Feds Shed More Light on|Study of Bush-Era Spying

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Intelligence officials have revealed measures President George W. Bush took to assuage those upset over his approval of surveillance after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
     Released Friday in response to a New York Times lawsuit, the admissions come in the latest version of a 746-page doorstopper that Office of Inspector General first published in July 2009.
     Though the Justice Department has not responded to inquiries as to which passages of the enormous document are newly exposed in the latest version, The New York Times reported this weekend on two revelations.
     Charlie Savage, the lead plaintiff in the case and the paper’s ace national-security reporter, said one issue involved a disagreement that erupted while Attorney General John Ashcroft was hospitalized.
     Acting in Ashcroft’s stead, James Comey was refusing to sign off on a component of the then-secret mass-surveillance program, and White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez rushed to Ashcroft’s bedside, trying in vain to have the AG override Comey.
     Bush ultimately settled the “hospital showdown” a day later.
     The Times reported that David Addington, counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney, drafted the president’s “fix,” which gave bulk data collection the green light, provided that the National Security Agency searched the database only for records related to terrorism suspects.
     Another newly disclosed passage of the OIG report shows a “gap” between the Bush-authorized program and the NSA’s actual collection practices, the Times reported.
     Redactions still pepper the three-volume report, which closes with criticism of the Bush surveillance program dubbed “Stellar Wind.”
     Former Justice Department attorney Thomas Tamm tipped off The New York Times to Stellar Wind as an anonymous whistle-blower in 2005.
     Tamm’s role was confirmed and he started speaking out publicly in 2008.
     “We found that in the early years of the Stellar Wind program, the Department of Justice lacked the necessary legal resources to carry out an adequate review of the legality of the program,” the report states.
     Because of the tight control over who knew about Stellar Wind after its inception in 2001, it took until mid-2003 for the DOJ to undermine the legal analysis given by the only attorney who up until that point had assessed the program’s legal basis, the inspector general found.
     After concluding that the attorney’s analysis was “legally and factually flawed,” the DOJ’s subsequent reassessment “resulted in a contentious dispute with the White House that nearly led to the mass resignation of the department’s senior leadership,” according to the report.
     Though the White House eventually transferred the program to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the OIG complained that this transfer should have begun before March 2004.
     The report emphasizes that this was critical “as Stellar Wind became less a temporary response to the September 11 attacks and more a permanent surveillance tool.”
     “We believe that such broad surveillance and collection activities conducted in the United States that impacts U.S. persons, particularly when they extend for such a significant period of time, should be conducted pursuant to statute and be subjected to judicial oversight,” it concludes.     
     The Times will press on in court to dig under the black lines scattered throughout the report. The paper has until Oct. 7 to deliver its motion for summary judgment, and the government’s response is due Nov. 9.
     “We are doing a targeted challenge to those redactions that we think are improper and shield information that is important to the public,” David McCraw, general counsel for the Times, said in an email.

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