Classified briefings provided to lawmakers on Wednesday about a controversial domestic eavesdropping program have smoothed what might have been a contentious path toward confirmation for Gen. Michael V. Hayden as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, senators and Congressional officials said.
The closed-door sessions in the Capitol, on the eve of a confirmation hearing for General Hayden, were the first time the White House had provided briefings to the full Senate and House Intelligence Committees about the program. As director of the National Security Agency until last year, General Hayden oversaw the surveillance program, whose existence came to light in December.
[. . .]
One senior Democratic Senate aide, who was granted anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly about his party's strategy, said of Thursday's hearings, "Democrats were much more likely to cause problems if they weren't able to ask knowledgeable questions during the hearing."
The above is from Mark Mazzetti and Sheryl Gay Stolberg's "Wider Briefing for Lawmakers on Spy Efforts" in this morning's New York Times. Where to start? The paper cares about as much for this story as the Democratic aide does. In fact that Times and the anonymouse that spoke to Stolberg both seem very confused about their role.
Like the paper unnamed aide is giddy with the high of, "We're in the small circle! We have our access!" Like a preteen who's spent far too many weekends not being invited to sleep overs, now that the big invite finally came there's no time to think about the obvious: You weren't invited willingly. This is the equivalent of a parent stepping in and saying, "You've really got to invite ___ this time. I've heard from their parents and they stay home crying every weekend."
So the aide (and the paper) are at the sleepover and haven't noticed that the kids in the know are chuckeling at them, seeing them as the pity guest.
The aide says that if they (Democrats) hadn't been brought in on the NSA discussion Wednesday, there'd be hell to pay today! The aide doesn't grasp how pathetic that sounds.
There should be hell to pay. The article states that only seven of the fifteen members serving on the Senate Intelligence Committee had been briefed prior to yesterday. The committee, all members regardless of party, should be going into today's confirmation with the attitude of "Hayden, you ran this and we're going to make this difficult for you because it's likely illegal and the committee and Congress were not informed fully." But they got their invite! They're too busy figuring out what clever thing they'll say and what they'll wear and: "Golly, gee, will ___ like me? I really, really hope everyone does! This is big! This could change the whole way I'm seen at TV!"
Seeing Patty and Lauren go through this on Square Pegs would be amusing. Watching grown adults think they've been let into the "club" is embarrassing.
Martha's highlight -- in a far less gossipy mood this morning is Dafna Linzer and Charles Babington's "Lawmakers Reexamine Hayden: CIA Pick's Involvement in Wiretap Program Raises Questions" (Washington Post):
In what the White House describes as an effort to thwart potential terrorists, NSA analysts have secretly eavesdropped on overseas calls and intercepted e-mails of thousands of Americans without seeking warrants, and have gathered phone records for perhaps millions of residents.
At each phase of the program, from its inception to its disclosure, Hayden has been at the center of what the president later termed a "terrorist surveillance program." When asked in December to explain the origins of the NSA effort, Bush said Hayden had suggested it immediately after Sept. 11 as a way to "connect the dots" to potential al-Qaeda cells operating in the country.
"He came forward with this program," Bush said. "In other words, it wasn't designed in the White House; it was designed where you expect it to be designed, in the NSA."
Bush and Hayden have defended the program as legal -- the White House has said eavesdropping involved only international communications by people with known links to al-Qaeda and its allies -- and said the attorney general reauthorizes it every 90 days. But twice since its inception, the program was stopped after the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and a senior Justice Department lawyer raised concerns about its legality.
An internal Justice Department investigation tried to determine whether lawyers who authorized the program may have acted improperly. But Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales suggested yesterday that secrecy concerns shut down the inquiry. The department's Office of Professional Responsibility notified lawmakers last week that it was forced to end its investigation because the office was denied security clearances to access information on the NSA program. Gonzales defended that decision yesterday and suggested that the probe was unnecessary because Justice issued a legal analysis supporting the effort.
Did you get those details in this morning's Times? Or was the paper of record, like the unnamed aide, just all giddy with "BIG EVENT! IT'S SO EXCITING!"?
A great deal is at stake in the hearings, it's not about "access" and getting your party invite.
Lloyd's highlight notes that and then some. From Ruth Conniff's "The 'War on Terror' Fog" (Ruth Conniff's Online Column, The Progressive):
The way the question is framed, you'd think we had to choose between being blown up on an airplane and having the government sort through our personal business. Quick, which do you prefer? Obviously, most of us would take the option that doesn't involve going down in a ball of fire. "Give me liberty or give me death" sounds great, but let's be practical . . .This strategy--of threatening us that we'll all die unless we concede some constitutional rights--has been working wonderfully for the Administration. But it can't last forever. Fear wears off. We're left with the reality that our government is continuing to write itself blank checks to intrude on our rights, wage undeclared war, and undermine democracy.
The more the press and members of Congress point it out, the more quickly we can put an end to this dark era. It's up to the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee in their confirmation hearings on Air Force General Michael Hayden (who was in charge of the NSA spying program and is now Bush's nominee to head the CIA) to ask tough questions. As Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, put it: "How does he justify spying on millions of Americans?"
The Senators need to push beyond the Administration's whitewash. Otherwise, they signal that there is no line they will draw as long as the Administration justifies violating Americans' rights by invoking the war on terror.
Unfortunately, the Administration's case was helped considerably by a front-page article in the Sunday New York Times on the eve of Hayden's confirmation hearings, which could have come straight from the White House press office. It described tense meetings after 9/11, in which the President asked how, working within the law, could he keep Americans safe from terrorists. "There is a way," Hayden is quoted as bravely declaring. Then the idea that spying on Americans without a warrant is perfectly legal is presented, as if it were a legitimate theory. (No mention is made of the Administration's cockeyed claims that the spying is legal because Congress approved it with its resolution for using force against Afghanistan.) The Times also omits mention of the fact that Hayden persuaded the paper to sit on the NSA spying story for a full year before breaking news of the program. The Sunday valentine to Hayden looks like a way of repairing a strained relationship with an important source.
That pretty much says everything that needed to be said.
Want to listen to the hearings? KPFA will provide live coverage of the hearing -- Larry Bensky and Mitch Jesserich will anchor -- beginning at 6:00 am Pacific time this morning (8:00 am Central, 9:00 am Eastern). Click on KPFA to listen live (if a stream drops out due to heavy traffic or, if you have a problem with a stream, remember they offer more than one listening stream). No charge, no sign up or registration. Just click on KPFA and you'll hear what's going on, you'll get analysis and commentary from Bensky, Jesserich and the various guests. (You can also listen at the main page for Pacifica Radio.)
Also remember to listen, watch or read (transcripts) Democracy Now! today.
the new york times
sheryl gay stolberg
the washington post