No Comment — January 22, 2009, 8:42 am

Did Bush’s Terrorist Surveillance Program Really Focus on American Journalists?

For the last several weeks, Michael Hayden, the former CIA director who previously led the NSA, has been sweating bullets. In recent press meetings he was a bundle of worries, regularly expressing worries about “prosecutions.” Fear of the consequences of criminal acts has been a steady theme for Hayden. In her book The Dark Side, Jane Mayer reports that in 2004 Deputy Attorney General James Comey was “taken aback” by Hayden’s comments when he was let in on the details of the program that Hayden ran at NSA. “I’m glad you’re joining me, because I won’t have to be lonely, sitting all by myself at the witness table, in the administration of John Kerry.”

Last night on MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” we learned that Hayden is concerned about more than just allegations that detainees in CIA custody were tortured. Former NSA analyst Russell Tice, a source for the New York Times disclosure of details of the program, appears to offer further details on the program. He reports that under Hayden the NSA was looking at “everyone’s” communications—telephone conversations, emails, faxes, IMs—and that in addition to suspect terrorists, the NSA was carefully culling data from Internet and phone lines to track the communications of U.S. journalists. This was done under the pretense of pulling out a control group that was not suspect. But Tice reports that when he started asking questions about why journalists were sorted out for special scrutiny, he found that he himself came under close scrutiny and was removed from involvement in the program. He found that he had come under intense FBI surveillance and his communications in all forms were being monitored. After expressing severe doubts about the operations of the NSA program, both Deputy Attorney General Comey and former Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith both believe they also came under intense surveillance. Both decided to leave the Bush Administration after these developments.

If Tice’s allegations are correct, then Hayden managed a program which was in essence a massive felony, violating strict federal criminal statutes that limit the NSA’s domestic surveillance operations. While a number of media outlets reported that Hayden’s activities were “vindicated” by a recent FISA court ruling approving the NSA surveillance program, that view is completely incorrect. The FISA court ruling dealt only with the implementation of a program under the newly amended FISA following Hayden’s departure.

Watch the Tice interview here:

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