Yesterday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said President Bush’s warrantless spying activies were part of a “very concentrated, very limited program.”
But during today’s press briefing, Fox News White House correspondent Wendell Goler stated his “understanding” that the program was used “18,000-plus times.” Scott McClellan refused to confirm or deny Goler’s numbers:
GOLER: It’s our understanding this power has been used 18,000-plus times. Are we to presume that there are that many al Qaeda agents in this country?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not going to get into talking about more than what we’ve said publicly. That’s getting into more than what we’ve talked about publicly, so I’m not in a position to confirm or deny the numbers that you threw out there.
If Goler is correct, Bush’s program could hardly be described as “very concentrated” or “very limited.”
UPDATE: As commenter jsp points out, Goler may be conflating the number of times Bush’s program was deployed with the number of authorized FISA warrants, which number approximately 19,000.
Transcript continues below:
GOLER: You don’t want to give us an indication of how often this power is used, and you don’t want to give us an indication of the size of the potential threat in this country?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think, again, the Attorney General and General Hayden talked a little bit about this yesterday, but I talked about the nature of this authorization and the scope of it, and I talked about the safeguards and oversight that are in place. This is very carefully reviewed every 45 days and it –
GOLER: I really don’t need you to go there.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, but this goes to your question. It is limited to people who have — one of the parties to the communication have a clear connection to al Qaeda or terrorist organizations, and one of the parties is operating outside of the United States. I think that’s important for people to know, because there’s been some suggestions that it’s spying inside the U.S. That’s not the case.
GOLER: I’ll stipulate that. But it is limited to that situation, are we to presume, then, that there are in excess of tens of thousands of al Qaeda agents in this country, because it’s been used that many times?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I’m not confirming or denying those numbers. I don’t think anyone has done that publicly, so I’m not going to get into a discussion of that nature.