President Bush claims that Congressional leaders have been briefed roughly a dozen times since the secret NSA eavesdropping program was begun in late 2001.
However, in following up on that the WaPo finds a senior intelligence official, speaking with permission of the White House, practically calling former Sen. Bob Graham a liar:
A high-ranking intelligence official with firsthand knowledge said in an interview yesterday that Vice President Cheney, then-Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet and Michael V. Hayden, then a lieutenant general and director of the National Security Agency, briefed four key members of Congress about the NSA's new domestic surveillance on Oct. 25, 2001, and Nov. 14, 2001, shortly after Bush signed a highly classified directive that eliminated some restrictions on eavesdropping against U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
In describing the briefings, administration officials made clear that Cheney was announcing a decision, not asking permission from Congress. How much the legislators learned is in dispute.
Former senator Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who chaired the Senate intelligence committee and is the only participant thus far to describe the meetings extensively and on the record, said in interviews Friday night and yesterday that he remembers "no discussion about expanding [NSA eavesdropping] to include conversations of U.S. citizens or conversations that originated or ended in the United States" -- and no mention of the president's intent to bypass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
"I came out of the room with the full sense that we were dealing with a change in technology but not policy," Graham said, with new opportunities to intercept overseas calls that passed through U.S. switches. He believed eavesdropping would continue to be limited to "calls that initiated outside the United States, had a destination outside the United States but that transferred through a U.S.-based communications system."
Graham said the latest disclosures suggest that the president decided to go "beyond foreign communications to using this as a pretext for listening to U.S. citizens' communications. There was no discussion of anything like that in the meeting with Cheney."
The high-ranking intelligence official, who spoke with White House permission but said he was not authorized to be identified by name, said Graham is "misremembering the briefings," which in fact were "very, very comprehensive." The official declined to describe any of the substance of the meetings, but said they were intended "to make sure the Hill knows this program in its entirety, in order to never, ever be faced with the circumstance that someone says, 'I was briefed on this but I had no idea that -- ' and you can fill in the rest."
By Graham's account, the official said, "it appears that we held a briefing to say that nothing is different . . . . Why would we have a meeting in the vice president's office to talk about a change and then tell the members of Congress there is no change?"
Nancy Pelosi released a baffling statement:
"I was advised of President Bush's decision to provide authority to the National Security Agency to conduct unspecified activities shortly after he made it and have been provided with updates on several occasions.
"The Bush Administration considered these briefings to be notification, not a request for approval. As is my practice whenever I am notified about such intelligence activities, I expressed my strong concerns during these briefings."
She is apparently unwilling to divulge a hint as to just what strong concerns she raised.
Sen. Harry Reid was Senate Minority leader - can we hear from him? After ducking the question the first time on Fox News Sunday, Harry Reid finally says this:
REID: Listen, the program has been in effect. It's been in effect for four years, according to the New York Times. I was briefed a couple of months ago. The program had been in existence a long time prior to that time.
WALLACE: But I want to ask you directly, Senator, because, you know, you're raising an issue about consultation. Were you ever briefed on it? Did you ever object?
"A couple of months ago". Well, I got a haircut a couple of days ago, but that is not the complete history of my hair styling experience. I wonder if Sen. Reid had received earlier briefings, and whether he pulled a fast one on Chris Wallace.
After a 2003 briefing, Senator Rockefeller, the West Virginia Democrat who became vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee that year, wrote a letter to Mr. Cheney expressing concerns about the program, officials knowledgeable about the letter said. It could not be determined if he received a reply.
And elsewhere in the story, we see this:
...reservations about aspects of the program have also been expressed by Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, the West Virginia Democrat who is the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and a judge presiding over a secret court that oversees intelligence matters. Some of the questions about the agency's new powers led the administration to temporarily suspend the operation last year and impose more restrictions, the officials said.
Either he made some lucky guesses, or Mr. Rockefeller knew enough about this program to raise some cogent objections.
And Tom Daschle, who was Senate Majority leader when this program was initiated in late 2001, has not been heard from [And now he has!:
Between 2002 and 2004, the White House notified me in classified briefings about NSA programs related to the war on terrorism. The briefers made clear they were not seeking my advice or consent, but were simply informing me about new actions. If subsequent public accounts are accurate, it now also appears the briefers omitted key details, including important information about the scope of the program.
Even with some of the more troublesome - and potentially illegal - details omitted, I still raised significant concern about these actions. As such, I am surprised and disappointed that the White House would now suggest that none of us informed of the program objected.
As a result of the significant legal and security concerns raised by the President's actions, I believe it is incumbent on the President to explain the specific legal justification for his actions, for the Congress to fully investigate these actions, and for the Administration to fully cooperate with that investigation.
"Omitted key details"? Did they or did they not say they were engaging in warrantless eavesdropping? Could that possibly be just a "detail"? ]
In related news - Eric Umansky, hardly a reliable running dog for the Right, opines that this program is in a Constitutional gray area.
DefenseTech wants to think outside the box, and wonders if we are not talking about some new technology that is not quite covered by current law and procedures.
And for a trip down memory lane - what was Echelon, and where is it now?
From the WaPo, Nov 13, 1999:
Members of Congress, the European Parliament and civil liberties groups have begun to ask tough questions about the National Security Agency's interception of foreign telephone calls, faxes and electronic mail, the most intense scrutiny of NSA operations since the so-called Church committee probed the spy agency 24 years ago. Beginning with a report written for the 15-nation European Parliament last year, public concern has been building in many countries around Echelon, the code name for a worldwide surveillance network run by the NSA and its partners in Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
MORE: David Sanger of the NY Times wrote this on Sunday in paragraph eight:
Mr. Bush's public confirmation on Saturday of the existence of one of the country's most secret intelligence programs, which had been known to only a select number of his aides...
On Friday, the Times story included a much wider circle, including Congressional leaders and the judges who oversaw the FISA program. Now we are down to Bush and a few of his select aides. By Wednesday, I bet it will be George wearing the headphones while Laura transcribes the tapes.
Let me give you the email addresses for the Stone Wall:
News coverage: firstname.lastname@example.org
Public Editor: email@example.com
Yeah, they will be thrilled to hear from you.
UPDATE: The Times could not find space to cover this, but Byron York of NRO did - here he is on problems with the cumbersome FISA process that Bush was sidestepping.
And here are some articles on a FISA breakdown in 2002:
STILL MORE: Very interesting legal analysis of the situation by Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy, and even more interesting comments. The gist of the comments - there may be technical aspects to this that keep it legal. For example, where the calls are intercepted, who is being targetted at the moment of interception, and who does the intercepting (the US or one of our allies) may all effect the application of FISA.
And here is Sen. Rockefeller's hand-written CYA memo from June 2003.