Wiretap scandal growing broader and hotter

The latest revelation about the George W. Bush administration’s secret wiretap operation is that not only did the National Security Agency (NSA) spy on other Americans, it also spied on its own staff and staff members of other intelligence agencies. That includes the CIA, the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) and their media contacts, Congress, oversight agencies and offices, according to investigative reporter Wayne Madsen.

Surveillance of journalists was done under a program code named “Firstfruits.” It was part of a Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) program that operated at least until the fall of 2004. George Tenet resigned as CIA head in June 2004, and Porter Goss succeeded him.

The journalist eavesdropping operation was authorized as part of a “Countering Denial and Deception” program, answerable to the Foreign Denial and Deception Committee, according to Madsen. Since U.S. intelligence operations were reorganized, the DCI has been replaced by the Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte and his deputy, former NSA director, Gen. Michael Hayden.

Madsen reported Firstfruits was a database that held articles and transcripts of telephone and other communications by certain Washington journalists who were regular chroniclers of U.S. intelligence doings, especially those involving the NSA. Madsen said he was one of those targeted because he has written many articles about the NSA.

NSA sources told Madsen that starting in 2001 before the attacks on New York and Washington, the NSA began to target anyone in the intelligence community who they considered disgruntled employees.

Madsen said the surveillance of intelligence agency personnel by other U.S. intelligence personnel was done without any warrants whatsoever. Indeed, there was not even an appearance before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

There has been little mention in the national media of the Bush administration’s use of the NSA to spy on U.N. diplomats in New York before the invasion of Iraq. The purpose was to gain some leverage to get a resolution from the world body authorizing the use of military force against Saddam Hussein, according to Madsen.

Britain’s The Observer reported March 2, 2003, that the U.S. government had developed an “aggressive surveillance operation, which involves interception of the home and office telephones and the e-mails of U.N. delegates.” The paper continued: “The leaked memorandum makes clear that the targets of the heightened surveillance efforts are the delegations from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea and Pakistan at the U.N. headquarters in New York.” The memorandum was written by a top official of the NSA.

Sources within that agency said the spying on personnel of other intelligence agencies was a direct violation of the United States Signals Intelligence Directive (USSID) 18 and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.

Reuters reports that requests to a special court to authorize secret surveillance rose substantially after Sept. 11, 2001, and the court required changes in those requests at an even faster rate, according to government documents.

Federal records on the activities of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court show the Bush administration made 5,645 applications for wiretaps or other electronic eavesdropping and physical searches through 2004, the most recent figures available. In the four years before, the court received only 3,436 requests.

A new version of the USSID was issued in July 1993 after disclosures were made in the 1970s that President Richard M. Nixon had been using secret wiretaps against anti-war and other political activists.

The new version recognizes the Fourth Amendment rights of American citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Supreme Court has held that electronic eavesdropping constitutes a search and seizure of information. The directive also states that “intelligence operation and the protection of constitutional rights are not incompatible. It is not necessary to deny legitimate foreign intelligence collection or to suppress legitimate foreign intelligence information to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of U.S. persons.”

An intelligence directive issued in 1980 stated: “The Director, NSA, will consider requests to collect the communications of U.S. persons, or communications that refer to U.S. persons, only if one of the following criteria is satisfied” [the U.S. person has given consent and has executed the consent form or: the U.S. person is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power. The purpose of collection must be the acquisition of foreign intelligence, and it also is necessary the information is not obtainable by less intrusive methods.]

The 1980 policy required the intelligence agency to get approval of the Attorney General before proceeding with intelligence collection. The directive provided for an emergency situation where: “The time required to secure Attorney General approval would cause failure or delay in obtaining significant foreign intelligence or counterintelligence and such failure or delay would result in substantial harm to the national security.” A second condition is when a person’s life or physical safety is believed to be in immediate danger or the security of a federal defense installation or U.S. property is believed to be in immediate danger.

The document goes on to say that “Except as approved under this [directive] and its annexes, no collection may be directed that brings about the intentional interception and recording of communications solely between U.S. persons.”

President Bush said he has authorized covert wiretaps of American citizens more than 30 times since 9/11 and would continue to do that. He said the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was meant for “long-term monitoring” and that after the terrorist attacks, the government needed to move “faster and quicker” to protect and defend America.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the administration will be going to court to get orders under the act, but, like Bush, he said eavesdroppers sometimes needed to act faster.

Neither Bush nor any member of his administration mentioned that current federal law allows the government to act promptly, and then go before the special court within 72 hours afterward to legalize the operation.

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) ran a full-page ad in The New York Times calling for a special prosecutor to be appointed to determine if the president broke federal wiretap laws by authorizing illegal eavesdropping.

The ad declared Bush’s actions were a clear violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said: “President Nixon was not above the law and neither is President Bush. President Bush cannot use a claim of seeking to preserve our nation to undermine the rules that serve as our foundation. The Attorney General, who may have been involved with the formulation of this policy, must appoint a special counsel to let justice be served.”

From the Jan. 4-10, 2006, issue

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