The Bush White House pulled in a great quantity of information far beyond the warrantless wiretapping previously acknowledged, the Inspector General reported. They questioned the legal basis for the effort but shielded almost all details on grounds they’re still too secret to reveal.
The report, compiled by five inspectors general, refers to “unprecedented collection activities” by U.S. intelligence agencies under an executive order signed by Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The report particularly criticizes John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general who wrote legal memos defending the policy. His boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft, was not aware until March 2004 of the exact nature of the intelligence operations beyond wiretapping that he had been approving for the previous two and a half years, the report says.
Most of the intelligence leads generated under what was known as the “President’s Surveillance Program” did not have any connection to terrorism, the report said. But FBI agents told the authors that the “mere possibility of the leads producing useful information made investigating the leads worthwhile.”
The inspectors general interviewed more than 200 people inside and outside the government, but five former Bush administration officials refused to be questioned. They were Ashcroft, Yoo, former CIA Director George Tenet, former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and David Addington, an aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney.
According to the report, Addington could personally decide who in the administration was “read into” — allowed access to — the classified program.
The IG report said that Bush signed off on both the warrantless wiretapping and other top-secret operations shortly after Sept. 11 in a single presidential authorization. All the programs were periodically reauthorized, but except for the acknowledged wiretapping, they “remain highly classified.”
Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said that when she had asked Gonzales two years earlier if the government was conducting any other undisclosed intelligence activities, he denied it.
Robert Bork Jr., Gonzales’ spokesman, said, “It has clearly been determined that he did not intend to mislead anyone.”
In the wake of the new report, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt, renewed his call Friday for a formal nonpartisan inquiry into the government’s information-gathering programs.
The report says Yoo’s analysis approving the program ignored a law designed to restrict the government’s authority to conduct electronic surveillance during wartime, and did so without fully notifying Congress.
Yoo insisted that the president’s wiretapping program had only to comply with Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure — but the report said Yoo ignored the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which had previously overseen federal national security surveillance.