Inspectors General Confirm Bush Admin Carried Out Massive Illegal Surveillance, More Than Previously Known

A congressionally-mandated report by Inspectors General of five separate intelligence agencies confirms that the Bush administration carried out “unprecedented,” massive surveillance activities beyond the warrantless wirteapping program that had previously been revealed. The Bush administration authorized the program without fully notifying Congress:

Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., told The Associated Press she was shocked to learn of the existence of other classified programs beyond the warrantless wiretapping.

Former Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made a terse reference to other classified programs in an August 2007 letter to Congress. But Harman said that when she had asked Gonzales two years earlier if the government was conducting any other undisclosed intelligence activities, he denied it.“He looked me in the eye and said ‘no,’” she said Friday.

As ThinkProgress previously reported, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey’s testimony before Congress implied that “other programs exist for domestic spying” outside of the NSA program. Gonzales even stated in 2007 that “other intelligence activities” existed. The new report found Gonzales’ statements to be “incomplete and confusing” and “inaccurate,” though not intentionally misleading.


Attorney General John Ashcroft had originally given authorization for the program based on a “misimpression” of what activities the NSA was actually conducting. The lack of full disclosure led to the showdown in Ashcroft’s hospital room in 2004, which almost caused a mass resignation at DoJ.

According to the report, top Cheney aide David Addington could personally decide who in the administration was “read into” the classified program. The inspectors general interviewed more than 200 people inside and outside the government. But because the inspectors general “lacked the authority to compel testimony,” five former Bush administration officials — Ashcroft, John Yoo, George Tenet, Andrew Card, and Addington — refused to be questioned.

Most of the intelligence leads generated under what was known as the “President’s Surveillance Program,” which began shortly after 9/11, did not have any connection to terrorism, the report said. Moreover, the information produced was of “limited” value to intelligence officials.

White the IGs’ report does not yield any details about the secret programs, Radar reported in 2008 that a program called “Main Core” was engaged in massive data collection of Americans:

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.

Glenn Greenwald notes that there likely “will be no consequences” for any of this “rampant and blantant” lawlessness because the Obama administration “opposes all Congressional investigations into Bush-era crimes and, worse, is engaged in extraordinary efforts to block courts from adjudicating the legality of Bush’s surveillance activities by claiming that even long-obsolete and clearly criminal programs are ‘state secrets.’”


Jack Balkin writes, “In sum: the Bush Administration used an illegal program that wasn’t effective, and when the public found out, it repeatedly used this ineffective program to scare Congress into passing laws that legitimated many of its illegal practices and gave the intelligence agencies greater leeway with less oversight.”


,Spencer Ackerman questions: “Does the legal architecture of the original [surveillance program] still remain in place? I suppose if it does, one vehicle for calling attention to it — and perhaps doing something about it — is the debate over reauthorizing sections of the Patriot Act that will take place later this year.”


,In an interview with the AP, former CIA Director Michael Hayden claimed that top members of Congress were kept well-informed all along the way. “One of the points I had in every one of the briefings was to make sure they understood the scope of our activity ‘They’ve got to know this is bigger than a bread box,’ I said,” said Hayden.[upd