In late 2001, President Bush signed an executive order authorizing a controversial National Security Agency program, and on Tuesday, director of national intelligence Mike McConnell revealed that the executive order authorized not only the “terrorist surveillance program” whose existence was revealed in 2005, but a series of other programs as well.
The program, which President Bush publicly acknowledged in December 2005 after its existence was revealed by the New York Times, is only one part of a series of undisclosed intelligence programs which were authorized at the same time.
The terrorist surveillance program has been criticized for producing large volumes of information with little intelligence value while violating the privacy of ordinary Americans.
In a letter (PDF) to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), McConnell wrote that the executive order following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks included “a number of . . . intelligence activities” and that a name routinely used by the administration — the Terrorist Surveillance Program — applied only to “one particular aspect of these activities, and nothing more.”
“This is the only aspect of the NSA activities that can be discussed publicly, because it is the only aspect of those various activities whose existence has been officially acknowledged,” McConnell said.
McConnell’s letter was aimed at defending Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales from allegations by Democrats that he may have committed perjury by telling Congress that no legal objections were raised about the TSP. Gonzales said a legal fight in early 2004 was focused on “other intelligence activities” than those confirmed by Bush, but he never connected those to Bush’s executive order.
But in doing so, McConnell’s letter also underscored that the full scope of the NSA’s surveillance program under Bush’s order has not been revealed. — Washington Post
Gonzales has also come under fire recently for telling Congress in 2005 that no civil liberties abuses had occurred in connection with the Federal Bureau Investigation’s misuse of national security letters and exigent letters in counterterrorism investigations, while he had received internal reports documenting such misuses as early as a year before his testimony. Some members of Congress have called for Gonzales to resign.
The Bush administration, which placed the terrorist surveillance program under the review of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in January, is pushing for a change in law which would permit it to continue operating the program without warrants or other court review.
“Time and again, the Administration has described the blatantly illegal TSP as a ‘narrow’ and ‘targeted’ program, and it’s playing a similar game of linguistic misdirection with this bill,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation legal director Cindy Cohn. “Rather than a mere ‘update’ to the law focused on foreign-to-foreign communications, it could facilitate wide-ranging surveillance of Americans’ private communications.”
Cohn urged people to contact their legislators and oppose the bill. “It would be absurd for Congress to legislate in the dark, before the Administration comes clean about the domestic spying program.”