UPDATE 2: Or not. In the post I said that this particular revelation made very little sense. That’s because it was bogus, as this diary finally convinced me. I’m sorry if definitive takedowns have appeared elsewhere before that, or even in the comments section, I haven’t been online much since Friday. Kudos to everybody who took the time to read the document, and wet raspberries (not the beer kind) to me for not doing so.
Many folks predicated their response to the NSA wiretap story on the assumption that it started as an overzealous but understandable reaction to the 9/11 terror attacks. It simply made no sense that the program would predate the terror attacks, since if anything that period was typified by a complete inattention to the problem of international terrorism, and it wasn’t happening before 2001. For that reason at least it’s a little baffling to find out that the president approved the warrantless spying program shortly after he took office:
The National Security Agency advised President Bush in early 2001 that it had been eavesdropping on Americans during the course of its work monitoring suspected terrorists and foreigners believed to have ties to terrorist groups, according to a declassified document.
The NSA’s vast data-mining activities began shortly after Bush was sworn in as president and the document contradicts his assertion that the 9/11 attacks prompted him to take the unprecedented step of signing a secret executive order authorizing the NSA to monitor a select number of American citizens thought to have ties to terrorist groups.
In its “Transition 2001” report, the NSA said that the ever-changing world of global communication means that “American communication and targeted adversary communication will coexist.”
“Make no mistake, NSA can and will perform its missions consistent with the Fourth Amendment and all applicable laws,” the document says.
However, it adds that “senior leadership must understand that the NSA’s mission will demand a ‘powerful, permanent presence’ on global telecommunications networks that host both ‘protected’ communications of Americans and the communications of adversaries the agency wants to target.”
… What had long been understood to be protocol in the event that the NSA spied on average Americans was that the agency would black out the identities of those individuals or immediately destroy the information.
But according to people who worked at the NSA as encryption specialists during this time, that’s not what happened. On orders from Defense Department officials and President Bush, the agency kept a running list of the names of Americans in its system and made it readily available to a number of senior officials in the Bush administration, these sources said, which in essence meant the NSA was conducting a covert domestic surveillance operation in violation of the law.
James 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 doesn’t just run off the reservation on its own, and it looks like Bush approved this program more or less after-the-fact. So if the president didn’t shepherd this program into being, who did?
Or, maybe, never mind. I’ve looked through the document and found less meat than was advertised. We’ll see whether James Risen’s quote comes from proper context.
If it’s bogus, that’ll teach me to run with info from a dodgy site. I’ll update when we know more.