President George W. Bush, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, approved a vast domestic spying operation that went far beyond just using the National Security Agency to snoop into the private lives of Americans.
In an executive order signed by Bush in 2001, the efforts of all of America’s extensive intelligence communities were turned inwards, monitoring the day-to-day activities on U.S. citizens on a level that rival’s Russias famed KGB.
And, as with most activities of the Bush administration, most of the details of the domestic spying operation remain secret, hidden behind the cloak of “national security.” When Bush previously admitted the NSA’s role in domestic spying he was, as usual, telling only part of the real story.
Reports Dan Eggen in The Washington Post:
The Bush administration’s chief intelligence official said yesterday that President Bush authorized a series of secret surveillance activities under a single executive order in late 2001. The disclosure makes clear that a controversial National Security Agency program was part of a much broader operation than the president previously described.
The disclosure by Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, appears to be the first time that the administration has publicly acknowledged that Bush’s order included undisclosed activities beyond the warrantless surveillance of e-mails and phone calls that Bush confirmed in December 2005.
In a letter to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), McConnell wrote that the executive order following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks included “a number of . . . intelligence activities” and that a name routinely used by the administration — the Terrorist Surveillance Program — applied only to “one particular aspect of these activities, and nothing more.”
“This is the only aspect of the NSA activities that can be discussed publicly, because it is the only aspect of those various activities whose existence has been officially acknowledged,” McConnell said.
The program that Bush announced was put under a court’s supervision in January, but the administration now wants congressional approval to do much of the same surveillance without a court order.
McConnell’s letter was aimed at defending Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales from allegations by Democrats that he may have committed perjury by telling Congress that no legal objections were raised about the TSP. Gonzales said a legal fight in early 2004 was focused on “other intelligence activities” than those confirmed by Bush, but he never connected those to Bush’s executive order.
But in doing so, McConnell’s letter also underscored that the full scope of the NSA’s surveillance program under Bush’s order has not been revealed. The TSP described by Bush and his aides allowed the interception of communication between the United States and other countries where one party is believed to be tied to al-Qaeda, so other types of communication or data are presumably being collected under the parts of the wider NSA program that remain hidden.