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What Are Cheney and Addington Hiding About NSA Spying on Americans?

May 18, 2007 (EIRNS)—James Comey's testimony on May 15 that the entire leadership of the Justice Department was prepared to resign over their disagreement with the White House—particularly Cheney and his lawyer David Addington—raised the question once again: Is the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program much bigger than has been admitted?

This has been the gnawing suspicion of many observers all along, as to what is the real reason that the White House, under Dick Cheney's direction, has continuously stonewalled, and shrouded the NSA surveillance program in such secrecy.

On Feb. 6, 2006, when Gonzales was testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he was asked by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) about reports that Comey and others had disagreed about the NSA program. Gonzales answered that "there has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the President has confirmed. There have been disagreements about other matters regarding operations which I cannot get into." When pressed by Schumer, Gonzales repeated that "none of the reservations dealt with the program that we're talking about today. They dealt with operational capabilities that we're not talking about today." And a little later, Gonzales stated: "I'm here only testifying about what the President has confirmed. And with respect to what the President has confirmed, I do not believe that these DOJ officials that you're identifying had concerns about this program."

Later in that same hearing, as we have previously reported (EIR, Feb. 17, 2006), Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) raised the obvious issue: that the spying program was much bigger than the Administration wanted anyone to know. She listed the number of changes that the Congress had already made to the FISA law to accommodate the war on terrorism, and continued:

"Now, in view of the changes that we have made, I cannot understand why you didn't come to the committee, unless the program was much broader and you believed it would not be authorized. That's the only reason I can figure you didn't come to the committee.... I can only believe ... that this program is much bigger and much broader than you want anyone to know."

This question has now arisen again in light of Comey's testimony. Peter Swire, who dealt with privacy issues in the OMB for the Clinton Administration, writing for the Center for American Progress on May 16, said that Gonzales's February 2006 testimony raises two possibilties: that Gonzales made serious mis-statements under oath, or that Comey's objections "applied to a different spying program." Swire explained that "then we would have senior Justice officials confirming that "other 'programs' exist for domestic spying, something the Administration has never previously stated."

Even the New York Times, in a May 17 editorial, picked up on this, noting that there are "clues" in Comey's testimony, and Gonzales's earlier testimony, "that Mr. Bush initially ordered broader surveillance than he and his aides have acknowledged"—and that it was this broader surveillance that Ashcroft, Comey, et al. refused to endorse, triggering the "bizzarre events in Mr. Ashcroft's hospital room."

It was well-known already in early 2006, through the work of EIR and others, that Cheney and Addington were the ones running the NSA spy program (see EIR, April 27, 2007). Prior to the Feb. 6, 2006 hearing, all the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee (then still the minority) had asked that Addington, "who reportedly played a leading role advocating for the program," be summoned to testify before the committee. And two days after the hearing, senior Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, wrote: "Gonzales mouthed the no-compomise rhetoric before the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday, but policy decisions on this issue are made in the bunker occupied by Vice President Cheney and his chief of staff David Addington."