Last year, former deputy attorney general James Comey revealed that in 2004, he refused to “certify” the legality of certain aspects of the National Security Agency (NSA) spy program. Comey witnessed Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card try to force a bed-ridden John Ashcroft to approve the program. Comey, however, did not publicly give specifics as to what program he opposed.
CAP’s Peter Swire wrote on ThinkProgress at the time that Comey’s testimony implied that “other programs exist for domestic spying” outside of the NSA program. Radar’s Christopher Ketcham suggests that another spy program does exist: “Main Core,” a program that authorizes “computer searches through massive [unspecified] electronic databases” in order to discover “potential threats” in the event of a “national emergency”:
According to a senior government official…”There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived ‘enemies of the state’ almost instantaneously.” … One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect. In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.
These so-called “Continuity of Governance” plans, Radar notes, “are shrouded in extreme secrecy, effectively unregulated by Congress or the courts.” “Main Core is the table of contents for all the illegal information that the U.S. government has [compiled] on specific targets,” said a former military operative. Furthermore, the NSA domestic surveillance program reportedly “suppl[ies] data to Main Core.”
According to Radar, a “number of former government employees and intelligence sources with independent knowledge of domestic surveillance operations” say Main Core is strikingly similar to what Comey refused to authorize at Ashcroft’s bedside:
[T]he program that caused the flap between Comey and the White House was related to a database of Americans who might be considered potential threats in the event of a national emergency. Sources familiar with the program say that the government’s data gathering has been overzealous and probably conducted in violation of federal law and the protection from unreasonable search and seizure guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.
“We are at the edge of a cliff and we’re about to fall off,” said constitutional lawyer and former Reagan administration official Bruce Fein. “To a national emergency planner, everybody looks like a danger to stability.”