Politics

FLASHBACK: Director of National Security Agency Misled Congress

Yesterday, ThinkProgress noted that, while under oath during his confirmation hearings, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales misled the Congress about issues related to Bush’s secret domestic spying program.

Gonzales said, “[I]t is not the policy or the agenda of this president to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes.” In fact, Gonzales had personally authorized the warrantless domestic spying program, which did just that.

Michael Hayden, director of the National Security Agency, also misled Congress. He told a committee investigating the 9/11 attacks that any surveillance of persons in the United States was done consistent with FISA. From Hayden’s 10/17/02 testimony:

GOSS: OK, my second question, then. General Hayden, you said something about bin Laden coming across the bridge, hypothetical, of course. But I take that to mean that if bin Laden did come there would be capabilities that we have that we can use elsewhere in the world that we cannot use in the United States of America. Is that correct?

HAYDEN: Not so much capabilities, but how agilely we could apply those capabilities. The person inside the United States becomes a U.S. person under the definition provided by the FISA Act.

GOSS: Well, lets — again, I don’t want to get into details. I’m aware of the public nature of this meeting. But let’s just suppose this sniper [in the United States] is somebody we wanted to catch very badly. Could we apply all our technologies and all our capabilities and all our know how against that person? Or would that person be considered to have protection as an American citizen?

HAYDEN: That person would have protections as what the law defines as a U.S. person. And I would have no authorities to pursue it.

Actually, Hayden was pursuing U.S. persons at the direction of the President outside of the FISA statute.

Extended transcript:

GOSS: OK. Shouldn’t that be job one? And shouldn’t the leaders be listening?

OK, my second question, then. General Hayden, you said something about bin Laden coming across the bridge, hypothetical, of course. But I take that to mean that if bin Laden did come there would be capabilities that we have that we can use elsewhere in the world that we cannot use in the United States of America. Is that correct?

HAYDEN: Not so much capabilities, but how agilely we could apply those capabilities. The person inside the United States becomes a U.S. person under the definition provided by the FISA act.

GOSS: Special protections, according to your testimony.

HAYDEN: Special protections then apply. It is — there are procedural steps that one can identify such a person as the agent of a foreign power. But one’s got to go through those procedural steps.

Now, take that metaphor and apply it to somebody without the persona of Osama bin Laden and you can see the challenge of trying to cover people inside U.S. borders, even if they will us harm.

GOSS: Well, lets — again, I don’t want to get into details. I’m aware of the public nature of this meeting. But let’s just suppose this sniper is somebody we wanted to catch very badly. Could we apply all our technologies and all our capabilities and all our know how against that person? Or would that person be considered to have protection as an American citizen?

HAYDEN: That person would have protections as what the law defines as a U.S. person. And I would have no authorities to pursue it.

GOSS: So the answer is that person has some protections just by being in the United States of America. And if that act were actually taking place overseas, we would be able to bring more to bear to deal with it.

HAYDEN: Absolutely.

GOSS: That’s a fair statement?

HAYDEN: Yes, sir, that’s right.

GOSS: Thank you. I’m not sure everybody in this country understands just how many safeguards we have for American liberties. And I think it’s very important to underscore that. There is a price for it. And we are trying to find the balance and what that price is. I appreciate your answer to the question, General.