Details remain classified, but are referred to in a newly released report
WASHINGTON – The Bush administration authorized secret surveillance activities that still have not been made public, according to a new government report that questions the legal basis for the unprecedented anti-terrorism program.
It’s unclear how much valuable intelligence was yielded by the surveillance program started after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to the unclassified summary of reports by five inspectors general. The reports mandated by Congress last year were delivered to lawmakers Friday.
President George W. Bush authorized other secret intelligence activities — which have yet to become public — even as he was launching the massive warrentless wiretapping program, the summary said. It describes the entire program as the “President’s Surveillance Program.”
The report describes the program as unprecedented and raises questions about the legal grounding used for its creation. It also says the intelligence agencies’ continued retention and use of the information collected under the program should be carefully monitored.
Many senior intelligence officials believe the program filled a gap in intelligence. Others, including FBI, CIA and National Counterterrorism Center analysts, said intelligence gathered by traditional means was often more specific and timely, according to the report.
The Bush White House acknowledged in 2005 that it allowed the National Security Agency to intercept international communications that passed through U.S. cables without court orders.
The inspectors general interviewed more than 200 government officials and private sector personnel, including former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Five former Bush administration officials refused to be interviewed, including former CIA Director George Tenet and former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
The others: former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card; former top Cheney aide David Addington; and John Yoo, who served as a deputy assistant attorney general.
The IG report said an unnamed White House official inserted a paragraph into the first threat assessment prepared by the CIA after the Sept. 11 attacks, which was used to justify the extraordinary intelligence measures.
The paragraph said that the “individuals and organizations involved in global terrorism possessed the capability and intention to undertake further terrorist attacks within the United States,” according to the report. It also said that the president should authorize the NSA to conduct the surveillance activities.
The memos were revised and renewed thereafter every 45 days. The report said that the president consistently gave that authorization for the surveillance activity, and that both CIA chief Tenet and his successor, Porter Goss, never withheld their signatures from threat assessment memoranda.
The report also questions the legal advice used by President Bush to set up the program, pinpointing omissions and questionable legal memos written by Yoo at the Justice Department.
The report suggests Yoo ignored an explicit provision in the FISA law designed to restrict the government’s authority to conduct electronic surveillance during wartime. And it said flaws in Yoo’s memos later presented “a serious impediment” to recertifying the program.
Congress required the review of the so-called warrantless wiretapping program last year when it revised the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA is a 30 year-old law that created a secret court to oversee government electronic surveillance.
The inspectors general of the CIA, Justice Department, Defense Department, National Security Agency and Office of the National Intelligence Director also reviewed the Bush-era surveillance program.