The Rockefeller Letter on NSA Spying

Josh Marshall has a copy of a July 17, 2003 letter from Senator Jay Rockefeller, ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, to Vice President Dick Cheney raising concerns about the NSA spying program. Most notably, he notes that he is “neither an technician or an attorney.”

This increases my sense that Kevin Drum is right when he observes, “It seems clear that there’s something involved here that goes far beyond ordinary wiretaps, regardless of the technology used. Perhaps some kind of massive data mining, which makes it impossible to get individual warrants?”

I have no reason to believe anything nefarious is going on here; indeed, I very much doubt it. But the president could easy have gotten approval from Congress in the aftermath of 9/11 to expand his ability to wiretap suspected al Qaeda terrorists operating domestically. The facts that AG Gonzales has dubbed this “probably the most classified program that exists in the United States government” and that the NYT held onto the story for over a year and then removed certain “technical details” [*] also speaks to the likelihood that this program involved some cutting edge technologies that the government would just as soon not have our enemies know about.

Via e-mailed tip.

[*] Update: In going back to source this, I see that my memory was faulty. Here’s the quote:

After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting. Some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists has been omitted. [emphasis mine]

So, the omitted details aren’t necessarily “technical”.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    But the president could easy have gotten approval from Congress in the aftermath of 9/11 to expand his ability to wiretap suspected al Qaeda terrorists operating domestically.

    I would argue he already had that, in SR23, and the associated laws.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Bithead: The administration argues that and I agree that it’s plausible. But they could have gone for explicit approval and removed the controversy.

  3. patrick says:

    Have we seen this somewhere before? Maybe on “24” that Fox show. Seems hollywood knows how to run an intelligence program. I thought that last year they kept having to find and track various cell phones and were not getting any warrants or having to try to circumvent the laws. Reality or just a TV program.

  4. LJD says:

    Does approval EVER remove the controversy? No, the Dems would have continued to blab about it, effectively informing the terrorists of all our anti-terror tricks, for the benefit of their constituency, of course.

  5. McGehee says:

    Does approval EVER remove the controversy?

    Considering what is being said today by the same Dems who voted for the Iraq invasion, apparently not.

  6. Bithead says:

    Does approval EVER remove the controversy?

    Considering what is being said today by the same Dems who voted for the Iraq invasion, apparently not.

    And therein, lies the nut of it; It wouldn’t. Bush would have nothing to gain and far too much to lose..(Another attack) by going though those motions.

    Consider it this way; How would it be now had he gone through such motions in a fruitless effort to satisfy the bastards, and while hung up in that process, another attack happens? They’d be (rightly) screaming Bush hadn’t done all he could do… and would cite these same laws as Bush has invoked as what Bush SHOULD have done to thawrt further attack.

    I submit it’s time to consider that the Democrats are going to bitch no matter what is done, or how well, and just simply go forward from there.

    At the risk of putting too fine an edge on this, it comes down to how many civilian lives are you willing to risk for the impossible task of keeping Democrats happy?

    And let’s also address this new-found stature of Democrats as civil libertarians.

    Here’s a group of people who until recently were happily engaged in the removal of John Q Public’s rights. Now, suddenly, we’re to take them as being civil lib warriors? Sorry, no sale, here.

  7. Jonk says:

    This is just another example of the politicization of our intelligence gathering. There is no issue here. I keep hearing “oh, my liberty!” and that B. Franklin quote on the radio…pffft. Name one *actual* thing that has been “taken away” from you because they tapped/data mined communications between someone here and suspects overseas. The easiest way for the terrorists to get to us now is to use our own laws to avoid detection…let’s not give them those loopholes to prevent supposed lost liberties.

  8. DC Loser says:

    Let’s not try to guess to much as to what’s really happening as none of us really have very good insight into the real situation. As to Jonk’s post about loopholes – how about applying that logic to the whole second amendment argument between the gun control advocates and the NRA. Since only flintlocks and black poweders were around during the writing of the constitution, isn’t it reasonable by this argument to say that it only applies to those guns? I’m a gun owner but quit the NRA years ago, so I’m neither pro nor anti gun.

  9. Herb says:

    October 1982, The 6th US District court of Appeals ruled that such wiretaps without a warrant are LEGAL.

    Clinton and Regan both used such wiretaps without warrants.

  10. Jonk says:

    That is a pretty weak comparison, DC…and not even in the ballpark as to what we are discussing here.

  11. DC Loser says:

    Oh that makes it clearer.

  12. Barry says:

    “Considering what is being said today by the same Dems who voted for the Iraq invasion, apparently not.”

    Posted by McGehee

    You mean the Democratic politicians who were shown censored – excuse me ‘sanitized’ intelligence material, some of it derived by torturing people into confessions, and who were told by Bush that he needed authorization for force to get Saddam to comply with inspections? After which compliance, with negative results for WMD’s, Bush said ‘f*ck it, I’m going in anyway’?

    Do you mean the war which Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield & Co obviously intended since Sep 12, 2001, but BS’d us endlessly about?

    No wonder the Democratic politicians are mad.

    Cough up some WMD’s, and some links to Al Qaida.