Lawyers said Bush couldn’t spy on Americans. He did it anyway.
And he got away with it, just as he got away with ordering torture, lying to get the US to invade a country that was no threat to us, and in general made a public and noisome ass of himself. Timothy Lee writes at Wonkblog in the Washington Post:
A remarkable document released by The Guardian gives the public its first in-depth look at the legal process that justified the dragnet surveillance programs undertaken during President George W. Bush’s first term. And they make clear that lots of people involved in the process — government lawyers, judges, and the lawyers of private telecommunications companies — believed the Bush administration had stepped over the legal line.
The revelations come from a report written by the Office of the Inspector General at the National Security Agency. The document, marked “Top Secret” was leaked to The Guardian by Edward Snowden. It is dated March 24, 2009.According to the document:
The NSA began targeting communications between the United States and Afghanistan just three days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. When Vice President Dick Cheney asked whether the NSA could be doing more, NSA director Michael Hayden responded that “nothing else could be done with existing NSA authorities.” The NSA found the judicial review process required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act too cumbersome for the broad-ranging surveillance the agency believed was necessary to keep track of terrorist activities.
But rather than asking Congress to amend FISA, President Bush took the law into his own hands on Oct. 4, 2001. He signed an “Authorization,” drafted by vice presidential counsel David Addington, purporting to give the NSA broad authority to intercept telephone and Internet communications if at least one party to the communication was located outside the United States.
The White House Office of Legal counsel wrote a legal opinion defending the legality of wiretapping based on Bush’s Authorization. The White House refused two requests by NSA lawyers to see this document, though Addington did “read a few paragraphs of the opinion” over the phone to NSA General Counsel Robert Deitz. The NSA’s inspector general stated that he found it “strange that NSA was told to execute a secret program that everyone knew presented legal questions, without being told the underpinning legal theory.”
The surveillance required the assistance of private-sector telecommunications companies. While some firms readily agreed to participate, others balked at the idea of violating their customers’ privacy without a court order. The report discusses the NSA’s discussions with seven firms labeled “Company A” through “Company G.” Companies A through D participated in the NSA program. “The Company E General Counsel ultimately decided not to support NSA.” Company F “did not participate because of corporate liability concerns.” The NSA dropped Company G from the program after it insisted on consulting outside counsel before agreeing to participate.
The report says that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was not even informed about this secret surveillance until Jan. 31, 2002, more than three months after the program began. After Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly was sworn in as the Chief Judge of the FISC in May 2002, she was briefed on the program and allowed to read a memo summarizing the White House’s legal justification, but she was not allowed to “retain it for study.”
In March 2004, the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice concluded that one part of the NSA’s surveillance program “was prohibited by the terms of FISA and Title III.” Attorney General John Ashcroft and his deputies resisted White House pressure to sign off on the program. But rather than shut down that aspect of the program, the President had the White House Counsel sign an Authorization for the program, instead of the Attorney General, on March 11. . . .