In the past few days, a deluge of reports have come out regarding the now admitted spying on the American people. By connecting these reports, a possible timeline emerges, which may explain a good deal more about the NSA-Gate/Snoop-Gate/Wiretap-No-No-Gate than we ever expected in the first place. Also, this theory works to answer a major question critics in the media have been asking; that being why wasn’t FISA and the FBI used legally to do the spying- instead of the NSA without warrants? Let’s connect the dots:
1. Shortly after the September 11 attacks, the Bush Administration wants to spy on Americans. They go on a spying rampage, at this point doing it the official way, and using FISA regulations to obtain warrants for wiretaps and similar surveillance. Ashcroft is in charge of this at that time. Unable to prove his and his cohorts suspicions about various people and groups they want to spy on, they go nuts and lie like crazy for several months to FISA courts in order to obtain warrants. (explained by upcoming link)
2. The FISA court catches on to his lies in May of 2002, and tells Ashcroft he’s been very naughty. Read the following:
A May 17 opinion warrants by the court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) alleges that Justice Department and FBI officials supplied erroneous information to the court in more than 75 applications for search warrants and wiretaps
Before we go onto 3, a very important history lesson:
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance [FISA] Court was supposed to put an end to the kinds of wiretaps that were placed on the phones of enemies of President Nixon
(source: NPR) Keep that in mind as we move on.
3. After having been caught lying continuously to obtain warrants by the FISA court in May, Ascroft and his pals seek other ways of spying. They decide to use the highly secretive N.S.A. (an agency meant to spy abroad, not at home). After getting authorization from the President, they go forward with their plan. (source: NYT)
Unwilling or uncaring for congressional approval of his new tactic, Ascroft told Bush that what they were doing had been already approved right after 9/11, in a Presidential Authorization passed by congress. But that congressional approval wasn’t an approval at all. The bill wasn’t introduced with this in mind, but it was the only weak rationalization they could find. It didn’t matter, the only important thing was that it was vague enough to “justify” it. NYT:
President Bush cited the resolution, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, on Monday at his news conference. So did Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who in a session with reporters said the Congressional measure, in addition to the president’s inherent power as commander in chief, gave the government the power “to engage in this kind of signals intelligence.”
It provides the president with sweeping but vaguely defined authority “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.”
The resolution makes no mention of surveillance activity.
“Nobody, nobody thought when we passed a resolution to invade Afghanistan and to fight the war on terror – including myself who voted for it – that this was an authorization to allow a wiretapping against the law of the United States,” Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, said in an interview on the “Today” show Monday.
4. But Ascroft hadn’t given up on the FBI just yet. You see, shortly after 9/11, he had made a commitment to spy on Americans using the FBI, and had increased their powers to do so. Ascroft wasn’t about to let all that perfectly good loosening of restrictions on FBI power go to waste. Nope, he went ahead with the spying- only without wiretaps. NYT:
One F.B.I. document indicates that agents in Indianapolis planned to conduct surveillance as part of a “Vegan Community Project.” Another document talks of the Catholic Workers group’s “semi-communistic ideology.” A third indicates the bureau’s interest in determining the location of a protest over llama fur planned by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
“It’s clear that this administration has engaged every possible agency, from the Pentagon to N.S.A. to the F.B.I., to engage in spying on Americans,” said Ann Beeson, associate legal director for the A.C.L.U.
“You look at these documents,” Ms. Beeson said, “and you think, wow, we have really returned to the days of J. Edgar Hoover, when you see in F.B.I. files that they’re talking about a group like the Catholic Workers league as having a communist ideology.”
“It’s shocking and it’s outrageous,” Mr. Kerr said. “And to me, it’s an abuse of power by the F.B.I. when groups like Greenpeace and PETA are basically being punished for their social activism.”
5. NYT gets wind of N.S.A. story in 2004. They phone over to White House (henceforth WH) for a confirmation or on-the-record statement about the N.S.A. spy scoop. WH agrees to talk, but won’t confirm or deny at first. WH first asks NYT reporters Risen and Lichblau to kill the story. They refuse. WH then says okay- cut out the juciest parts of your story then (as they supposedly endanger National Security). Risen and Lichblau agree. For unknown reasons, they hold off on publishing the story until late 2005. NYT claims they were conducting additional reporting during this time to back up the story.
WaPo speculates on the reason for the delay:
The paper offered no explanation to its readers about what had changed in the past year to warrant publication. It also did not disclose that the information is included in a forthcoming book, “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration,” written by James Risen, the lead reporter on yesterday’s story. The book will be published in mid-January, according to its publisher, Simon & Schuster.
My own guess is that NYT ran the story when they did because they might have wanted to break it, before Risen’s book came out, which undoubtedly has further details. Or, Risen could have kept the story in bed, until the perfect time to publish it came- as close to his book’s publication as possible, in order to maximize press coverage. Either way, the story’s publication so close to his book publication date is likely no accident.
6. When they’re finally ready to run the story, Rizen and Lichblau call WH up again, to ask for comment. Again, WH does not deny the story, but no official comment is given. WH goes above the reporters’ heads this time, desperately calling in senior NYT Editor and Publisher Sulzberger and Keller.
December 6, Sulzberger and Keller refuse to kill the story, after a last minute plea from the President himself. (source: Newsweek). More than a week goes by without publication of the story. We can guess that during this week and a half, Rove was hard at work, straining to think of any possible talking points for Bush. On the 16, the story goes to print, and explodes everywhere.
7. Bush confirms the story, and the only talking point Rove seems to have come up with two talking points. A, that running the story was horrible, and that it compromised National Security, and B, that congress supposedly approved the N.S.A. spying “dozens of times.”
Since we’ve all heard the first talking point- and even though it sounds like B.S.- it’s impossible to destroy (somebody prove me wrong), let’s take a moment to look at the second talking point. In an Wiretap Scandal Roundup I wrote recently, I noted the following:
Firstly (possibly the most important development), it just came out that Bush et al lied at press conferences where they’ve consistently said (the now familiar talking point) that Congress supposedly approved the illegal NSA program which included spying on Americans without getting warrants from a judge. More on that here. Hopefully this aspect of the story will get more play.
-Also on the congress aspect, C&L points to this: “The former Senate Majority and Minority leader, Tom Daschle, says tonight in a statement that the White House “omitted key details” from him related to the NSA interception program”
If anyboy else knows of other examples of members of congress poking holes in this story, I’d love for somebody to send a tip to my website, as I may just flesh this aspect out into a full story.
UPDATE: Hollywood Liberal notes that apparently it wasn’t just Ascroft obsessed with all this spying. It seems as though John Bolton (now U.S. representative to the United Nations) was heavily involved as well:
“During the Bolton hearings, however, it emerged that when he was at the State Department, Bolton on several occasions received summaries of intercepts between foreigners and “U.S. persons” and requested that the spy agency tell him who those Americans were. The agency complied.
Following this revelation, Newsweek discovered that from January 2004 to May 2005, the National Security Agency had supplied names of 10,000 American citizens in this informal fashion to policy makers, intelligence services and law enforcement agencies.
Democrats took advantage of Bolton’s transgression in the nomination battle, playing up his reputation as a sharp-elbowed brute and implying that he might have used the intercepts to intimidate Washington adversaries. Bolton, for his part, told Congress that he asked the spy agency for the names in order “to better understand” summaries of intercepted conversations: “It’s important to find out who is saying what to whom.
on point 2- shock just pointed this out (my wording):
It appears that there were problems with the FBI investigators lying to FISA before bush took office. in 2000, when these problems were uncovered, and the FISA court suggested to congress that they change the laws so that this type of lying wouldn’t occur or would be more difficult- Ascroft heavily opposed this. Ascroft went the exact other direction- and wanted to reform FISA so that it would be easier to get warrants and approval; not harder. Although he the court ruled against him, the decision was overturned upon appeal in novemer, filed by Ascroft.
UPDATE 3: Here’s item 9.:
9. But this wasn’t all. Ever heard of “CIFA”? Neither had I. It turns out, it’s yet another agency which possibly is being used to spy on people inside the United States. Since it’s a bit of a mouthful to condense, I’ll leave the explanation up to Magorn.
Update #456463: I’d like to draw attention to this article by AP: “Democrats Say They Didn’t Back Wiretapping“