Warrantless Wiretapping Was the Tip of the Iceberg

Hardly surprising; totally infuriating: The Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, in an effort to clear up inconsistencies in Alberto Gonzales' testimony, has confirmed in a letter to Senate Intelligence Committee member Arlen Specter (R-PA) that "President Bush authorized a series of secret surveillance activities under a single executive order in late 2001. The disclosure makes clear that a controversial National Security Agency program was part of a much broader operation than the president previously described."

Last week, Gonzo's latest round of testimony left only two options—that he had lied under oath, or that the Bush administration had "a second secret, internally controversial intelligence program of dubious legality." I'm not sure I quite expected it would be the latter. And yet so it is.

The disclosure by Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, appears to be the first time that the administration has publicly acknowledged that Bush's order included undisclosed activities beyond the warrantless surveillance of e-mails and phone calls that Bush confirmed in December 2005.

In a letter to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), McConnell wrote that the executive order following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks included "a number of . . . intelligence activities" and that a name routinely used by the administration -- the Terrorist Surveillance Program -- applied only to "one particular aspect of these activities, and nothing more."

"This is the only aspect of the NSA activities that can be discussed publicly, because it is the only aspect of those various activities whose existence has been officially acknowledged," McConnell said.
So possibly Gonzo did not perjure himself (at least on this issue), but the specter of yet another secret administration program, over which there was internal dissent and presumably no Congressional oversight, now haunts us. Kate Martin, executive director of the Center for National Security Studies, notes, quite rightly, "They have repeatedly tried to give the false impression that the surveillance was narrow and justified," and wonders why it took "accusations of perjury before the DNI disclosed that there is indeed other, presumably broader and more questionable, surveillance."

Utter madness, this. A coup by a thousand cuts. And now we're suddenly turning our attention back to secret domestic spying in the middle of Attorneygate, and I can't help but get the feeling that the next 16 months are going to be a game of whack-a-mole as the investigation of one administration misdeed leads to another, and another, until their time just runs out.

And that's probably the best case scenario, provided we don't all drop dead where we stand from chronic outrage fatigue first.

[More at Think Progress.]

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