Saturday, July 25, 2009

She Said

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) has taken a lot of heat from the Republican Goon Squad for her complaints earlier this year that the intelligence services mislead the congressional "Gang of Eight" on the operation of the Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP). Apparently tired of the calumny, Rep. Harman responded with this op-ed article published in the Los Angeles Times which describes the meetings the CIA held with the eight congressional leaders.

Those briefings were conducted roughly quarterly at the White House -- either in the vice president's office or the Situation Room. Most of the ones I attended concerned a code-named program now known as the Terrorist Surveillance Program. Respectful of the double oath I signed to protect highly classified material, I did not take notes or speak to anyone about the meetings. However, comments by Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency and the CIA, that the Gang of Eight was "fully" briefed on the TSP prompt me to disclose, for the first time, what they were like.

In virtually every meeting, Hayden would present PowerPoint "slides," walking us through the operational details of the TSP. The program has since been described, in part, as one that intercepted communications to and from the U.S. in an effort to uncover terrorist networks and prevent or disrupt attacks. We were told that the program was the centerpiece of our counter-terrorism efforts, legal and yielding impressive results.

Often present were CIA officials (including then-Director George Tenet) and then-White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales. Missing was any Justice Department presence -- a tipoff, in retrospect, to the legal limbo under which the program operated.
[Emphasis added]

The Justice Department wasn't present because TSP wasn't operating in a "legal limbo," it was operating illegally, something that Mr. Hayden never bothered mentioning during his PowerPoint presentations.

It is now clear to me that we learned only what the briefers wanted to tell us -- even though they were required by law to keep us "fully and currently informed." Absent the ability to do any independent research, it did not occur to me then that the program was operated wholly outside of the framework Congress created as the exclusive means to conduct such surveillance: the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

I suppose that the "Gang of Eight" can be faulted for assuming that the program had been deemed legal by the Justice Department, because assuming anything the Bush administration did was legal was foolish. That should have been clear long before 2008. The fact that no one asked whether TSP was operating in conformity with FISA is a bit puzzling. Still, had someone asked, I suspect that Mr. Hayden would have simply noted that that the program had passed legal muster, based on a brilliant memo written by John Yoo.

The question now is what is Congress going to do about it, besides complain and write op-ed pieces? Well, Rep. Harman and her colleagues have proposed a new bill which would end the practice of partial reporting. The current White House response is chilling:

The House and Senate intelligence authorization bills would require increased notification, including, in the House bill, information on lawfulness, cost, benefit and risk. The White House has issued a veto threat, citing constitutional concerns. ... [Emphasis added]

Apparently President Obama has bought into the Unitary Presidency theory.

Unsurprising, that.

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Anonymous PeasantParty said...

This is only the tip of the iceberg that is melting quickly! News sites are now saying Cheney and others were pushing Bush to allow the military to bash in doors and take hostages on US soil!

6:30 AM  

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