Intelligence official: NSA didn't "target" Amanpour

A denial of sorts, but questions linger.

Published January 6, 2006 2:36PM (EST)

NBC's Andrea Mitchell raised a question this week as to whether, as part of the Bush administration's warrantless spying program, the National Security Agency has been eavesdropping on CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour, the wife of former Clinton aide and Kerry advisor Jamie Rubin.

CNN has now weighed in. CNN issued a statement Thursday in which it said that neither Amanpour nor the network was aware of any government eavesdropping on her phone conversations. Later in the day, CNN aired a report, summarized here, in which it said that a senior U.S. intelligence official had assured the network that Amanpour had never been "targeted" for eavesdropping. If any of her calls were recorded inadvertently, the official said, any recordings would have been deleted "by law."

So maybe that means there's no there there: So far, no one has come forward with anything like proof that the NSA has actually been listening in on Amanpour's calls. Maybe that's where the story will stand. But as John Aravosis points out at AMERICAblog, there's still a lot of play in the joints here. We don't know that Amanpour wasn't targeted; we know that an unidentified senior U.S. intelligence official says that she wasn't. We don't know that Amanpour's calls weren't monitored; we only know that an unidentified senior U.S. intelligence officer says that her calls weren't "targeted." We don't know that any recordings of her calls that might have been made were actually deleted; we only know that an unidentified senior U.S. intelligence officer says the law would require their deletion.

As Aravosis says, it's a little late to be taking on faith the notion that the administration does what's required "by law." The NSA may be required "by law" to delete inadvertent recordings of innocent "U.S. persons," but isn't that the same law that prohibited warrantless spying on Americans in the first place? And it's great to have assurances from an unidentified senior U.S. intelligence official. But remember how the president himself insisted last year that all wiretaps were carried out pursuant to court orders? That wasn't true. When it was revealed that Bush had waived the warrant requirement long before he spoke, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Gen. Michael Hayden both insisted that it was technologically impossible for the NSA to have been listening in on calls that both originated and ended in the United States. That wasn't true, either. Maybe CNN's unidentified senior U.S. intelligence official is speaking the truth this time. But given all the water under the bridge so far, how could we possibly know?

By Tim Grieve

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

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