WASHINGTON, D.C.—News that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about President Bush’s domestic wiretap spying comes even as a would-be whistleblower on the issue has been silenced.
The National Security Agency, which carried out Bush’s spying program, has warned Russell Tice, its former employee who wants to tell the House and Senate Intelligence committees about the agency’s secret eavesdropping on American phone calls, not to reveal classified information to Congress. Tice told
on Tuesday that he was a source for recent New York Times reporting on eavesdropping, although he never discussed classified information.
The NSA says he has to keep quiet not because it is opposed to the employee testifying per se—but because committee members and their staffs do not have security clearances.
In fact, the members and staffs of these committees conducted the most detailed, classified investigation of national security matters during their Joint Inquiry into intelligence operations leading up to 9-11.
Moreover, Tice, who as an employee held a secret clearance and worked on top-secret intelligence projects, can follow the usual practice of going to a secured room in the Capitol and briefing those members and staff who are cleared.
Tice has said previously he was yanked from his intelligence job when he tried to tell superiors he thought a fellow worker might be a spy. He says he was sent to the car pool and told to drive the agency big shots around Washington.
This is just a roundabout way of telling Tice he can’t talk. The agency probably seeks to avoid the situation the FBI faced in the Sibel Edmonds case. In that saga, a former translator for the FB was blocked from telling the 9-11 Commission what she knows about events leading up to 9-11 and its aftermath because the material is classified in the interests of national security. Just to make sure Edmonds didn’t talk, former Attorney General Ashcroft invoked the old states secrets privilege, which gives the government blanket authority to keep from making public certain information.
Tice is being exposed to the same sort of circuitous blocking procedures, which if followed would shut him up for years to come if not forever.
According to Seymour Hersh, investigative reporter for the New Yorker, Tice never told the Pentagon and NSA of any improper behavior, and thus he must give statements to those agencies before going to Congress. Then Tice must “obtain and follow direction” from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on proper procedures for contacting Congress.
You can bet Gonzales will have long since finished spinning the official version of the Bush wiretap program by the time that happens.
Additional reporting: Michael Roston