Warrantless spying reached domestic calls, too

The attorney general insisted it wasn't so. He was wrong.


Tim Grieve
December 21, 2005 6:43PM (UTC)

Can you say "slippery slope"?

In its initial attempts to limit the political damage from news that the president has authorized warrantless spying on American citizens, the Bush administration insisted that all of the monitoring involved calls and e-mails in which one of the parties was outside the United States. "I can assure you, by the physics of the intercept, by how we actually conduct our activities, that one end of these communications [is] always outside the United States," said Gen. Michael Hayden, George W. Bush's second-ranking intelligence official. Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general, chimed in: "People are running around saying that the United States is somehow spying on American citizens calling their neighbors. Very, very important to understand that one party to the communication has to be outside the United States."

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You'll be shocked to know that it isn't true.

The New York Times reports today that the warrantless spying program Bush approved -- and repeatedly reapproved -- sometimes captured communications that were entirely domestic. Officials familiar with the program tell the Times that the warrantless domestic spying occurred because the National Security Agency sometimes had a hard time determining whether a communication began or ended in the United States or somewhere else.

But never fear. In every instance, the spying you thought -- the spying Bush insisted -- was being conducted pursuant to a warrant obtained from a court was in each and every case approved by a "shift supervisor" at the NSA.

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A shift supervisor? We suppose that's more or less the same as having warrants approved by a federal judge nominated by the president, confirmed by the Senate and granted a lifetime appointment in order to ensure freedom from political pressures. In other news today, the White House announced that it has increased the "agility" of the federal regulatory system by transferring the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission to a radio talk show host in Sacramento, Calif., and that it has authorized individual FBI agents to decide the guilt or innocence of criminal defendants when jury trials would "take too long."


Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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