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Long-Awaited Warrantless Surveillance Report Finally Released

Last year, the Democratic Congress enthusiastically acquiesced to President George W. Bush’s insistence on carving out individualized suspicion and other privacy protections from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The Democrats did so to preempt the charge of being weak on national security from the presidential campaign — didn’t work — and then-Sen. Barack Obama, who may have figured that selling out civil liberties was the better part of aspirational valor, voted for the bill. If there was any comfort to the civil libertarians, it was that what became the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 mandated that the inspectors general of the Departments of Defense, Justice, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the CIA and the National Security Agency had to launch a review of how the warrantless surveillance efforts actually worked, complete with an assessment of “legal reviews of the Program.” It was July 2008.

A year later, the report is complete, and I’ve just gotten a copy of it. What does it say? I’m still reading it, but one thing it says is that the CIA’s involvement in the program is deeper than has been reported. And one interesting bonus fact: the report calls the program the “President’s Surveillance Program,” rather than the manipulative “Terrorist Surveillance Program” handle the Bush administration gave the program when it became public in order to put critics in a tight spot. (“What? You oppose surveillance for dangerous terrorists who want to kill your grandchildren????”)

More as I read the report.

Update: Here’s the basis for switching up the nomenclature, and it comes with a point of pride. Two years ago, in July 2007, Paul Kiel and I tried to make sense of then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ congressional testimony about the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” and concluded that there must have been more than one secret surveillance program authorized by President Bush beginning in 2001. Today the IGs’ report bears us out:

The specific intelligence activities that were permitted by the Presidential Authorizations remain highly classified, except that beginning in December 2005 the President and other Administration officials acknowledged that these activities included the interception without a court order of certain international communications where there is “a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al-Qai’da, affiliated with al-Qai’da, or a member of an organization affiliated with al-Qai’da.” The President and other Administration officials referred to this publicly disclosed activity as the “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” a convention we follow in this unclassified report. We refer to other intelligence activities under the Presidential Authorizations as the “Other Intelligence Activities.” The specific details of the Other Intelligence Activities remain highly classified, although the Attorney General publicly acknowledged the existence of such activities in August 2007. Together, the Terrorist Surveillance Program and the Other Intelligence Activities comprise the PSP.

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