Dear President Obama;
I know you have a full plate right now but there’s something I need to talk to you about.
Does anyone on your staff remember former National Security Agency (NSA) analyst, Russell Tice, who offered to provide you with illegally suppressed information regarding spying on all Americans, including journalists?
In case you missed it, Mr. Tice was interviewed by Keith Olbermann recently, and he sang like a canary. One group of Americans targeted by the Bush administration for surveillance was the press. That shocked me, and that’s why I’m writing this open letter to you.
I know you believe in transparency. What the NSA has done for years is beyond questionable. It’s criminal. I’ve seen estimates that the NSA collected millions of transmissions, emails and phone calls of average Americans by patching into the networks of cooperative telecommunications companies.
According to Tice, he was ready to give you a lot of inside information last February, but your staff politely declined the offer. They said they knew who Tice was, but did not need his help.
I figure you were busy trying to get elected and that’s why he hasn’t heard from you on this subject.
Now that you are the country’s Commander-in-Chief, I’m sure this situation of illegal spying on Americans is of interest to you. Remember back in 2005 when then-President Bush told the press the only Americans spied on were those talking with terrorists overseas?
We now know that was a lie. Tice made that clear while talking with Olbermann. Lots of other evidence rest in data banks in spy land, according to Tice. As I write this, I suspect that secret files on this practice are being shredded at the intelligence agencies. The FBI and the CIA had complicity in this scandalous matter too.
I hope you didn’t forget Bush authorized the Highlander Project (United States Signals Intelligence Directive 18) by the NSA and the United States Army 513th Military Intelligence Brigade in 2005. There’s proof that conversations of American citizens were intercepted and entered into data banks.
The existence of this NSA domestic program was first reported by The New York Times on Dec. 16th, 2008, in an article that was spurred by a whistle-blower’s shocking revelations. The Times published the exclusive story on their website the night before, after learning that the Bush administration considered seeking a Pentagon-Papers-style court injunction to block publication.
In a Dec. 2008 interview with Newsweek, former Justice Department employee Thomas Tamm revealed himself as that whistle-blower.
The exact scope of this program is still not fully known. It is known that the NSA provided unsupervised access to all fiber-optic communications between some of the nation’s major communications, including phone conversations, email, web browsing, and corporate network traffic.
I know this will not be easy to settle, especially because Congress passed a law in 2007 that legalized warrantless surveillance (The Protect America Act). I just don’t agree with the defense of this law by former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who said the NSA “has a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the conversation is a member of al Qaeda, affiliated with al Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with al Qaeda, or working in the support of al Qaeda.”
That was painting with a broad brush and caused immediate concern among elected officials, civil right activists, legal scholars and the public at large about the legality and constitutionality of the program and the potential for abuse.
I’m not the only person who thinks Bush’s claim that the NSA only spied on Americans making phone calls to people with known al Qaeda links, stinks. What the heck is a “known link?” Would that be a journalist who has a contact inside al Qaeda?
Now that Tice has re-opened Pandora’s Box about the Bush administration’s spying on journalists, I have two questions for you, President Obama.
Are you aware of this illegal spying on American journalists, private citizens, and organizations?
As It Stands, what are you going to do about it?
Dave Stancliff is a columnist for the Times-Standard. He is a former newspaper editor and publisher.