Then and there the child Independence was born. — John Adams, in a Boston courtroom, 1761, hearing the argument of James Otis against the limitless violations of the colonists’ privacy by the king—abuses that resulted, after the revolution, in the very specific privacy protections of the Fourth Amendment, which have now been discarded.
The president, feeling the heat, has changed his mind and says he welcomes congressional investigations into his authorizing of the National Security Agency’s warrantless gutting of the Fourth Amendment.
“There will be a lot of hearings and talk about that,” Bush says, “but that’s good for democracy,” a form of government on which he has been insufficiently briefed. Also testifying will be Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Since he orchestrated Bush’s 2002 blank check to the NSA, Gonzales’s testimony will essentially consist of him applauding himself.
At the open hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee (the Senate Intelligence Committee’s hearing will be closed), Gonzales says he will not discuss “the operational aspects” of this “highly classified program.”
There is, however, a former NSA officer who is eager to testify at an open hearing. Russ Tice, a former technical-intelligence specialist with NSA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, was also involved in the agency’s SAPs (special access programs), which—Bill Gertz reported in the January 12 Washington Times—”are the most sensitive U.S. intelligence and weapons programs and are exempt from many oversight mechanisms used to check other intelligence agencies.”
Russ Tice has been warned, however, by Renee Seymour, director of NSA’s special access programs, not to testify about secret electronic intelligence programs because they are so super-secret; she emphasizes that “neither the staff nor the members [of the congressional committees] are cleared to receive the information covered by the special access programs.”
Russ Tice, Bill Gertz also reports, was a source for the New York Times story that has created the continuing fervor over Bush’s further extension of his unilateral powers as commander in chief to do whatever he wants to protect our otherwise democratic and constitutional values.
But Tice has already testified—not to Congress but on ABC’s Nightline
on January 10. He was interviewed by ABC’s chief investigative correspondent, Brian Ross—who truly is an investigative reporter. And with no use for the treadmill of the 24-hour news cycle, he stays on the stories he breaks.
By my definition, Russ Tice is a patriot. He told Brian Ross: “If we basically come to the conclusion that we don’t mind spying on millions of Americans to find, you know, a few bad eggs or some terrorists, then . . . I
think you have to pretty much rewrite the Bill of Rights and change the laws around to adjust for that.”
Speaking of the NSA’s special access programs, Tice said that “only a very few people have access” to these operations, adding, “We call them ‘black world’ programs.” Tice, as he also said, specialized in these programs.
As for the range of NSA’s reach, Brian Ross noted: “Tice says the technology exists to track and sort through every domestic and international phone call as they switched through centers . . . and search for key words or
phrases that terrorists might use. . . . Intelligence analysts then develop graphs called spiderwebs . . . linking one suspect’s phone number to hundreds or thousands more. . . . Tice says the potential number is likely in the millions if the full range of secret NSA programs was used.”
On Nightline, Tice, in his own words, went into how the ultimate worldwide spiderweb works: “What association of numbers does that [phone] number call? And you make little spiders from each one of those points to determine, you know, where those communications are going.”
But listen to our transparent leader, George W. Bush, as heard on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition on January 2:
“The [NSA] program is one that listens to a few numbers called from the outside of the United States . . . of known Al Qaeda or affiliate people. I mean, in other words, the enemy’s calling somebody and we want to know who they’re calling and why.” (Emphasis added.)
“A few numbers”? Tice disagrees. Whom do you believe?
Tice told Brian Ross that because he was one of the more than a dozen whistle-blowers who provided information for the breakthrough New York Times story, he expects to be under criminal investigation.
But Tice didn’t tell the Times any classified information, and he has no regrets about having a part in this continually breaking story:
“I don’t regret that at all. I’m bringing out things that need to be addressed. We need to clean up the intelligence community. We’ve had abuses, and they need to be addressed.”
Ross asked Tice if he’s concerned about being prosecuted and sent to prison for talking to the Times and ABC News. He is not worried.
Ross added, “Tice lost his job last May after the NSA revoked his security clearances, citing psychological reasons, which Tice called a lot of bunk.”
In the not so artfully misleading language for which the Bush administration is noted, Renee Seymour, NSA’s director of special access programs, told The Washington Times that Russ Tice has “every right” to speak to Congress and NSA has no intention to infringe his rights. All he has to do is “obtain and follow direction” from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld because “the SAPs to which you refer are controlled by the Department of Defense.”
So Donald Rumsfeld is one of the controllers of this ultimate spiderweb! Surely he will be delighted to testify before the congressional oversight committees—and respond to questions from Democratic senators Russ Feingold, Dick Durbin, and Pat Leahy, in the name of We the People.