According to George Tenet’s memoir, ‘At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA’, it was General Mike Hayden, then director of the National Security Agency, who first hinted at the idea of monitoring phone and email communications outside of the powers that were already available. Tenet writes:
“I remember reflecting on testimony Gen. Mike Hayden, the director of NSA, had given to a public hearing of the House Intelligence Committee in 2000. Mike created quite a stir when he said that if Usama bin Ladin had crossed the bridge from Niagara Falls, Ontario, to Niagara Falls, New York, there were provisions of US law that would offer him [Hayden] protections with regard to how the NSA could cover him. Mike would late say that he was using this as a stark hypothetical. On September 12, 2001, it became real.”
Tenet then goes on to say:
“After the 9/11 attacks, using his existing authorities, Hayden implemented a program to monitor communications to and from Afghanistan, where the 9/11 attacks were planned. With regard to the NSA’s policy of minimisation, balancing US privacy and inherent intelligence value, Mike moved from a peacetime to a wartime standard. He briefed me on this and I approved. By early October 2001, Hayden had briefed the full House Intelligence Committee and the leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee.”
It was at this point that Cheney asked Tenet “if the NSA could do more”.
“Our ability to monitor al-Qa’ida’s planning was limited because of constraints we had imposed on ourselves through the passing of certain US laws in the late 1970s. I called on Mike to relay the vice-presidents enquiry. Mike made it clear that he could do no more within the existing authorities. We went to see the vice-president together. Mike laid out what could be done that would be feasible, prudent, and effective.
Within a week new authorities were granted to allow the NSA to pursue what is now known as the ‘terrorist surveillance program’.” (1)
Clearly it was Dick Cheney who instigated the action required to allow the NSA to conduct illegal wiretapping of phones and email communications and it was Cheney and Hayden who had gone to Cheney to fill him in on the details of what exactly what they wanted to do. According to Tenet, all this happened by November 2001.
It wasn’t until four years later that the world got to learn of what had been going on when The New York Times writers, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, exposed the illegal wiretapping in an explosive article that The New York Times published on 16 December 2005. In it Risen and Lichtblau say that Bush signed off on the order in early 2002 but, from the way Tenet calls it, it seems more likely that Bush signed it off closer to the end of 2001 after pressure from Cheney.
But the story doesn’t end there.
The exposé by Risen and Lichtblau only came about because James Risen was about to launch his book ‘State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration’, in which Risen writes a whole chapter on the illegal wiretapping affair.(2) However, according to Walter Isaacson who reviewed Risen’s book in The New York Times, Risen’s The New York Times article had actually been written about a year before it was eventually published but the Bush administration had asked the NYT not to publish and the NYT had obliged thus making themselves as complicit in the cover up as Bush, Cheney, the NSA and George Tenet of the CIA.
Cheney, Tenet and Hayden between them have a lot to answer to. Not only were their deeds immoral, they were also very illegal.
(1) George Tenet, ‘At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA’. (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2007.) p. 237.
(2) James Risen, ‘State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration’. (New York: Free Press, 2006.) Chapter 2. pp. 39-60.