Just a few months after Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) ascended to the ranking minority member position in the Senate Intelligence Committee, he received a briefing from Dick Cheney, George Tenet and the NSA director, Michael Hayden. That briefing was attended by a very few members of the House and Senate: Rockfeller, Pat Roberts (R-KA), Jane Harmon (D-CA) and Porter Goss (R-FL), that we know of, according to the WaPo.
The Preznit and his band of merry cronies have been all over the airwaves blabbing about how well informed members of Congress were, how the Democrats never objected, and so on. But that is a blatant lie, and they know it. And Jay Rockefeller made sure we get to know it as well.
Because Sen. Rockefeller was so troubled after this briefing, he sat down and hand wrote two letters voicing all of his concerns -- hand-written, because the information was so classified that he could not allow a staffer to type up a letter for him, let alone discuss any of the troubling aspects of what this Administration was doing. And two copies, because he was complaining to Dick Cheney and had a premonition there would be an attempt at double cross. Good thinking.
But what has the Administration been doing? Laura Rozen and Noah Schactman had some early theories on new technology, something akin to Echelon, but beyond that system's capabilities even. But it is Kevin Drum's synthesis of a number of points that grabbed me this morning:
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?...When you obtain a warrant, one of the pieces of information you must give to the judge are the facts which provide "probable cause" -- or a reason showing a particular suspician -- to justify the request for a search or surveillance. I think it is very likely that the Bush Administration could not provide any specific probable cause on a warrant with a broad sweeping search.
What's more, it's something disturbing enough that a few weeks after 9/11 the administration apparently felt that even Republicans in Congress wouldn't approve of it. What kind of program is so intrusive that even Republicans, even with 9/11 still freshly in mind, wouldn't have supported it?
How likely is it that any judge would have given them carte blanche to simply listen to every conversation that every Muslim in the US has been having for years? Not bloody likely. William Arkin had a great post on this very issue yesterday -- a must read if you missed it. And how likely is it that this Administration just stopped at Muslims -- as horrible as that is to contemplate all on its own?
What about the Administration's arguments that Congress approved of all of this? Well, not so fast on that one, either.
Between 2002 and 2004, the White House notified me in classified briefings about NSA programs related to the war on terrorism. The briefers made clear they were not seeking my advice or consent, but were simply informing me about new actions. If subsequent public accounts are accurate, it now also appears the briefers omitted key details, including important information about the scope of the program.[UPDATE: Am updating here to be certain everyone understands that this is Tom Daschle's note. It wasn't clear from my original text unless you clicked through on the link.]
Even with some of the more troublesome - and potentially illegal - details omitted, I still raised significant concern about these actions. As such, I am surprised and disappointed that the White House would now suggest that none of us informed of the program objected.
Here's the thing about a lie: when other people are able to directly contradict what you say, the lie isn't as believeable.
And when those other people are smart enough not to trust you in the first place, and keep a hand-written copy of their contemporaneous objections -- after telling you they were going to do so -- how moronic are you to persist in the lie? Or how desperate to cover up what you were doing?
I am proud to say that Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is one of my Senators. Rockefeller is a decent man, very thoughtful and patrician in his demeanor, very old school. That he brought this letter into the public eye, on a matter of national security, is telling of the level of anger and disgust at this Administration that he must be feeling. He won't say it, but I will: to Dick Cheney and George Bush -- Gotcha!
UPDATE: A reader at TalkLeft adds another wrinkle.