Monday, July 10, 2006

Another secret US intelligence program?

The following is a story found on the Christian Science Monitor.
Another secret US intelligence program?
House Intelligence Committee only briefed after whistleblower alerts chairman.
By Tom Regan |

The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said the White House briefed his committee on another "significant" intelligence program only after it was brought to his attention by a government whistleblower.

The New York Times reports that Rep. Peter Hoekstra, (R) of Michigan then pressed President Bush to tell him about the program.

"We can't be briefed on every little thing that they are doing," Mr. Hoekstra said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday." "But in this case, there was at least one major – what I consider significant – activity that we had not been briefed on that we have now been briefed on. And I want to set the standard there, that it is not optional for this president or any president or people in the executive community not to keep the intelligence committees fully informed of what they are doing."

The White House declined to comment on the issue Sunday but said last week that it would continue to work closely with Mr. Hoekstra and the intelligence committees.

The briefing came after Mr. Hoekstra wrote a "strongly worded letter" to President Bush about not being briefed on the program. Hoekstra would not comment on the nature of the program, or whether it involved domestic or international surveillance.
Although he has been a critic of whistleblowers in the past, and has even called for tougher legislation when whistleblowers give classified information to the media, he said "This is actually a case where the whistle-blower process was working appropriately." The Washington Post reports that while Hoekstra appeared to be "mollified" by the briefing he received, he said the government is still falling short of its legal obligations "to brief key congressional members on significant intelligence operations."

Steven Spruiell reports in National Review's MediaBlog that the whistleblower who may have tipped off Hoekstra was Russell Tice, the ex-NSA employee who also says he was a source for The New York Times story earlier this year about domestic eavesdropping by the NSA. Mr. Tice said in May he planned to tell congressional staffers about undisclosed illegal programs being run at the NSA during the time when Gen. Michael Hayden (now the head of the CIA) was in charge.

Congress Daily reported on May 12, according to Mr. Spruiell, that the programs "involved the illegal use of space-based satellites and systems to spy on US citizens." It was a few days later that Hoekstra sent his letter to President Bush.

Conservative blogger Tom Maguire, in his blog JustOneMinute, says there was a fairly significant passage in Hoekstra's letter that largely ignored by the media – that the chairman believes that there is a "a strong and well-positioned group within the Agency intentionally undermined the administration and its policies." Hoekstra's letter indicates that he is concerned about the appointment of Steve Kappes as deputy director of the CIA, as Hoekstra says Mr. Kappes may have been a part of this group. He cites the enthusiastic response of Democrats to Kappes' return as further proof of this suspicion.

In a recent column, however, columnist Paul Krugman of The New York Times wrote that he believes that "the Bush administration and the movement it leads have been engaged in an authoritarian project, an effort to remove all the checks and balances that have heretofore constrained the executive branch." And Mr. Krugman wrote those who disagree with the government's use of secret intelligence programs are often portrayed as "traitors" by supporters of the administration for voicing dissent or exposing possibly illegal programs. But he said it doesn't have to be this way.

For I think that most Americans still believe in the principle that the president isn't a king, that he isn't entitled to operate without checks and balances. And President Bush is especially unworthy of our trust, because on every front – from his refusal to protect chemical plants to his officials' exposure of Valerie Plame, from his toleration of war profiteering to his decision to place the CIA in the hands of an incompetent crony – he has consistently played politics with national security.

Finally, in another issue involving a controversial administration program, Newsweek reports that the White House was strongly advised by State Department laywers in January 2002 that not giving Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners even the basic protections of the Geneva Conventions was inviting an "enormous backlash" from both foreign allies and US courts.

"Even those terrorists captured in Afghanistan ... are entitled to the fundamental humane treatment standards of ... the Geneva Conventions," William Howard Taft IV, the State Department legal counselor ... wrote in a Jan. 23, 2002, memo obtained by Newsweek. In particular, Taft argued, the United States has always followed one provision of the Geneva Conventions – known as Common Article 3 – which "provides the minimal standards" of treatment that even "terrorists captured in Afghanistan" deserve.

Now that the Supreme Court has in effect backed the position of the State department lawyers in its recent Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld ruling, it could also call into question the legality of other administration programs, including the NSA's domestic surveillance program, the creation of secret prisons in other countries, and perhaps other programs such as the one mentioned above.

Newsweek reports that the administration is split into two camps over how to deal with the setback dealt by the court's decision. One group, headed by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice "want to use the decision as the basis for a wide-ranging 'fix' that would accept a role for Congress and the courts on detainee issues." The other group, headed by hardliners such as Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, David Addington, "want to nullify the court ruling by rewriting portions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and granting the president the powers the court rejected."

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