Vice President Cheney from tonight’s Nightline:
It’s the kind of capability [that], if we’d had before 9/11, might have led us to be able to prevent 9/11.
We had two 9/11 terrorists in San Diego prior to the attack in contact with al Qaeda sources outside the U.S. We didn’t know it. The 9/11 Commission talks about it. If we’d had this capability, then we might well have been able to stop it.
This is false and sensational. The secret surveillance program authorized by President Bush did not provide the National Security Agency any new “capability.”
The NSA “already had the capacity to read your mail and your e-mail and listen to your telephone conversations. All it had to do was obtain a warrant from a special court created for this purpose. The burden of proof for obtaining a warrant was relaxed a bit after 9/11, but even before the attacks the court hardly ever rejected requests.” Indeed, from 1979 to 2002, the FISA court issued 15,264 surveillance warrants. Not a single warrant application was rejected.
Nothing in the law pre-9/11 prevented the federal government from conducting surveillance operations on terrorists. Cheney simply can’t resist using that tragedy to shield himself from criticism.