the position of US Attorney. In June 2007, Mercer will resign from the associate attorney general position, retaining his position as US Attorney for Montana (see June 22, 2007). (ePluribus Media 3/26/2007; Eggen 6/22/2007)

Jose Padilla being escorted by federal agents in January 2006.Jose Padilla being escorted by federal agents in January 2006. [Source: Alan Diaz / Associated Press]Jose Padilla, a US citizen and “enemy combatant” alleged to be an al-Qaeda terrorist (see May 8, 2002) and held without charges for over three years (see October 9, 2005), is charged with being part of a North American terrorist cell that sent money and recruits overseas to, as the indictment reads, “murder, maim, and kidnap.” The indictment contains none of the sensational allegations that the US government has made against Padilla (see June 10, 2002), including his supposed plan to detonate a “dirty bomb” inside the US (see Early 2002) and his plans to blow up US hotel and apartment buildings (see March 2002). Nor does the indictment accuse Padilla of being a member of al-Qaeda. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says, “The indictment alleges that Padilla traveled overseas to train as a terrorist (see September-October 2000) with the intention of fighting a violent jihad.” He refuses to say why the more serious charges were not filed. Some provisions of the Patriot Act helped the investigation, Gonzales adds: “By tearing down the artificial wall that would have prevented this kind of investigation in the past, we’re able to bring these terrorists to justice,” he says. The Padilla case has become a central part of the dispute over holding prisoners such as Padilla without charge; by charging Padilla with lesser crimes, the Bush administration avoids the possibility of the Supreme Court ruling that he and other “enemy combatants,” particularly American citizens, must either be tried or released. Law professor Eric Freedman says the Padilla indictment is an effort by the administration “to avoid an adverse decision of the Supreme Court.” Law professor Jenny Martinez, who represents Padilla, says: “There’s no guarantee the government won’t do this again to Mr. Padilla or others. The Supreme Court needs to review this case on the merits so the lower court decision is not left lying like a loaded gun for the government to use whenever it wants.” Padilla’s lawyers say the government’s case against their client is based on little more than “double and triple hearsay from secret witnesses, along with information allegedly obtained from Padilla himself during his two years of incommunicado interrogation.” Padilla will be transferred from military custody to the Justice Department, where he will await trial in a federal prison in Miami. He faces life in prison if convicted of conspiracy to murder, maim, and kidnap overseas. The lesser charges—providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy—carry maximum prison terms of 15 years each. (Associated Press 11/22/2005; Fox News 11/23/2005)
'Dirty Bomb' Allegations 'Not Credible,' Says Former FBI Agent - Retired FBI agent Jack Cloonan, an expert on al-Qaeda, later says: “The dirty bomb plot was simply not credible. The government would never have given up that case if there was any hint of credibility to it. Padilla didn’t stand trial for it, because there was no evidence to support it.” (Rose 12/16/2008)
Issue with CIA Videotapes - In 2002, captured al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida identified Padilla as an al-Qaeda operative (see Mid-April 2002) and the government cited Zubaida as a source of information about Padilla after Padilla’s arrest. Yet, sometime this same month, the CIA destroys the videotapes of Zubaida’s interrogations from the time period where he allegedly identified Padilla (see November 2005). The Nation’s Aziz Huq will later comment: “Given the [Bush] administration’s reliance on Zubaida’s statements as evidence of Padilla’s guilt, tapes of Zubaida’s interrogation were clearly relevant to the Padilla trial.… A federal criminal statute prevents the destruction of any record for a foreseeable proceeding, even if the evidence is not admissible.… [I]t seems almost certain that preservation of the tapes was legally required by the Jose Padilla prosecution.” (Huq 12/11/2007)

The US lifts an arms embargo on Indonesia. The US imposed a limited arms ban in 1991 after the Indonesian military massacred civilians in East Timor. The arms ban was strengthened in 1999 after the Indonesian military committed more massacres as East Timor voted for independence. The Bush administration had long desired closer ties with the Indonesian military, but was held back by Congress, which imposed conditions before military relations could be reestablished. In particular, the Indonesian military was required to account for some atrocities, especially the alleged killing of several US teachers by Indonesian soldiers in the province of West Papua in 2002 (see August 31, 2002). Indonesia had yet to fulfill these conditions, but earlier in the month Congress inserted a loophole in the law, allowing the restrictions to be waived by the Bush administration if it was found necessary for national security reasons. The Bush administration uses the loophole during Thanksgiving vacation while Congress is out of session, despite the lack of any new national security reason to do so. The lifting of restrictions still falls short of full military relations the US has with most other countries in the region. The US also renewed training and educational exchanges with the Indonesian military earlier in the year. (Gelling 11/24/2005) The killing of US teachers in Papua remains unresolved. In January 2006, the New York Times will report that Indonesian police have concluded that the Indonesian military committed the killings but are unwilling to officially report this because of diplomatic sensitivities between the US and Indonesia. (Perlez and Bonner 1/27/2006)

The Supreme Court declines, without comment, to hear the case (see August 4, 2005) brought by former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds. (Stout 11/28/2005; Vicini 11/28/2005) The decision puts an end to Edmonds’ legal efforts to hold the bureau accountable for its failure to address several security issues raised by Edmonds in late 2001 and early 2002 (see December 2, 2001 and Afternoon February 12, 2002, respectively). On August 4, Edmonds had filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking it “to provide guidance to the lower courts about the proper scope and application of the state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953), and to prevent further misuse of the privilege to dismiss lawsuits at the pleading stage.” The petition also urged the court to affirm that the press and public may not be barred from court proceedings in civil cases without just cause. (In May, the federal appeals court had closed the courtroom to the public and media.) Had the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of Edmonds, she would have been able to return to the lower courts and start her case again. (Petition for a writ of certiorari. Sibel Edmonds v. Department of Justice, et all. 8/4/2005, pp. 2 pdf file; Strohm 8/8/2005)

A new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an impartial investigative arm of Congress, claims the US effort to help foreign nations cut off terrorism funding has been frustrated by infighting among US agencies, a lack of funding, and leadership problems. The report says “the US government lacks an integrated strategy” to train foreign countries and give them technical assistance. Officials at the State and Treasury Departments cannot even agree on who is supposed to be in charge of the effort. In at least one case, the State Department refused to even allow a Treasury official to enter a certain foreign country. “Investigators found clear tensions between officials at State, Treasury, Justice, and other US government departments.” Remarkably, private contractors have sometimes been allowed to draft proposed laws for foreign countries to curb terrorist financing. The contractors’ work at times resulted in proposals with “substantial deficiencies.” Generally speaking, the New York Times notes that experts say that the Bush administration’s efforts with terrorist financing has been “spotty, with few clear dents in al-Qaeda’s ability to move money and finance terrorist attacks.” (Lichtblau 11/29/2005)

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the presiding judge over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), learns from Justice Department liaison James Baker that at least one more government application for a FISA surveillance warrant is based on illegally obtained evidence. Kollar-Kotelly has warned the Justice Department about this practice in the past (see 2004 and 2005). This time, administration officials claim that the evidence in question is presented due to an error by a low-level Defense Department employee. Kollar-Kotelly asks Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to ensure that such an “error” does not happen again. (Leonnig 2/9/2006)

Arthur Sulzberger.Arthur Sulzberger. [Source: New York Times]George W. Bush summons New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and Times editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office to try to dissuade them from running a landmark story revealing the NSA’s illegal wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005) that he authorized in 2002 (see Early 2002). In the meeeting, Bush warns Sulzberger and Keller that “there’ll be blood on your hands” if another terrorist attack were to occur, obviously implying that to reveal the nature of the program would invite terrorist strikes. Bush is unsuccessful in his attempt to quash the story. (Alter 12/21/2005; Isikoff 12/22/2008)

According to an unnamed law enforcement official who works with the FBI and the National Counter Terrorism Center, the investigation into the SAAR network is still ongoing. However, only a small portion of the documents and computer files confiscated in a raid on the network in 2002 (see March 20, 2002) have been fully translated from Arabic into English. This official complains, “They don’t have the damn resources. They don’t have the language skills or computer forensic personnel to go through it all. And yet it’s a gold mine of information.” (Sperry 12/9/2005)

An FBI investigation into Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee, is halted by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, according to three former top national security officials. The investigation was to determine whether she agreed to use her influence on behalf of accused Israeli spies in return for Israeli support in being named chairman of the committee (see Summer 2005, October 2005 and December 2, 2006). In contrast to the former officials’ claims, the media will report that the investigation is ended due to “lack of evidence” of impropriety or illegal behavior on Harman’s part. However, according to the former officials, Gonzales wants Harman to help defend the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which is about to be revealed by a long-simmering New York Times story (see December 15, 2005). The evidence against Harman includes NSA wiretaps of a conversation between her and an Israeli agent. Reporter Jeff Stein will write, “As for there being ‘no evidence’ to support the FBI probe, a source with first-hand knowledge of the wiretaps called that ‘bull****.’” Another former national security officer will confirm Harman’s presence on the wiretaps. “It’s true,” the official will say. “She was on there.” Justice Department attorneys in the intelligence and public corruption units have concluded that Harman had committed what they called a “completed crime,” meaning there was evidence to show that she had attempted to complete it; they were prepared to open a case on her that would include wiretaps approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). CIA Director Porter Goss certified the FISA wiretapping request, and decided to inform House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and ranking House Democrat Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) of the impending FBI investigation. At this point, say Stein’s sources, Gonzales intervenes to stop the investigation. Two officials with knowledge of the events will say that, in Gonzales’s words, he “needed Jane” to help support the warrantless wiretapping program once it became public knowledge. Gonzales tells Goss that Harman had helped persuade the Times to refrain from publishing the story in late 2004 (see Early November 2004, December 6, 2005, and Mid-2005), and although the Times would no longer wait on the story, Harman could be counted on to help defend the program. She will do just that (see December 21, 2005 and February 8-12, 2006). Hastert and Pelosi are never told of the FBI investigation. Stein will also learn that Goss’s successor, Michael Hayden, will later be informed of the potential investigation, but choose to take no action. Likewise, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte will oppose any such investigation. Former officials who will pursue the Israeli espionage case for years will say, in Stein’s words, that “Harman dodged a bullet… [s]he was protected by an administration desperate for help.” A recently retired national security official closely involved in the investigation will add: “It’s the deepest kind of corruption. It’s a story about the corruption of government—not legal corruption necessarily, but ethical corruption.” (Stein 4/19/2009)

New York Times headline from article revealing NSA surveillance.New York Times headline from article revealing NSA surveillance. [Source: CBS News]The New York Times reveals that after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush granted the National Security Agency (NSA) secret authorization to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the US without going through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to obtain legal warrants (see Early 2002. The administration justifies its actions by claiming such eavesdropping, which includes wiretapping phones and reading e-mails, is necessary to find evidence of terrorist activities, and says the nation needs the program after the 9/11 attacks exposed deficiencies in the US intelligence community’s information gathering process, and because of what they characterize as the “handcuffing” of US intelligence agencies by restrictive laws. The Times has had the article for over a year; the White House prevailed on the Times not to publish its findings for that time, arguing that publication would jeopardize continuing investigations and warn potential terrorists that they were under scrutiny. Many believe that the White House wanted to delay the publication of the article until well after the 2004 presidential elections. The Times delayed publication for over a year, and agreed to suppress some information that administration officials say could be useful to terrorists. (Less than two weeks before the article is published, Bush tries to convince the Times not to print the article at all: see December 6, 2005.) Two days after the Times publishes its article, Bush will acknowledge the order, and accuse the Times of jeopardizing national security (see December 17, 2005). The NSA program eavesdrops without warrants on up to 500 people in the US at any given time, officials say; the overall numbers have likely reached into the thousands. Overseas, up to 7,000 people suspected of terrorist ties are being monitored. Officials point to the discovery of a plot by Ohio trucker and naturalized US citizen and alleged al-Qaeda supporter Iyman Faris to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches as evidence of the program’s efficacy. They also cite the disruption of an al-Qaeda plot to detonate fertilizer bombs outside of British pubs and train stations by the program. But, officials say, most people targeted by the NSA for warrantless wiretapping have never been charged with a crime, and many are targeted because of questionable evidence and groundless suspicion. Many raise an outcry against the program, including members of Congress, civil liberties groups, immigrant rights groups, and others who insist that the program undermines fundamental Constitutional protections of US citizens’ civil liberties and rights to privacy. Several other government programs to spy on Americans have been challenged, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)‘s surveillance of US citizens’ library and Internet usage, the monitoring of peaceful antiwar protests, and the proposed use of public and private databases to hunt for terrorist links. In 2004, the Supreme Court overturned the administration’s claim that so-called “enemy detainees” were not entitled to judicial review of their indefinite detentions. Several senior officials say that when the warrantless wiretapping program began, it operated with few controls and almost no oversight outside of the NSA itself. The agency is not required to seek the approval of the Justice Department or anyone else outside the FISA court for its surveillance operations. Some NSA officials wanted nothing to do with a program they felt was patently illegal, according to a former senior Bush administration official. Internal concerns about the program prompted the Bush administration to briefly suspend the program while Justice Department officials audited it and eventually provided some guidelines for its operations. A complaint from Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the federal judge who oversees the FISA Court, helped spur the suspension, according to officials. Kollar-Kotelly questioned whether information obtained under the program was being improperly used as the basis for FISA wiretap warrant requests from the Justice Department. Some government lawyers say that the Justice Department may have deliberately misled Kollar-Kotelly and the FISA court about the program in order to keep the program under wraps. The judge insisted to Justice Department officials that any material gathered under the program not be used in seeking wiretap warrants from her court. The question also arose in the Faris case, when senior Justice Department officials worried that evidence obtained by warrantless wiretapping by the NSA of Faris could be used in court without having to lie to the court about its origins. (Risen and Lichtblau 12/15/2005)

Times executive editor Bill Keller.Times executive editor Bill Keller. [Source: New York Times]The New York Times’s executive editor, Bill Keller, defends his paper’s decision to reveal the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, conducted through the NSA (see December 15, 2005), after holding the story for over a year. Keller writes: “We start with the premise that a newspaper’s job is to publish information that is a matter of public interest. Clearly a secret policy reversal that gives an American intelligence agency discretion to monitor communications within the country is a matter of public interest.… A year ago, when this information first became known to Times reporters, the administration argued strongly that writing about this eavesdropping program would give terrorists clues about the vulnerability of their communications and would deprive the government of an effective tool for the protection of the country’s security. Officials also assured senior editors of The Times that a variety of legal checks had been imposed that satisfied everyone involved that the program raised no legal questions. As we have done before in rare instances when faced with a convincing national security argument, we agreed not to publish at that time. We also continued reporting, and in the ensuing months two things happened that changed our thinking. First, we developed a fuller picture of the concerns and misgivings that had been expressed during the life of the program. It is not our place to pass judgment on the legal or civil liberties questions involved in such a program, but it became clear those questions loomed larger within the government than we had previously understood. Second, in the course of subsequent reporting we satisfied ourselves that we could write about this program—withholding a number of technical details—in a way that would not expose any intelligence-gathering methods or capabilities that are not already on the public record. The fact that the government eavesdrops on those suspected of terrorist connections is well-known. The fact that the NSA can legally monitor communications within the United States with a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is also public information. What is new is that the NSA has for the past three years had the authority to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States without a warrant. It is that expansion of authority—not the need for a robust anti-terror intelligence operation—that prompted debate within the government, and that is the subject of the article.” (CNN 12/16/2005)

President Bush acknowledges that he issued a 2002 executive order authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to wiretap US citizens’ phones and e-mails without proper warrants, and accuses the New York Times of jeopardizing national security by publishing its December 15 article (see Early 2002 and December 15, 2005). Bush says he was within the law to issue such an order, which many feel shatters fundamental Constitutional guarantees of liberty and privacy, but accuses the Times of breaking the law by publishing the article. Bush tells listeners during his weekly radio address that the executive order is “fully consistent” with his “constitutional responsibilities and authorities.” But, he continues, “Yesterday the existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports, after being improperly provided to news organizations. As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk.” He admits allowing the NSA to “to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al-Qaeda and related terrorist organizations” in a program designed to “detect and prevent terrorist attacks.” Under the law, the NSA must obtain warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, but after Bush’s executive order, it was no longer required to do so. Bush justifies the order by citing the example of two 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, who, he says, “communicated while they were in the United States to other members of al-Qaeda who were overseas, but we didn’t know they were here until it was too late.” Because of the unconstitutional wiretapping program, it is “more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time, and the activities conducted under this authorization have helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad.” Bush also admits to reauthorizing the program “more than thirty times,” and adds, “I intend to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from al-Qaeda and related groups.” (CNN 12/16/2005) Bush fails to address the likelihood that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).

After the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program is revealed (see Early 2002 and December 15, 2005), some commentators criticize the program. Americans have fundamental Constitutional protections that are enforceable in court whether their conversations are domestic or international, says law scholar Geoffrey Stone. Stone says that President Bush’s emphasis that NSA wiretapping only takes place on US calls to overseas phones or overseas e-mails “is no different, as far as the law is concerned, from saying we only do it on Tuesdays.” Former FBI national security law chief Michael Woods, who served in the position when Bush signed the NSA directive, calls the program “very dangerous.” Though Woods says the program was justifiable in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, “[By now] we ought to be past the time of emergency responses. We ought to have more considered views now…. We have time to debate a legal regime and what’s appropriate.” (Gellman and Linzer 12/18/2005) Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, says the secret order may amount to Bush authorizing criminal activity in direct violation of FISA. “This is as shocking a revelation as we have ever seen from the Bush administration,” she says. “It is, I believe, the first time a president has authorized government agencies to violate a specific criminal prohibition and eavesdrop on Americans.” The American Civil Liberties Union’s Caroline Frederickson says of the program, “It’s clear that the administration has been very willing to sacrifice civil liberties in its effort to exercise its authority on terrorism, to the extent that it authorizes criminal activity.” (Eggen 12/16/2005)

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and NSA chief Lieutenant General Michael Hayden conduct their own “briefing” on the recently revealed NSA wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005) with the White House press corps. Gonzales and Hayden make the following points:
bullet Gonzales says that he will not discuss the internal workings of the still-classified program, only what he calls its “legal underpinnings.”
bullet He claims that the program, which he calls “the most classified program that exists in the United States government,” is legal because President Bush authorized it, and says that the idea that “the United States is somehow spying on American citizens” is wrong: it is “[v]ery, very important to understand that one party to the communication has to be outside the United States.”
bullet He says that for the NSA to eavesdrop on a US citizen’s telephone or e-mail communications, “we have to have a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al-Qaeda, affiliated with al-Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with al-Qaeda, or working in support of al-Qaeda.” The wiretapping program is an essential part of the administration’s war against terror, he says.
bullet He goes on to claim that “the authorization to use force, which was passed by the Congress in the days following September 11th, constitutes” legal grounds for “this kind of signals intelligence.” (White House 12/19/2005) The White House signed Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) into law on September 18, 2001 (see September 14-18, 2001. (White House 9/18/2001)
Hayden Claims Supreme Court Backing - While he admits that the Congressional authorization to use force against international terrorism does not specifically mention any kind of electronic surveillance, he refers the listeners to the Supreme Court case concerning alleged US terrorist Yaser Esam Hamdi (see June 28, 2004), in which the Court ruled that Hamdi had the legal right to challenge his detention. “[T]he United States government took the position that Congress had authorized that detention in the authorization to use force, even though the authorization to use force never mentions the word ‘detention.’ And the Supreme Court, a plurality written by Justice O’Connor agreed. She said, it was clear and unmistakable that the Congress had authorized the detention of an American citizen captured on the battlefield as an enemy combatant for the remainder—the duration of the hostilities. So even though the authorization to use force did not mention the word, ‘detention,’ she felt that detention of enemy soldiers captured on the battlefield was a fundamental incident of waging war, and therefore, had been authorized by Congress when they used the words, ‘authorize the President to use all necessary and appropriate force.’ For the same reason, we believe signals intelligence is even more a fundamental incident of war, and we believe has been authorized by the Congress. And even though signals intelligence is not mentioned in the authorization to use force, we believe that the Court would apply the same reasoning to recognize the authorization by Congress to engage in this kind of electronic surveillance.”
Bush 'Very Concerned' With Protecting Civil Liberties - Gonzales insists, Bush “is very concerned about the protection of civil liberties, and that’s why we’ve got strict parameters, strict guidelines in place out at NSA to ensure that the program is operating in a way that is consistent with the President’s directives.” He adds, “[W]e feel comfortable that this surveillance is consistent with requirements of the Fourth Amendment. The touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness, and the Supreme Court has long held that there are exceptions to the warrant requirement in—when special needs outside the law enforcement arena. And we think that that standard has been met here.”
Wiretapping Essential in Catching Terrorists - Hayden reiterates how important the wiretapping is to catching terrorists and stopping potential attacks against US targets, though he and Gonzales both refuse to say what, if any, terrorist plots or what terror suspects might have been captured through the NSA wiretapping program. Hayden does say, “This program has been successful in detecting and preventing attacks inside the United States.…I can say unequivocally, all right, that we have got information through this program that would not otherwise have been available,” though he refuses to cite specifics. He admits that there have been some errors in surveilling innocent US citizens, though he refuses to give any details, and says those errors were quickly corrected.
Administration Not Required to Go Through FISA - Gonzales, who is the main speaker in the briefing, reiterates that while the administration continues to seek warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court, “we are not legally required to do, in this particular case, because the law requires that we—FISA requires that we get a court order, unless authorized by a statute, and we believe that authorization has occurred.” He justifies the administration’s refusal to use the FISA court for obtaining warrants by insisting that NSA officials “tell me that we don’t have the speed and the agility that we need, in all circumstances, to deal with this new kind of enemy. You have to remember that FISA was passed by the Congress in 1978. There have been tremendous advances in technology… since then.” Hayden adds, “I don’t think anyone could claim that FISA was envisaged as a tool to cover armed enemy combatants in preparation for attacks inside the United States. And that’s what this authorization under the President is designed to help us do.”
'Balancing' of Civil Liberties, National Security - Hayden says the warrantless wiretapping program is part of “a balancing between security and liberty,” a more “aggressive” operation “than would be traditionally available under FISA. It is also less intrusive. It deals only with international calls. It is generally for far shorter periods of time. And it is not designed to collect reams of intelligence, but to detect and warn and prevent about attacks. And, therefore, that’s where we’ve decided to draw that balance between security and liberty.”
Media Leaks Damaging to National Security - Gonzales refuses to talk about when any members of Congress were briefed on the program or what they were told, but he does imply that there will be some sort of leak investigation as to how the New York Times found out about the program: “[T]his is really hurting national security, this has really hurt our country, and we are concerned that a very valuable tool has been compromised. As to whether or not there will be a leak investigation, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
No Evidence of Compromised National Security - When asked whether he can cite any evidence that the revelation of the program’s existence has actually compromised anything—“Don’t you assume that the other side thinks we’re listening to them? I mean, come on,” one reporter says—Gonzales responds, rather confusingly, “I think the existence of this program, the confirmation of the—I mean, the fact that this program exists, in my judgment, has compromised national security, as the President indicated on Saturday.”
Easier to Sidestep FISA Instead of Seek Congressional Approval - He does admit that the administration decided to sidestep the FISA court entirely instead of attempt to work with Congress to rewrite the FISA statutes because “we were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible” to amend the law to the White House’s satisfaction. Gonzales says those who are concerned about the program being excessively intrusive or a threat to American civil liberties simply “don’t understand the specifics of the program, they don’t understand the strict safeguards within the program.… Part of the reason for this press brief today is to have you help us educate the American people and the American Congress about what we’re doing and the legal basis for what we’re doing.” He adds that any legal experts who believe the program is illegal are basing their judgments “on very limited information.”
Tough Questioning - One reporter asks an unusually tough series of questions to Gonzales: “Do you think the government has the right to break the law?”, to which Gonzales replies, “Absolutely not. I don’t believe anyone is above the law.” The reporter then says, “You have stretched this resolution for war into giving you carte blanche to do anything you want to do,” to which Gonzales replies cryptically, “Well, one might make that same argument in connection with detention of American citizens, which is far more intrusive than listening into a conversation.” The reporter insists, “You’re never supposed to spy on Americans,” and Gonzales deflects the responsibility for the decision back onto the Supreme Court.
Administration Will Tell Nation What It Needs to Know - Gonzales says the administration has no intention of releasing any of the classified legal opinions underpinning the program, and this press briefing is one of the methods by which the administration will “educat[e] the American people…and the Congress” to give them what they need to know about the program. (White House 12/19/2005)

DARPA logo.DARPA logo. [Source: Duke University]The computer and technology experts at Ars Technica, a well-regarded Web publication which describes itself as focusing on “the art of technology,” speculate on the technology behind the NSA warrantless wiretapping program recently revealed to the public (see December 15, 2005). The Ars Technica experts believe that Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)‘s 2003 comparison between the program and the Total Information Awareness (TIA) project (see March 2002) is the most apt. They believe that the NSA wiretapping program may be built upon the foundation of a shadowy, highly classified surveillance program called Echelon. They write, “This system’s purpose would be to monitor communications and detect would-be terrorists and plots before they happen… This project is not interested in funding ‘evolutionary’ changes in technology, e.g., bit-step improvements to current data mining and storage techniques. Rather, the amount of data that the directors are anticipating (petabytes!) would require massive leaps in technology (and perhaps also some massive leaps in surveillance laws).” (Stark 12/20/2005; Ars Technica 2007) Data storage measured in petabytes is a colossal capacity; a petabyte is 1,024 terabytes, and a single terabyte is 1,024 gigabytes, the usual measurement for hard drive capacity. (TechTerms 2007) The Ars Technica experts continue, “According to DARPA, such data collection ‘increases information coverage by an order of magnitude,’ and ultimately ‘requires keeping track of individuals and understanding how they fit into models.’” They go on to note that the NSA wiretapping program was instituted shortly after the TIA project was quashed by Congress, and say they believe the NSA program is an extension and an outgrowth of TIA. They note that “the FBI requested the legal authorization to do very high-volume monitoring of digital calls” in 1995, that there is “no way for the judicial system to approve warrants for the number of calls that the FBI wanted to monitor,” and that the FBI “could never hire enough humans to be able to monitor that many calls simultaneously, which means that they’d have to use voice recognition technology to look for ‘hits’ that they could then follow up on with human wiretaps.” The Ars Technica experts believe the NSA is using “some kind of high-volume, automated voice recognition and pattern matching system,” employing a form of “smart filtering” that would weed through perhaps hundreds of thousands of computer-monitored calls and turning a fraction of those calls over to human analysts for evaluation: “[Y]es, this kind of real-time voice recognition, crude semantic parsing and pattern matching is doable with today’s technology, especially when you have a budget like the NSA.” In a follow-up, Ars Technica technology specialist and self-described conservative and “privacy nazi” Jon Stokes writes of his own concerns over the program, noting that the program is too wide-reaching and too blunt to actually catch many real terrorists, and that the program is a tremendous intrusion into Americans’ fundamental privacy: “The problem is not that such large-scale industrial fishing invariably catches a few dolphins along with the tuna, but that between 99.999 and 100 percent of what you’re going to get is dolphin.” Stokes also warns that such an intrusive surveillance program will not only violate privacy rights, but be quite ineffective: “As the TSA, with its strip-searching of people’s elderly grandparents, abundantly proves every holiday season, blunt instruments and scorched earth tactics are of dubious value in catching genuine bad actors. In fact, blunt instruments and wide nets are the easiest for professional bad guys to evade. All you need to beat such surveillance tools is patience and know-how.…Blunt instruments like airport facial recognition software and random subway bag searches produce much more noise than they do signal, and any engineer or computer scientist worth his or her salt will tell you that an intelligent, targeted, low-tech approach beats a brute-force high-tech approach every time. There is no high-tech substitute for human intelligence gathering. In fact…an overload of crudely processed information is actually more likely to lead an analyst astray than it is to produce any useful insight.…In the end, brute force security techniques are not only corrosive to democratic values but they’re also bad for national security. They waste massive resources that could be spent more effectively elsewhere, and they give governments and countries a false sense of security that a savvy enemy can exploit to devastating effect.…[I]t’s not just enough to have sound intelligence; you also need political leaders who have the wisdom to use that intelligence appropriately.” (Stark 12/20/2005)

Jonathan Alter.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.” (Alter 12/21/2005)

Chart showing NSA surveillance network.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.” (Lichtblau and Risen 12/24/2005)

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.’” (Spaulding 12/25/2005)

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.” (Shane 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.” (Shane 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.” (Eggen 12/31/2005)

Retired AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004), angered by the Bush administration’s counterattack against government and media members who have helped to expose its warrantless wiretapping operation (see December 15-31, 2005), decides to go public with a memo he wrote about his own knowledge of the collusion between AT&T and the National Security Agency (NSA) in eavesdropping on American citizens’ communications (see January 16, 2004). He updates the memo with a brief preface, selects eight pages of the 121 pages of AT&T documentation he possesses which he believes gives a good overview of the NSA’s surveillance equipment installation, and includes the two photographs he has taken of the NSA’s “secret room” at the AT&T facility in San Francisco and the Internet research he has done on the Narus STA 6400 equipment the NSA is using to sort the communications being captured and recorded (see Late 2003). Instead of entrusting his newly refurbished memo to the Internet, he uses the PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) security protocol for anticipated dissemination, burns the data onto a CD, and begins searching online for civil liberties groups that might be interested in his work. (Wired News 5/17/2006; Klein 2009, pp. 53-55)

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. (Gorham 1/29/2006)

Vice President Cheney mentioned NSA intercepts of the 9/11 hijackers’ calls in a speech to the Heritage Foundation.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.” (Cheney 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).

President Bush’s rationale for authorizing warrantless surveillance against US citizens is of questionable legality and “may represent an exercise of presidential power at its lowest ebb,” according to a Congressional analysis. The Congressional Research Service (CRS), the independent and nonpartisan research bureau of the legislature, answers the question raised around the nation since the revelation of the secret program by the New York Times (see Early 2002): did Bush break the law when he ordered the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on US citizens without court orders or judicial oversight? The CRS report does not give a definitive yes or no answer to that question, but finds Bush’s legal rationale dubious at best. That rationale “does not seem to be as well-grounded” as administration lawyers have claimed, and the report finds that, despite assertions to the contrary by Bush and administration officials, Congress did not authorize warrantless wiretaps when it gave the executive branch the authority to wage war against al-Qaeda in the days after the 9/11 attacks. Unsurprisingly, Bush administration officials criticize the report. But some Republicans and Democrats find the report’s conclusions persuasive, and hold up the report as further evidence that Bush overextended his authority by authorizing the wiretaps. For instance, Republican Thomas Kean, the former chairman of the 9/11 commission (see January 27, 2003, says he doubts the program’s legality. Kean, who has not spoken publicly about the program until now, says the 9/11 commission was never told about the program, and he strongly doubts its legality. “We live by a system of checks and balances, and I think we ought to continue to live by a system of checks and balances,” Kean says. (Congressional Research Service 1/5/2006 pdf file; Lichtblau and Shane 1/6/2006)

John Yoo’s ‘The Powers of War and Peace.’John Yoo’s ‘The Powers of War and Peace.’ [Source: University of Maryland]Libertarian law professor Cass Sunstein reviews a recent book by former Bush legal adviser John Yoo, who authored several of the Bush administration’s most controversial legal opinions concerning terrorism and executive power (see September 21, 2001, September 25, 2001, September 25, 2001, October 4, 2001, October 23, 2001, October 23, 2001, November 2, 2001, November 6-10, 2001, November 15, 2001, November 20, 2001, December 21, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 11, 2002, January 14, 2002, January 22, 2002, January 24, 2002, January 24-26, 2002, March 13, 2002, April 8, 2002, June 27, 2002, July 22, 2002, August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and October 11, 2002). Yoo’s book, The Powers of War and Peace: The Constitution and Foreign Affairs After 9/11, is a compendium of his pre-9/11 academic writings that landed him his job at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Sunstein notes that Yoo, perhaps more than any other single legal scholar, has reshaped the government’s legal stance on any number of issues. He argued for the president’s unilateral ability to declare war without the approval of Congress, the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on suspected terrorists, the withdrawal of essential civil liberties and legal rights from suspected terrorists and enemy collaborators, the right of the administration to electronically eavesdrop on the American citizenry without judicial consent or oversight, the ability to ignore or withdraw from international treaties without congressional approval, and more besides. Sunstein writes: “[T]aken as a whole, the claims of the Bush administration may be properly regarded as an effort to create a distinctive set of constitutional understandings for the post-September 11 era. The White House is attempting to create a kind of 9/11 Constitution. A defining feature of these understandings is a strong commitment to inherent presidential authority over national security, including a belief that in crucial domains the president can act without congressional permission, and indeed cannot be checked by congressional prohibitions.” Yoo is a key figure in that effort. Sunstein calls his work interesting but completely one-sided, simply ignoring “the mountainous counter-evidence” against most of his constitutional claims. “Yoo’s reading would require us to ignore far too many statements by prominent figures in the founding generation,” Sunstein writes. “There are not many issues on which James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, James Wilson, John Adams, and Pierce Butler can be said to agree. Were all of them wrong?” Sunstein concludes: “[W]ith respect to war, there is no reason for a 9/11 Constitution. The old one, read in the light of our traditions, will do just fine.” (Sunstein 1/9/2006; Savage 2007, pp. 81-82)

Russell Tice.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). (Ross 1/10/2006; ABC 1/10/2006)

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. (Mayer 2/27/2006)

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. (Meyer 1/15/2006)

Al Gore speaks to the Liberty Coalition and the American Constitution Society.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)

Journalist and columnist Joshua Micah Marshall says of former Vice President Al Gore’s speech on civil liberties the previous day (see January 16, 2006): “The point Gore makes in his speech that I think is most key is the connection between authoritarianism, official secrecy, and incompetence. The president’s critics are always accusing him of law-breaking or unconstitutional acts and then also berating the incompetence of his governance. And it’s often treated as, well… he’s power-hungry and incompetent to boot! Imagine that! The point though is that they are directly connected. Authoritarianism and secrecy breed incompetence; the two feed on each other. It’s a vicious cycle. Governments with authoritarian tendencies point to what is in fact their own incompetence as the rationale for giving them yet more power.… The basic structure of our Republic really is in danger from a president who militantly insists that he is above the law.” (Dean 2006, pp. 170-171; Marshall 1/17/2006)

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 pdf file; Eggen 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. (Leonnig 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).

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 pdf file; Glenn Greenwald 1/20/2006; Leonnig 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.” (Leonnig 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).

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)

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)

President Bush at the National Security Agency.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). (Bush 1/25/2006) Bush made similar remarks at Kansas State University two days previously. (Bush 1/23/2006)

Washington Post reporter William Arkin reveals that the National Security Agency (NSA) is “building a new warning hub and data warehouse” in Aurora, Colorado, just outside of Denver, on the grounds of Buckley Air Force Base. The agency is transferring many key personnel from its Fort Meade, Maryland, headquarters to Aurora. Arkin calls the new NSA facility, named the Aerospace Data Facility (ADF), “massive,” and says he believes it is the hub of the NSA’s data mining operation (see January 16, 2004). According to Government Executive magazine, the NSA’s new data storage facility “will be able to hold the electronic equivalent of the Library of Congress every two days.” While the NSA explains that the new facility is a cost-cutting measure and part of the agency’s post-9/11 decentralization—“This strategy better aligns support to national decision makers and combatant commanders,” an NSA spokesman tells one reporter—Arkin says that the “NSA is aligning its growing domestic eavesdropping operations—what the administration calls ‘terrorist warning’ in its current PR campaign—with military homeland defense organizations, as well as the CIA’s new domestic operations [in] Colorado.… Colorado is now the American epicenter for national domestic spying.” Arkin notes that previous news reports have said that the CIA is planning to move much of its domestic National Resources Division to Aurora as well. He also notes that Colorado is the home of the US military’s Northern Command (NORTHCOM), the military arm responsible for homeland defense. The move also allows the NSA to better coordinate its efforts with private contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman Mission Systems, and Raytheon, all of which have presences in Colorado. Arkin names all three firms as partners with the NSA in building the ADF. Former senior AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004) will later write, “Over months and years, the database would be huge, ready for data mining whenever the government wants to go after someone.” (Arkin 1/31/2006; Klein 2009, pp. 40-41)

Electronic Frontier Foundation logo.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; Singel 1/31/2006)

Retired AT&T technician Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), working with a civil liberties group and a reporter to expose the collusion of AT&T and the National Security Agency in pushing the government’s illegal surveillance program (see Early January 2006 and January 23, 2006 and After), contacts the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) at the advice of Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Kevin Bankston. Klein talks to Feinstein’s chief attorney in Washington, DC, Steven Cash. Klein will later write: “I instinctively recoiled at the thought of trying to approach her as my memory of her record told me she was no friend of civil liberties, though she plays one on TV. My instinct was not wrong.” After an initial discussion with Cash, Klein emails him his packet of documentation (see December 31, 2005). On the afternoon of February 3, Cash calls Klein and says he is very interested in his story, though Feinstein’s staff rates the probability of the NSA performing illegal acts at somewhere around “50-50,” according to Klein. Cash promises to get back in touch with Klein on February 6, but fails to do so. Neither Klein nor his attorneys (see Early January 2006) are able to talk to anyone on Feinstein’s staff from here on. Klein later writes: “The silent message was unmistakable: the senator did not want to sully her political skirts by having contact with a whistleblower. And this was a foretaste of her behavior and voting for the next two and a half years. At every turn, she was there pushing for immunity for the telecom companies in the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees; peddling her toothless restatement of the ‘exclusive means’ clause of FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—see 1978] as a substitute for any confrontation with the president over ongoing illegal NSA spying; ushering former NSA Director Michael Hayden through his nomination for CIA director; and backing Michael Mukasey as a clone replacement for the resigning Attorney General [Alberto] Gonzales. Moreover, this ultimately turned out to be the attitude of virtually the entire Democratic Party leadership, not to mention the Republicans.” Klein will explain that FISA’s “exclusive means” clause states that FISA should be the “exclusive means” for the federal government to conduct surveillance. Congress’s duty under the law was, Klein will state, to enforce the law against President Bush, “who openly flouted the law.” Instead, Klein will claim, Feinstein uses the “exclusive means” clause to protect the Bush administration and the telecom firms. (Klein 2009, pp. 57-60)

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.” (Eggen 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).

Jaber Elbaneh.Jaber Elbaneh. [Source: Yahya Arhab / EPA / Corbi]Twenty-three suspected al-Qaeda operatives break out of a high-security prison in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a. Escapees include Jamal al-Badawi, wanted for a role in the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), and Jaber Elbaneh, a US citizen believed to be linked to the alleged al-Qaeda sleeper cell in Lackawanna, New York (see April-August 2001). The men allegedly tunnel their way from the prison to the bathroom of a neighboring mosque. However, the New York Times will later comment: “[T]hat account is viewed with great skepticism, both in the United States and in Yemen. Many in Yemen say the escape could not have taken place without assistance, whether from corrupt guards or through a higher-level plan.” (Worth 3/1/2008) The prison is located in the basement of the Political Security Organization (PSO), Yemen’s equivalent of the FBI. Several days later, a cable sent from the US embassy in Yemen notes “the lack of obvious security measures on the streets,” and concludes, “One thing is certain: PSO insiders must have been involved.” Newsweek comments: “[P]rivately, US officials say the plotters must have had serious—possibly high-level—help at the Political [Security Organization].…. [T]he head of the PSO, Ali Mutahar al-Qamish, is said to be under suspicion, according to two US officials.” (Hirsh, Hosenball, and Nordland 2/13/2006) Al-Badawi and nine others escaped a Yemeni prison in 2003 and then were recaptured one year later (see April 11, 2003-March 2004). Al-Badawi and Elbaneh turn themselves in to the Yemeni government in 2007 and then are freed (see October 17-29, 2007 and February 23, 2008).

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. (Cauley and Diamond 2/5/2006)

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.” (Harman 2/12/2006; NewsMax 2/12/2006)

Retired AT&T technician Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), working with a civil liberties group about his knowledge of governmental illegality in eavesdropping on Americans’ telephone and Internet communications (see Early January 2006), has contacted Los Angeles Times reporter Joseph Menn about publishing an article expising AT&T’s collusion with the National Security Agency (NSA) to illegally conduct surveillance against American citizens (see January 23, 2006 and After). Klein believed Menn was enthusiastic about exposing AT&T and the NSA in his newspaper. Instead, Klein is shocked to hear from Menn that the Times’s “top guy” is preparing to meet with Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte to discuss any such publication. “I nearly fell down in shock,” Klein will later write. “[T]hey were actually negotiating with the government on whether to publish!” Menn describes himself to Klein as “demoralized,” and says the chances of getting the story published are “grim.” In his seven years at the Times, Menn tells Klein, he has never seen a story “spiked” for “nefarious reasons,” implying that the reason behind the story’s non-publication are “nefarious.” Klein is also dismayed that the Times has now revealed his existence as a whistleblower to Negroponte, and by extension to the US intelligence apparatus. Two days ago, Klein began emailing a New York Times reporter, James Risen, the co-author of a 2005 expose about the NSA’s surveillance program (see December 15, 2005). After hearing from Menn, Klein emails Risen to inform him of the Los Angeles Times’s decision to “consult” with Negroponte, and also of the lack of interest he has received from Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office (see February 1-6, 2006). Risen calls in fellow reporter Eric Lichtblau, his co-author on the 2005 story, and the two begin working on their own story. Klein remains worried about his personal and professional safety, since, as he will write, “[t]he government was on to me, but I did not yet have a published article and the protection that comes with publicity. I had visions, perhaps paranoid in hindsight, of being disappeared in the night, like [nuclear industry whistleblower] Karen Silkwood.” The Los Angeles Times story will drag on until March 29, when Menn will inform Klein that it is officially dead, blocked by Times editor Dean Baquet. Klein will later learn that Baquet had not only been in contact with Negroponte, but with NSA Director Michael Hayden. In 2007, Baquet will tell ABC News reporters that “government pressure played no part in my decision not to run with the story,” and will say that he and managing editor Doug Frantz decided “we did not have a story, that we could not figure out what was going on” with Klein’s documentation (see March 26, 2007). Klein will call Baquet’s explanation an “absurd and flimsy excuse,” and will say it is obvious that the Los Angeles Times “capitulated to government pressure.” (PBS Frontline 5/15/2007; Klein 2009, pp. 59-62)

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.” (Nelson 5/15/2006)

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. (Eggen 2/16/2006)

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) lawyer Kevin Bankston asks AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009) to submit a legal declaration as to his knowledge of AT&T’s collusion with the National Security Agency (NSA) in its illegal domestic wiretapping program. Klein is working with the EFF in that organization’s lawsuit against AT&T (see Early January 2006 and January 31, 2006). Five days later, Klein submits his evidence of AT&T’s actions (see December 31, 2005) to Bankston to be used in the lawsuit. Klein will work with his lawyers to craft the declaration, and will have it in final form by late March. (Klein 2009, pp. 63-64)

Slate editor John Dickerson, who played a small role in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see February 7, 2006), writes about the recently launched Lewis Libby defense fund’s Web site created to help raise money for Libby’s defense (see After October 28, 2005 and February 21, 2006). Far from looking like the Web site of an indicted criminal, Dickerson writes, the site’s design makes it seem as if Libby is running for elected office. He is shown with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, while “[o]ther snapshots portray him in soft focus and at oblique angles, the kinds of images candidates use to make themselves look more huggable. Fortunately, Libby’s Web designers didn’t stoop to showing him with dogs and children.”
The 'Soft Sell' - Dickerson says the site is attempting to portray Libby to the American people as a likeable, honest person whose years of public service have left him open to unfair and unwarranted criminal charges. The site claims that Libby has virtually no money with which to fight those charges, and is basically relying on the generosity of the public to help him fight the government. The site does not focus as strongly on the array of powerful Washington Republicans lined up to help Libby raise money, particularly the large number of star fundraisers who raised large amounts of money for the Bush-Cheney presidential campaigns. However, the site notes, the Libby defense fund will not publicly release the names of donors to the fund. The site does focus on what Dickerson calls “the soft Scooter sell.” It intends to “clean… up his image for the public, the press, and potential jurors. The Web site offers a page titled ‘What You Aren’t Hearing,’ with testimonials lined up like movie blurbs.”
Possible Defense Strategy - And, Dickerson writes, the site offers hints as to what Libby’s defense strategy might be.
bullet If the site is accurate, the defense team intends to portray Libby as “a good guy” who, as former Republican congressman Vin Weber says in a testimonial, “is a tough, honorable, honest guy.” He has spent his adult life in “selfless,” and apparently almost penniless, service to his country, fighting for the American people and battling terrorism and other national security threats with every waking breath. He is a “perfectionist,” says former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
bullet Libby just forgot about his knowledge of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, the site emphasizes, because he was too busy serving his country (see January 31, 2006). Former Bush Legislative Affairs Director Nick Calio is quoted as saying: “There are a lot of things that I don’t remember. I go through notes sometimes now and say I don’t even remember being in the meeting, let alone, you know, having said what I said.” Former Bush Solicitor General Theodore Olson adds, “From personal experience as a former public official who has been investigated by a special prosecutor, I know how easy it is not to be able to remember details of seemingly insignificant conversations.”
Dickerson notes that the two arguments are somewhat contradictory. He writes, “Libby’s site has a hard time, because it simultaneously is trying to argue that a) he was likely to forget the Plame episodes and b) he was hypercompetent.”
bullet The site also spends a large amount of time and bandwidth attacking special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. Seven of the 19 perspectives on Libby are criticisms of Fitzgerald, such as a statement by former Deputy Attorney General Victoria Toensing (see November 3, 2005) that the special counsel “has been investigating a very simple factual scenario and he’s missed this crucial fact.” (Dickerson 2/27/2006) Toensing will engage in further criticism of Fitzgerald and the criminal case against Libby in op-eds (see February 18, 2007, February 18, 2007, and March 16, 2007).

The Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, a now-defunct Saudi Arabian charitable organization that once operated in Oregon, sues the Bush administration (McCall 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). (Leonnig and Sheridan 3/2/2006; Leonnig 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. (Singel 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; Leonnig and Sheridan 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. (Elias 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).

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. (Cockburn 3/9/2006)

Rayed Abdullah.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; Cumming 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.” (Trento and Trento 10/9/2006)

Zacarias Moussaoui.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. (Sniffen and Barakat 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 pdf file) 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. (Lewis 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). (Barakat 4/3/2006; Lewis 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.” (Klein and Savage 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). (Holland 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. (Grier 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; Savage 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. (Savage 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)

Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) tells reporters that he intends to push through legislation that would censure President Bush because of his domestic surveillance 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). “What the president did by consciously and intentionally violating the Constitution and laws of this country with this illegal wiretapping has to be answered,” Feingold tells an interviewer. “Proper accountability is a censuring of the president, saying, ‘Mr. President, acknowledge that you broke the law, return to the law, return to our system of government.‘… The president has broken the law and, in some way, he must be held accountable.… Congress has to reassert our system of government, and the cleanest and the most efficient way to do that is to censure the president. And, hopefully, he will acknowledge that he did something wrong.” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) calls Feingold’s proposal “a crazy political move.” The Senate Intelligence Committee, following the Bush administration’s lead, has rejected some Democrats’ call for a full investigation of the surveillance program (see February 1-6, 2006). Instead, the committee has adopted a Republican plan for a seven-member subcommittee to conduct oversight. Feingold says his censure motion is not “a harsh approach, and it’s one that I think should lead to bipartisan support.” Frist, however, says: “I think it, in part, is a political move because here we are, the Republican Party, the leadership in the Congress, supporting the president of the United States as commander in chief who is out there fighting al-Qaeda and the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and the people who have sworn—have sworn—to destroy Western civilization and all the families listening to us.… The signal that it sends that there is in any way a lack of support for our commander in chief who is leading us with a bold vision in a way that we know is making our homeland safer is wrong. And it sends a perception around the world.” Only once in history has a president been censured by Congress: Andrew Jackson in 1834. In the House, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) is exploring the idea of introducing impeachment legislation against Bush. (Files 3/12/2006; Associated Press 3/12/2006) Feingold says on the Senate floor: “The president has violated the law and Congress must respond. A formal censure by Congress is an appropriate and responsible first step to assure the public that when the president thinks he can violate the law without consequences, Congress has the will to hold him accountable.” Most Congressional Democrats want nothing to do with either Feingold’s or Conyers’s legislative ideas, and some Republicans seem to be daring Democrats to vote for the proposal. Vice President Dick Cheney tells a Republican audience in Feingold’s home state of Wisconsin, “Some Democrats in Congress have decided the president is the enemy.” Democratic leaders in the Senate thwart an immediate vote as requested by Frist, and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) says he is not sure the proposal will ever come to a vote. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says he does not support it and has not read it. Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) makes a similar assertion. In the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) refuses to support such a proposal, saying in a statement that she “understands Senator Feingold’s frustration that the facts about the NSA domestic surveillance program have not been disclosed appropriately to Congress. Both the House and the Senate must fully investigate the program and assign responsibility for any laws that may have been broken.” (Kellman 3/14/2006) Former Nixon aide John Dean testifies in support of Feingold’s censure motion (see March 31, 2006). However, the censure motion, lacking support from Democratic leaders and being used by Republicans as a means to attack Democrats’ patriotism, never comes to a vote. (Klein 2009, pp. 84)

Judge Leonie Brinkema halts the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui (see March 6-May 4, 2006) after it is discovered that Transportation Security Administration lawyer Carla J. Martin violated a court order prohibiting witnesses from following the trial. Martin e-mailed transcripts to seven witnesses and coached them on their testimony. Brinkema calls it “the most egregious violation of the court’s rules on witnesses [I have seen] in all the years I’ve been on the bench.” Even the prosecution says, “We frankly cannot fathom why she engaged in such conduct.” (Markon and Dwyer 3/14/2006; Sniffen and Barakat 3/17/2006) Brinkema allows the prosecution to continue to seek the death penalty, but initially removes the aviation security portion of evidence from its case. However, after the prosecution complains this makes the proceedings pointless, she reinstates some of it, allowing the trial to continue. (Sniffen 3/15/2006; Hirschkorn 3/16/2006; Sniffen and Barakat 3/17/2006) As a result of her actions, Martin is placed on paid leave. Additionally, Pennsylvania’s lawyer disciplinary board begins an investigation and federal prosecutors explore charges. (Markon 7/10/2006) Martin’s e-mails also reveal that she has been communicating with attorneys for United and American Airlines. This prompts seven victims’ relatives, who are suing the airlines for being negligent on 9/11, to file a civil action against her alleging that she is trying to help the airline industry avoid civil liability. (CBS News 4/7/2006; Hirschkorn 4/26/2006)

A court filing by Lewis Libby’s defense team lists the witnesses the lawyers say they intend to put on the stand in their client’s defense. The list includes:
bullet Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see June 13, 2003, After October 28, 2005, and November 14, 2005);
bullet Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, and 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003);
bullet Former Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman (see June 10, 2003);
bullet Former Secretary of State Colin Powell (see July 16, 2004);
bullet White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003, July 8 or 9, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003);
bullet Former CIA Director George Tenet (see June 11 or 12, 2003, July 11, 2003 and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003);
bullet Former US ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003);
bullet Former CIA covert operative Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003);
bullet National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley (see July 21, 2003 and November 14, 2005);
bullet CIA briefers Craig Schmall (see 7:00 a.m. June 14, 2003), Peter Clement, and/or Matt Barrett;
bullet Former CIA officials Robert Grenier (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003, 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, and 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003) and/or John McLaughlin (see June 11 or 12, 2003);
bullet Former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow (see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), and Before July 14, 2003);
bullet Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington (see July 8, 2003);
bullet Former Cheney press secretary Cathie Martin (see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003); and
bullet Cheney himself (see July 12, 2003 and Late September or Early October, 2003).
The defense also:
bullet Wants notes from a September 2003 White House briefing where Powell reportedly claimed that many people knew of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity before it became public knowledge;
bullet Implies that Grossman may not be an unbiased witness;
bullet Suspects Fleischer may have already cooperated with the investigation (see June 10, 2004);
bullet Intends to argue that Libby had no motive to lie to either the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) or the grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004); and
bullet Intends to argue that columnist Robert Novak’s primary source for his column exposing Plame Wilson as a CIA official was not Libby, but “a source outside the White House” (see July 8, 2003). (US District Court for the District of Columbia 3/17/2006 pdf file; Jeralyn Merritt 3/18/2006)
Criminal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt believes Libby’s team may be preparing to lay blame for the Plame Wilson leak on Grossman. She writes that, in her view, “Libby’s lawyers are publicly laying out how they intend to impeach him: by claiming he is not to be believed because (either or both) his true loyalty is to Richard Armitage rather than to the truth, or he is a self-aggrandizing government employee who thinks of himself a true patriot whose duty it is to save the integrity of the State Department.” (Jeralyn Merritt 4/4/2006) Libby’s lawyers indicate that they will challenge Plame Wilson’s significance as a covert CIA official (see Fall 1992 - 1996, April 2001 and After, Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, and February 13, 2006). “The prosecution has an interest in continuing to overstate the significance of Ms. Wilson’s affiliation with the CIA,” the court filing states. They also intend to attempt to blame Armitage, Grossman, Grenier, McLaughlin, Schmall, and/or other officials outside the White House proper as the real sources for the Plame Wilson identity leak. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 3/17/2006 pdf file; Leopold 3/18/2006)

Michael Rolince, who headed the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section when Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested, testifies at Moussaoui’s trial (see March 6-May 4, 2006). He initially states that he was only informed of the Moussaoui case before 9/11 in two brief hallway conversations (see Late August 2001) and did not read a memo sent to him by the Minneapolis field office. However, under cross-examination he admits he also discussed a plan to deport Moussaoui to France, where his belongings could be searched (see (August 30-September 10, 2001)). (Barakat 3/21/2006; Sniffen 3/21/2006) According to Newsday, Rolince appears “red-faced and flustered” at the end of the cross-examination and makes the court burst out laughing when he says he did not approve a briefing to FBI field offices about bin Laden threats in the US (see Before April 13, 2001), even though the briefing states he approved it. He says one of his subordinates may have approved it. (Sniffen 3/21/2006; Riley 3/22/2006) Rolince is called by the prosecution, which wants him to give a list of steps the FBI would have taken if Moussaoui had confessed. However, Judge Brinkema states that, “Juries cannot decide cases on speculation… Nobody knows what would have happened.” (Sniffen 3/21/2006; Barakat 3/22/2006)

During the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui (see also March 6-May 4, 2006), the prosecution claims that if Zacarias Moussaoui had not lied when arrested and questioned (see August 16, 2001) and had provided information about the plot (see August 16, 2001), the FAA could have altered its security procedures to deal with the suicide hijacker threat. Prosecution witness Robert Cammaroto, an aviation security officer, says that security measures in effect before 9/11 were designed to cope with different types of threats, such as “the homesick Cuban,” rather than suicide hijackings. He says that if the FAA had more information about Moussaoui, its three dozen air marshals could have been moved from international to domestic flights, security checkpoints could have been tightened to detect short knives like the ones Moussaoui had, and flight crews could have been instructed to resist rather than cooperate with hijackers. Most of these steps could have been implemented within a matter of hours. However, Cammarato admits that the FAA was aware before 9/11 that terrorists considered flying a plane into the Eiffel Tower and that al-Qaeda has performed suicide operations on land and sea. (Sniffen 3/22/2006)

Ahmed Alnami’s youth hosteling card found in the Flight 93 crash site.Ahmed Alnami’s youth hosteling card found in the Flight 93 crash site. [Source: FBI]During the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui (see March 6-May 4, 2006), the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press publishes a significant portion of the exhibits used during the trial. (Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press 12/4/2006) Previously, only a few items of the evidence linking the attacks to al-Qaeda were made public. For example, the 9/11 Commission’s Terrorist Travel Monograph contained 18 documents of the alleged hijackers and their associates. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 171-195 pdf file) The published exhibits include:
bullet Items belonging to the alleged hijackers that were recovered from the crash sites and Logan airport;
bullet Some details of the hijackers’ movements in the US;
bullet Graphic photos of dead victims and body parts in the Pentagon and WTC ruins;
bullet Substitutions for testimony from some of the main plotters such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed;
bullet The missing chapter from the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General’s review of the FBI’s performance before 9/11 (see June 9, 2005); and
bullet FBI and CIA documents. (Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press 12/4/2006)
At the end of July, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, publishes more of the exhibits used in the trial. The additionally published exhibits include, for example:
bullet Documents of the hijackers found at the crash sites and Logan airport, such as Satam Al Suqami’s passport (see After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), Ahmed Alnami’s youth hosteling card, and old correspondence between Mohamed Atta and the German authorities;
bullet Recordings of calls made by the passengers from the flights and recordings of the hijacker pilots talking to the passengers;
bullet Documents about the alleged hijackers prepared by the FBI such as a True Name Usage Chart for 2001 and chronologies for eleven of the hijackers from August 16-September 11, 2001;
bullet Documents from the hijackers’ flight schools;
bullet A small sample of the hijackers’ banking and phone records.
However, some of the exhibits are not disclosed. For example, the cockpit voice recording from United 93 is sealed and only a transcript is made available. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia 7/31/2006)

Zacarias Moussaoui claimed that Richard Reid (above) was to have helped him hijack a fifth plane on 9/11.Zacarias Moussaoui claimed that Richard Reid (above) was to have helped him hijack a fifth plane on 9/11. [Source: Mirrorpix(.com)]Against the will of his defense attorneys, Zacarias Moussaoui takes the stand at his trial (see March 6-May 4, 2006) and claims that he was supposed to fly a fifth plane on 9/11. He says the plane would have targeted the White House and one of the muscle hijackers would have been shoe-bomber Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001). However, he claims not to have known the details of the other hijackings, only that the WTC would be hit. He does not mention any other collaborators aside from Reid, who has already been sentenced to a long prison term. When the prosecution asks him whether he lied to FBI investigators so the plan could go forward he replies, “That’s correct.” An Associated Press expert calls this, “a stunning revelation that would help prosecutors rather than him.” (Sniffen 3/27/2006) In what the New York Times calls a “bizarre moment,” the defense team, aware of the damage this admission could do, subject Moussaoui to tough questioning and the chief prosecutor objects that one of the defense attorneys is badgering his own client. (Lewis 4/17/2006)
Uncertainty over Fifth Jet - There is some dispute over whether Moussaoui was indeed to have flown a fifth plane (see January 30, 2003 and Before 2008). Following the testimony, the defense reads statements made by al-Qaeda leaders who are in custody, but are not permitted to testify at the trial (see May 14, 2003 and March 22, 2005). The statements say that Moussaoui was not part of 9/11, but a follow-up operation. (Associated Press 3/28/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia 7/31/2006 pdf file) However, these statements were obtained using torture (see June 16, 2004). The government later concedes that there is no evidence linking Richard Reid to 9/11. (Barakat 4/20/2006)
"Complete Fabrication" - Moussaoui had denied being part of 9/11 before the trial (see April 22, 2005). By the end of the trial he will do so again, calling the confession he makes on this day “a complete fabrication.” (Sniffen 5/8/2006)

Four statements based on the CIA inspector general’s report on some aspects of the agency’s performance before 9/11 are introduced as evidence at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui by the defense. The report was completed in 2004 (see June-November 2004), but rewritten and is still secret (see January 7, 2005). The four passages say:
bullet “Numerous” CIA officers accessed cables reporting that Khalid Almihdhar’s passport contained a US visa and Nawaf Alhazmi had flown from Thailand to Los Angeles (see Mid-January-March 2000); (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria District 3/28/2006 pdf file)
bullet FBI Director Louis Freeh was briefed about Almihdhar in January 2000, but not told that Almihdhar had a US visa (see January 6-9, 2000); (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/28/2006 pdf file)
bullet Nobody at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, notified CIA personnel authorized to collect foreign intelligence in the US together with the FBI about Almihdhar’s US visa (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000); (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/28/2006 pdf file)
bullet The CIA was unaware of the Phoenix memo until after 9/11 (note: this may not actually be true—see (July 27, 2001)). (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/28/2005 pdf file)
Two sections of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report are also introduced as evidence as substitutes for the CIA inspector general’s report. They cover the use of aircraft as weapons and US knowledge of bin Laden’s intentions to strike inside the US in the summer of 2001. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/28/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/28/2006 pdf file)

Expert witness J. Scott Marcus, in an analysis submitted on behalf of the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s lawsuit against AT&T (see January 31, 2006), notes that if the NSA had wanted to intercept only international electronic communications in its surveillance operations facilited by AT&T (see January 16, 2004), it would have placed “splitters” only at entry points such as ocean cable-head stations rather than in AT&T offices (see October 2003) in locations such as Atlanta and San Francisco (see Late 2003), where they would inevitably pick up huge amounts of domestic communications. Marcus, a former AT&T employee who held a top secret clearance when he was a consultant for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), writes: “The majority of international IP [Internet Protocol] traffic enters the United States at a limited number of locations, many of them in the areas of northern Virginia, Silicon Valley, New York, and (for Latin America) south Florida. This deployment, however, is neither modest nor limited, and it apparently involves considerably more locations that would be required to catch the majority of international traffic.” (Emphasis in original.) Marcus continues: “I conclude that the designers of the SG3 Configuration (see Late 2003) made no attempt, in terms of the location or position of the fiber split, to exclude data sources primarily comprised of domestic data.… Once the data has been diverted, there is nothing in the data that reliably and unambiguously distinguishes whether the destination is domestic or foreign.” Marcus estimates that the NSA has 15 to 20 sites in AT&T facilities around the country, and says, “a substantial fraction, probably well over half, of AT&T’s purely domestic traffic was diverted.” Former senior AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004) will later write, “Though Marcus refrained from drawing the obvious conclusion, the facts strongly suggest that this entire apparatus was designed for domestic spying.” (Emphasis in original). (Klein 2009, pp. 49-50, 71) Klein will also write that Marcus’s expertise “was at a much higher level than mine.” Klein will later write that he is pleased that Marcus’s statement validates and supports his own documentation and conclusions. (Klein 2009, pp. 71)

The Justice Department demands that it be allowed to review evidence obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) from retired AT&T technician Mark Klein (see February 23-28, 2006). The EFF is preparing to submit the evidence under regular court seal to presiding Judge Vaughn Walker. Neither the Justice Department nor any other government agency is a named defendant in the EFF’s lawsuit against AT&T for its allegedly illegal behavior in working with the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct warrantless surveillance against American citizens (see January 31, 2006). Even so, lawyers from the Justice Department say they want to see if Klein’s documentation contains classified information (it does not—see Late 2003), and if so, they intend to place Klein’s documentation into a “sensitive compartmented information facility,” which would mean it would not be kept at the courthouse but in the possession of government agents at a secure location. Such classification would make the legal proceedings more difficult for both Judge Walker and the EFF lawyers. However, the request piques the interest of the national media, and reporters begin “flooding” Klein and the EFF with requests for information and interviews. (Klein 2009, pp. 65-66) Ironically, two news outlets, the Los Angeles Times and New York Times, have all but shunned Klein before now (see February 11, 2006 and After and Mid-February - Late March, 2006). On April 4, after perusing the documents, the government lawyers return them to Walker with approval from senior Justice Department lawyer Anthony J. Coppolino to file them under ordinary court seal. Klein will later write that Coppolino’s acquiescence will undermine the government’s later efforts to have the lawsuit dismissed under the “state secrets” provision (see Late May, 2006). (Klein 2009, pp. 66) In June 2007, the online technical news site Wired News will publish the documents after they are released by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (see June 13, 2007) under the headline “AT&T ‘Spy Room’ Documents Unsealed; You’ve Already Seen Them.” Wired previously published them in May 2006 (see May 17, 2006), and PBS’s Frontline also published them as part of a televised documentary on Klein and the eavesdropping program. (Singel 6/13/2007)

A map drawn by one of the defectors, showing his version of the Salman Pak facility.A map drawn by one of the defectors, showing his version of the Salman Pak facility. [Source: PBS]The story told by three Iraqi defectors in November 2001, of a terrorist training camp in Salman Pak, outside of Baghdad, has long been disproven (November 6-8, 2001) and one defector has been shown to have pretended to be former Iraqi general Jamal al-Ghurairy, the key source for the story. But only now are the news reporters and pundits beginning to acknowledge—however grudgingly—that they were duped, and that their credulous reportings helped cement the Bush administration’s fabricated case for invading Iraq. The story was one of at least 108 planted in the US and British press by the Iraqi National Congress (INC) between October 2001 and May 2002, a number audaciously provided by the INC itself in its attempts to persuade Congress to continue its funding (see June 26, 2002). The New York Times eventually admitted some faults with its prewar reporting, but only admitted that its coverage of the Salman Pak story had “never been independently verified.” PBS, similarly gulled by the defectors and their fraudulent claims (see October 2005), amended its Frontline Web site for its “Gunning for Saddam” story, which featured interviews with the defectors, to note that the defector’s claims have “not been substantiated,” and later will admit to the likelihood that its reporter, Christopher Buchanan, was duped. New York Times reporter Chris Hedges now says he took the word of producer Lowell Bergman as to the validity of the defector, and was further convinced by one of the defector’s military appearance. As for Bergman, Hedges says, “There has to be a level of trust between reporters. We cover each other’s sources when it’s a good story because otherwise everyone would get hold of it.” Hedges admits he was not aware at the time of how close Bergman, and other Times reporters such as Judith Miller, was to INC head Ahmed Chalabi. “I was on the periphery of all this. This was Bergman’s show.” (Fairweather 4/2006) In 2004, Hedges noted that he attempted to get confirmation from the US government about the defectors and their story, and government officials confirmed the claims: “We tried to vet the defectors and we didn’t get anything out of Washington that said ‘these guys are full of sh*t.’” (McCollam 7/1/2004) Hedges says he later rejected an attempt by Chalabi to convince him that UN inspectors were spying for Saddam Hussein. He also says that he never believed the stories placing 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in Prague (see April 8, 2001). He no longer trusts Chalabi as a source of information: “He’s a sleazy guy who I was not comfortable working around, but there was nothing right after 9/11 to indicate he was an outright liar.” (Fairweather 4/2006) Hedges notes that Chalabi seemed to have an “endless stable” of defectors to talk with reporters. “He had defectors for any story you wanted. He tried to introduce me to this guy who said he knew about Iraqi spies on the UN inspection teams: the guy was a thug. I didn’t trust either of them.” (McCollam 7/1/2004) However, none of this uncertainty made it into Hedges’s Times report. Bergman says, “You’ve got to remember that back then there really was only one show in town, and that was Chalabi’s. If you were doing a story on Saddam’s Iraq, you would speak to the Iraqi government, the White House, and the INC.” Bergman tried to confirm the al-Ghurairy story with former CIA director and prominent neoconservative James Woolsey, and Woolsey told him that “al-Ghurairy” had met with the FBI in Ankara. (At the time, Woolsey was hardly a neutral source since it was already reported that he was aggressively trying to drum up connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see Late September 2001 and Mid-September-October 2001).) “Chalabi was dangerous goods in the sense you know he’s advocating war” Bergman recalls. “But that label is up-front. I think Chalabi is given too much credit for influencing the march to war.” Many conservative pundits still cite the al-Ghurairy tale as justification for the Iraq invasion. And the White House still lists “shutting down the Salman Pak training camp where members of many terrorist camps trained” in its “Progress Report on the Global War on Terrorism” Web page. In 2004, Chalabi boasted, “As far as we’re concerned, we’ve been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone, and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We’re ready to fall on our swords if he wants. We are heroes in error.” (McCollam 7/1/2004; Fairweather 4/2006)

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