“Millions” of Americans’ phone calls tapped by N.S.A.

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“Millions” of Americans’ phone calls tapped by N.S.A.

ABC’s “Nightline” last night aired a terrifying scoop: a former senior insider at the  National Security Agency said that the agency has illegally spied on  “millions” of Americans who make telephone calls overseas. As ABC’s excellent Brian Ross reported:

Russell Tice (right), a 20-year veteran with the NSA turnedwhistlebower told ABC, “I specialized in what’s called special access programs,” Tice said of his job. “We called them ‘black world’ programs and operations.” But now, Tice told ABC News that some of those secret “black world” operations run by the NSA were conducted in ways that he believes violated the law. He said he is prepared to tell Congress all he knows about the alleged wrongdoing in these programs run by the Defense Department snd the National Security Agency in the post-9/11 efforts to go after terrorists.

“The mentality was we need to get these guys, and we’re going to do whatever it takes to get them,” he said. Tice says the technology exists to track and sort through every domestic and international phone call as they are switched through centers, such as one in New York, and to search for key words or phrases that…

     

a terrorist might use. “If you picked the word ‘jihad’ out of a conversation,” Tice said, “the technology exists that you focus in on that conversation, and you pull it out of the system for processing.”

According to Tice, NSA intelligence analysts use the information to develop graphs that resemble spiderwebs linking one suspect’s phone number to hundreds or even thousands more. Tice said the number of Americans subject to eavesdropping by the NSA could be in the millions if the full range of secret NSA programs is used. “That would mean for most Americans that if they conducted, or you know, placed an overseas communication, more than likely they were sucked into that vacuum,” Tice said.

The same day The New York Times broke the story of the NSA eavesdropping without warrants, Tice surfaced as a whistleblower in the agency. He told ABC News that he was a source for the Times’ reporters. But Tice maintains that his conscience is clear. “As far as I’m concerned, as long as I don’t say anything that’s classified, I’m not worried,” he said. “We need to clean up the intelligence community. We’ve had abuses, and they need to be addressed.”

Whether the Democratic leadership will seize on this new evidence of Bush administration illegality and turn it into a highly visible national issue is doubtful. If Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi had any guts at all, they’d have taken the initial New York Times revelations of the NSA’s illegal domestic spying on Americans and do to Bush what the Republicans did to Clinton over something much less grave: draw up articles of impeachment.  (I argued the case for impeachment when the NSA scandal first broke in an article for the L.A. Weekly.)

Even though an impeachment resolution wouldn’t pass the Republican-controlled House, if the Democrats’ leaders got out front in a campaign for impeachment the resultant hullabaloo would educate a much wider swath of the American people about Bush’s crimes. The ABC-Tice revelations simply add another weighty argument to the case for impeachment. Fourteen Constitutional scholars have just issued an open letter laying out why the previously revealed NSA surveillance is illegal and un-Constitutional (you can read their letter at Geoffrey Stone’s column today on the Huffington Post.) And there are more examples of illegal NSA gumshoeing on Americans that aren’t making headlines — like the revelation yesterday by Raw Story of NSA spying on a Baltimore anti-war group. (By the way, don’t miss the man who broke the NSA domestic spying story, New York Times reporter James Risen, on the Jon Stewart show, saying that 12 of his sources came forward because they felt Bush had broken the law — my cybercomrade Crooks and Liars has the video.) Not only that, Reuters reported on Monday that the feds are opening American citizens’ mail from abroad, a little-known practice.

But without full-throated Democratic leadership on the domestic spying issue, the country just isn’t getting as riled up about it as it should be. The latest Washington Post poll, published this morning, reports: “Nearly two in three Americans surveyed said they believe that federal agencies involved in anti-terrorism activities are intruding on the personal privacy of their fellow citizens, but fewer than a third said such intrusions are unjustified.” When will the Democratic leadership begin defending our Constitution with the required vigor? Remaining feeble and AWOL on the domestic spying issue, as the Reid-Pelosi leadership is doing now, is (to quote Talleyrand’s famous observation) worse than a crime, it’s a mistake — a grave error in political judgement that could wind up costing the Democrats the slim chancethey now have of taking back the House in the mid-term Congressional elections this fall.

And if you want to support candidates for Congress who do have the cojones to utter the “I” word and support impeachment, you can do so through the new ImpeachPAC.

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