The eavesdropping-on-Americans scandal came as
shock and betrayal to most employees of the National Security Agency
and to other intelligence officers, active and retired.
The idea that the once highly respected former director of NSA, Gen. Mike
Hayden, had allowed himself to be seduced into sinning against NSA's first commandment,
"Thou Shalt Not Spy on Americans," was initially met with incredulity.
Sadly, no other conclusion became possible as we watched Hayden and Attorney
General Alberto Gonzales spin and squirm before the press on December 19 in
their transparent attempt to square a circle.
For many of us veteran intelligence officers, the press conference put a damper
on the Christmas spirit. The Gonzales-Hayden pas de deux should trouble other
Americans as well, because the malleable Gen. Hayden, now bedecked with a fourth
star, is Deputy Director of National Intelligence the second highest official
in the US intelligence community. Only time will tell what other extralegal
activities he will condone.
The framers of the US Constitution must have been turning in their graves
on December 19 as they watched Gonzales and Hayden defend the eavesdropping
especially as the two grappled with the $64 million question: Instead of simply
flouting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), why didn't the administration
ask Congress to change it, if the law really needed to be made less restrictive?
(And that remains a big "if.")
Well-briefed by executive branch lawyers, Gonzales recited "our legal
analysis our position" that Congress's authorization of force in the
wake of 9/11 gave the president the right to disregard FISA's prohibition, absent
a court order, against using NSA to eavesdrop on Americans. This "position,"
of course, is quite a stretch; even the regime-friendly Washington Post has
termed it "impossible to believe" the government's contention. While
reading from his script, the Attorney General presented his case as well as
it could be argued, but twice he slipped while answering a question as to why
the administration decided to disregard the FISA law rather than try to amend
Letting the Cat out of the Bag
Asked why the administration had decided to take
a "backdoor approach," Gonzales twice let the cat out of the bag:
"We have had discussions with Congress as to whether or not FISA could
be amended to allow us to adequately deal with this kind of threat, and we were
advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible."
They went ahead and did it anyway.
Gen. Hayden's remarks were equally intriguing, as he repeatedly emphasized
the need for "speed and agility." Describing the current eavesdropping
effort as a "more aggressive program than would be traditionally available
under FISA," he seemed equally at pains to stress that the program deals
only with international calls for short periods of time. He is saying, in other
words, that US citizens are monitored only sometimes and just a little,
so we're dealing with only tiny incompatibilities with the FISA law and,
anyhow, the president has said he has the authority anyway. New York Times
reporter James Risen, who broke the story on NSA eavesdropping on Americans,
says the communications of "roughly 500 people in the US have been intercepted
every day over the past three or four years," which hardly jibes with the
impression that Hayden seems to be trying to foster.
As for speed and flexibility, Hayden knows, better than virtually anyone else,
that both are already built into the FISA law, which allows the government to
begin eavesdropping immediately, as long as it sends catch-up paperwork to the
FISA court within 72 hours. His acquiescence in administration instructions
to make an end-run around FISA is a serious blow to the morale of those thousands
who once worked for Hayden and had admired him as director of NSA, as well
as to thousands of other intelligence officers, past and present, hoping against
hope for more integrity at senior levels.
Appearing Tuesday on Democracy Now!, former NSA
officer Russell Tice talked about NSA's ethos regarding eavesdropping on US
"A SIGINT [signals intelligence] officer [is] taught from very early
on in their careers that you just do not do this. This is probably the number
one commandment you do not spy on Americans. It is drilled into our head over
and over again in security briefings at least twice a year, where you ultimately
have to sign a paper that says you have gotten the briefing. Everyone at NSA,
who's a SIGINT officer knows that you do not do this Apparently the leaders
of NSA have decided that they were just going to go against the tenets of something
that's gospel to a SIGINT officer Hayden knew that this was illegal."
Air Force Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski (ret.) was assigned to NSA headquarters
in the late nineties while working for Gen. Hayden, who was then head of the
Air Force Intelligence Agency. At that time she like others had a favorable
impression of Hayden and was therefore stunned upon learning of his acquiescence
in, and rationalization of, eavesdropping on Americans. In a recent conversation,
Karen used as an analogy what Gen. Brent Scowcroft said recently about Dick
Cheney, with whom he had worked for many years "I don't know Dick Cheney."
As for her, said Karen, "I don't know Gen. Hayden."
Cancer Metastasizes at the Top
It does not seem so very long ago that John Dean
saw fit to warn President Richard Nixon that there was a "cancer on the
presidency." Now prevalent among top Bush administration officials is a
two-fold malady. One GAGA (Go-Along-to-Get-Along) has been around
a long time. The other might be called "Colin Cancer," after former
secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell.
At Christmas, the still unrepentant Powell came out of limbo, just before
the Vatican closed it down. Once again he was feted in the indiscriminate mainstream
media, which has decided to forgive and forget his unconscionable role in spreading
a trumped-up justification for what he well knew was an unprovoked war (not
to mention the media's complicity in that same deceit). Powell's claims that
he had no information that there were doubts regarding weapons of mass destruction
in Iraq are demonstrable lies.
Has he forgotten the strong doubt expressed by chief UN inspector Hans Blix
and his people on the ground in Iraq, who enjoyed virtually unfettered access
in the months immediately before the US/UK attack on March 19, 2003, and who
pleaded in vain to be allowed to continue their search for WMD? Does he not
remember that his own intelligence analysts at State had warned him time and
time again of the bogus "intelligence" reports being manufactured
at the Pentagon and the aiming-to-please analysis being served up at CIA? (Much
of this is documented in the report of the Senate Intelligence Committee of
July 2004.) Heck of a job, Colin!
And is it not curious that Powell "forgot" to take his own intelligence
analysts along with him to CIA headquarters for those (in)famous four days and
nights of preparation for his shameful performance at the UN on February 5,
2003, and that he neglected to heed his analysts' warnings about the falsehoods
and hyperbole they had seen in early drafts of that speech?
Sorry, but I find it impossible to feel sorry for Colin Powell as he laments
the fact that his UN speech left a "blot" on his record. What about
the blot it put on the reputation of the United States? What about the 2,200
US servicemen and women who have died in Iraq not to mention the tens of thousands
of Iraqi civilians killed because he, and those like him, lacked to guts to
shake off the GAGA syndrome and try to halt the march of folly? Powell was one
of the very few who might have stopped it.
True to character, Powell continues to march in lockstep with the president,
telling ABC last week that he saw "nothing wrong with the president authorizing"
warrant-less eavesdropping, which, Powell added, "should continue."
As for the missing weapons of mass destruction, Powell insisted to George Stephanopoulos:
"Some of the intelligence was right. There's no question that Saddam Hussein
had the intention of having such weapons." It is a very old, tiresome chestnut;
but George just smiled sweetly, not willing to challenge the matinee idol.
Suffice it to say that Powell's chutzpah and the continued lionization of
him in the media give very poor example for younger generals, most of whom lack
antibodies for GAGA which, in turn, makes them all the more susceptible to
Colin cancer. What the Haydens of this world need is positive example, but Defense
Secretary Rumsfeld has assembled a coterie of star-studded sycophants. Joint
Chiefs chair Marine Gen. Peter Pace did summon the courage recently to correct
Rumsfeld and insist that our troops are required to stop the torture they witness,
not simply to "report" it. We shall have to see how long Pace lasts
in the job.
Hope in Whistleblowers
The good news is that truth tellers (also known
as leakers) have stopped being intimidated and are doing their patriotic duty.
The New York Times's James Risen, who first revealed the program allowing
eavesdropping on Americans, has emphasized that this is the "purest case
of whistleblowers coming forward" that he has encountered in his 25 years
as a reporter. According to Risen, many of then were "tormented by their
knowledge" of the way the Bush administration was "skirting the law."
"Something was wrong and they came forward, I believe, simply to
make the public aware of this," said Risen who, appropriately, calls the
truth tellers "patriots."
Risen pointed out that these are people involved in the day-to-day struggle
to defeat terrorism and who have intimate knowledge of the issues. "They
came to us because they thought you have to follow the rules and you have to
follow the law."
Risen's sources, of course, are the very people the Justice Department has
launched a major investigation to apprehend and, as the saying goes, "bring