Our Snoopmaster in Chief
Risen, author of the book State of War and credited with first breaking
the story about the NSA’s domestic surveillance operations, said President
Bush personally authorized a change in the agency’s long-standing policies
shortly after he was sworn in in 2001.
"The president personally and directly authorized
new operations, like the NSA’s domestic surveillance program, that almost
certainly would never have been approved under normal circumstances and that
raised serious legal or political questions," Risen wrote in the book.
"Because of the fevered climate created throughout the government by
the president and his senior advisers, Bush sent signals of what he wanted
done, without explicit presidential orders" and "the most ambitious
got the message."
The NSA’s domestic surveillance activities that began
in early 2001 reached a boiling point shortly after 9/11, when senior administration
officials and top intelligence officials asked the NSA to share that data
with other intelligence officials who worked for the FBI and the CIA to hunt
down terrorists that might be in the United States. However the NSA, on advice
from its lawyers, destroyed the records, fearing the agency could be subjected
to lawsuits by American citizens identified in the agency’s raw intelligence
According to the online magazine Slate, an unnamed
official in the telecom industry said NSA’s "efforts to obtain call details
go back to early 2001, predating the 9/11 attacks and the president’s now
celebrated secret executive order. The source reports that the NSA approached
U.S. carriers and asked for their cooperation in a ‘data-mining’ operation,
which might eventually cull ‘millions’ of individual calls and e-mails."
Here’s the declassified document that Jason
Leopold of Truthout offers up today. It’s a pdf, so if you can’t access
it, in great big bold letters it screams "Transition 2001."
Jeffrey Smith, the former General Counsel for the CIA under the
Clinton administration wants to testify that President Bush overstepped his
authority in going around FISA, stating that it’s "not credible" to
say Bush has the authority to do whatever he wants because he’s the boss. Smith
is a little more adroit, saying "it would be a dramatic expansion of presidential
authority affecting the rights of our fellow citizens that undermines the checks
and balances of our system, which lie at the very heart of the Constitution."
But the hearings on our Snoopmaster in chief will likely begin
before the 2006 elections, which means we’ve got to get some Republicans not
only speaking out passionately against Bush’s spying fetish, but willing to
do something about it. Even after 2006, Republicans will still have a great deal of power in Congress, so we’ll need some allies across the aisle to bring Bush in line.