Earlier this month, Congress caved to President Bush and passed legislation updating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, vastly expanding Bush’s powers to wiretap American citizens without court oversight. In an extensive interview with the El Paso Times, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell decried continued public discussion of the wiretapping program, claiming Americans, particularly in Iraq, would “die” because of the debate.
Q: So you’re saying that the reporting and the debate in Congress means that some Americans are going to die?
McCONNELL: That’s what I mean. Because we have made it so public. We used to do these things very differently
Despite forewarning of the death of Americans, McConnell freely “pulled the curtain back” on previously declassified information about surveillance in the interview. Explaining details ranging from secret court rulings to information on obtaining wiretapping warrants, McConnell “raised eyebrows” for his “frank discussion of previously classified eavesdropping work” conducted under FISA.
Some highlights of McConnell’s revelations:
Court ruling declared Bush’s program illegal on May 31: “After the 31st of May we were in extremis because now we have significantly less capability” when a federal court ruled part of the wiretapping program illegal, McConnell said.
Private sector actively involved in wiretapping program: “Under the president’s program, the terrorist surveillance program, the private sector had assisted us,” said McConnell. “Now if you play out the suits at the value they’re claimed, it would bankrupt these companies,” McConnell said, arguing for legal immunity for the companies when Congress returns from recess.
McConnell denies White House involvement: “The president’s guidance to me early in the process, was, ‘You’ve got the experience. I trust your judgement. You make the right call. There’s no pressure from anybody here,” McConnell claimed.
Thousands overseas are being monitored via warrants. “Offering never-disclosed figures, McConnell also revealed that fewer than 100 people inside the United States are monitored under FISA warrants. However, he said, thousands of people overseas are monitored,” states the AP.
Takes 200 hours to assemble a wiretapping warrant: McConnell alleged that “the issue is volume and time” as to why he was so adamant about pursuing warrantless wiretapping. “My argument was that the intelligence community should not be restricted. … It takes about 200 man hours to do one telephone number.”
Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) said he believes McConnell declassified the information in this interview because he “wanted to push back on accusations that the legislation gave the attorney general unprecedented new powers.” “I think they felt they had to become more public,” said Hoekstra.
The Bush administration seems to believe it is permissible to talk about illegal wiretapping to save face, but not okay for Americans to question them about it.