House Intelligence Staffer Tried to Intervene on Illegal Wiretap Program

Scott Shane and Eric Lichtblau tell a sort of weird story of how a House Intelligence Committee staffer, Diane Roark, tried to reach out to William Rehnquist to get him to review Dick Cheney’s illegal wiretapping program.

Within months of the beginning of the eavesdropping program in October 2001, a staff member of the House Intelligence Committee, alerted to the possibility of illegal spying by N.S.A. insiders and hoping to prompt a high-level legal review, wrote to Chief Justice Rehnquist asking for a meeting, according to several people familiar with the episode.

The Congressional staff member, Diane S. Roark, routed the letter through the chief justice’s daughter, Janet Rehnquist, then the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services; Ms. Rehnquist was a high school acquaintance of one of Ms. Roark’s N.S.A. contacts.

There was no response, and it is not known whether the letter was seen by the chief justice or prompted him to make inquiries.

What’s weird about the story, first of all, is the method of approach. Are you telling me there are Congressional staffers who think Rehnquist could have legally reviewed this program in response to a request sent via his daughter (though it sounds like something Arlen “no longer Haggis or Scrapple” Specter might try)?

But then there’s a detail that Shane and Lichtblau don’t mention: Roark left HPSCI just after this attempt to have Rehnquist review the illegal wiretap program, ostensibly retiring. Here’s Porter Goss’ send-off to her on the floor of Congress.

I want to specifically recognize one of these dedicated people who has served the committee and our country diligently for almost 2 decades. Her name is Diane Roark, and I am sorry to say that when this body reconvenes in April Diane will no longer be on our staff. She is retiring from the House and from government service.


Most recently, Diane has been our program manager for the National Security Agency, a vital agency for us. This agency has many, severe challenges, Madam Speaker, and if it were not for the efforts of Ms. Roark, I do believe that our committee’s efforts to oversee and advocate for NAS would have been much less effective, and for that she has my personal thanks.


Those managing the community know that she is usually on the mark with her assessments and that she takes the public’s trust very well to heart. Recently, one of the senior managers within the community commented on her performance by saying that our staff “is very aggressive in their oversight and has a very serious and in-depth knowledge of our programs, sometimes a better understanding than some of the senior managers do.”

The NYT suggests a connection between Roark and Thomas Drake, the guy indicted for whistleblowing on other NSA problems, and describes a 2007 FBI raid on Roark’s home.

I also can’t help but think of Michael Hayden here. Roark and the others cited in the article complained of mismanagement at the time that Hayden led the NSA. He went on to run CIA for the last few years of the Bush Administration. Would he have gotten that position if the NSA investigation launched in response to Roark’s complaints had been made public (the NYT notes it has not been)? Was he able to use his position at CIA to target Roark and former whistleblowers? And is this weird story a part of a preemptive response to something related to the Drake indictment?

24 replies
  1. AmIDreaming says:

    Hmm. Diane Roark is a pretty impressive character, as anybody who’s dealt with her professionally would agree, I think. This could be a valuable window: the need for a “wiretapping” program as a direct consequence of Hayden’s failures with Trailblazer.

  2. bobschacht says:

    Thanks for this.
    She’s a “House Committee Staffer,” but was she non-partisan? I would guess that since the Republicans were in control of the House, and Porter Goss was certainly a Republican, that she came from the R side. In that case, it is good to know that not all R staffers are sociopaths, and some of them had the sense to know a snake when they saw one.

    Bob in AZ

  3. SaltinWound says:

    The backchannel to Rehnquist seems really amateurish, unless she had reason to suspect other avenues were under surveillance.

    • Jeff Kaye says:

      Re the possibility other avenues were under surveillance, or perhaps too many roadblocks to get through. In any case, I had a similar thought.

      One question it raises for me is just how much do the intelligence agencies dictate what happens, staffing questions, areas of investigation by the congressional intelligence “oversight” committees. I’m not suggesting they are literally controlling them, but it seems they may hold some kind of veto power. Another way to put it is, the CIA, NSA, etc. dictate where the gray line is beyond which there is no effective oversight, or just a mass of secrets meant to stay impenetrable.

      “Thank you, Diane. We love how conscientious and aware you are. Now you are retired.” (Yes, thank you Don Corelo — I mean, Congressman Goss.)

      Oh, and for those who live and die by such things, Diane’s salary in 2001, i.e., the salary for a “staffer” at the House Intel Committee was $115,833.35.

      So the FBI raid on Roark’s home, and that of two other whistleblowing staffers, must send shivers (as it was meant to) down the spines of would-be to-gooders who must be watching the current administration do many of the things the Bush/Cheney administration did, and sometimes worse.

      Jesselyn Radack wrote about this, too, over at Daily Kos. She had this to say about the Drake case:

      First of all, I have to clear up a few misconceptions about former senior NSA official Thomas Drake:

      1. He is NOT charged with “leaking.” There is no such crime. And he is NOT charged with unauthorized disclosure of classified information. Nor is he charged under the SIGINT law.

      2. He is charged under the Espionage Act of 1917, which in its 93 year history, had been used only three times to prosecute “leakers.” Mr. Drake has the dubious distinction of being the fourth. (Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg was the first.)

      3. In early 2003, Roark annd three NSA employees met with investigators for the Department of Defense Inspector General to report mismanagement, waste and corruption at NSA. This prompted a 2-year inquiry, for which Drake was a major source. It resulted in a still-classified report in 2004 that is highly-critical of the agency’s management.

      4. Neocons are the ones who suggested the wild idea of using the Espionage Act to prosecute sources, reporters, and newspapers–see Gabriel Schoenfeld’s new book, Necessary Secrets. It took Obama (via Holder) to make it a reality.

      5. Mr. Drake is a whistleblower, not a spy. He revealed what he saw–and what the then-head of NSA, General Michael Hayden, later acknowledged–was billions of dollars wasted on a failed intrusive spying program.

    • Rayne says:

      Recall that there had been a so-called security breach in the House communications system allowing Republicans access to Democratic House members’ files; the breach was described as beginning in 2002. It may have gone back farther than that. If she suspected the email and file system, this would have been enough to give her cause to look at alternative methods to get to Rehnquist.

      She likely suspected all wired communications, though, and others around her, if she had to go to someone highly trusted and only one degree of separation from her target.

      Can’t help but think of Jello Jay’s handwritten memo here.

    • Kathryn in MA says:

      Amateurish is what is left when democracy doesn’t work anymore, and there is authoritarian clamp-down. At least the poor man isn’t dead.

  4. fatster says:

    O/T Here’s an article I stumbled across this morning that might be of interest to others.

    Balls and Strikes and the Roberts Court
    — By Kevin Drum| Fri Jun. 11, 2010 3:00 AM PD

    Supreme Court justices’ support of Chamber of Commerce in court cases.


  5. Scarecrow says:

    I don’t buy the argument she would not have understood the “formal” review process of the S. Ct. An alternative view is that she understood very well that politically connected Supreme Court Justices woul

    So she goes back door to Rehnquist, hoping he will find his own way to tell some other cut out to tell the Administration is faces a firestorm that the Supremes would not cover for. But it would have been a huge gamble, because if that is your view of Rehnquist and his willingness to tip off the Administration, it would also be possible that he’d just turn you in, again through cutouts, and your career is over, if you’re not shot first. Just a wild-eyed guess.

    • bmaz says:

      The way this should have been dealt with, if there was one single person in Congress who really gave a rat’s ass, was for them to stand in the well of the House or Senate and filet it open and ask every question they possibly had. They would be Constitutionally protected (though may have gotten unelected the next time out) and the issue would have had to have been dealt with seriously.

  6. mattcarmody says:

    What jumps out right away is the fact that a congressional staffer with 20 years experience didn’t realize that good old Bill “literacy test” Rehnquist was not one of the good guys. Gives a good indication of just how opaque the blinders are that shield the eyes of those fighting the good fight against the liberal agenda.

  7. allan says:

    Fortunately, help is on the way.
    Presidential candidate Barack Obama clearly indicated his support for whistleblowers in the Federal government.
    I’m sure there’ll be movement on this any day now – as soon as EFCA is passed.

  8. timr says:

    Welcome to the crazy years. Neocons, rethugs both Authoritarians and part of the oligarchs who are stealing the country blind. And the sheeple, in their vast ignorance, sit and watch TV.

    Bread and circuses for the sheeple foreshadow the end of the American Empire.

    Debt slavery in our future? The US slides into a 3rd world nation, piss poor education for the masses, the oligarchs(the good old military-industrial complex)are stealing us blind. We are broke, getting all our overdrafts covered by China and Saudi Arabia.

    Yet we still have the biggest damn military in the world. Whats next, rent a war? Rent an invasion? FEAR rules. The rethugs preached FEAR for the entire bush years, now that FEAR has come home to roost and the rethugs don’t know what to do. Except to continue pushing FEAR. Of the “other” of African Americans, of hispanics, of everyone who has a dark skin. Welcome to the crazy.

    Welcome to the “Crazy years” Robert Heinlein, a great Sci-Fi author foresaw this time coming in the US more than 50 years ago. I think that starting with the “Reagan revolution” the republicians started turning into the rethug party and the extremeists started taking over. In the gwbush years I can easily see someone being unable to see anyone who might be able to do anything. What can you do when the entire govt, all 3 branchs, has gone off the edge into Authoritarianism. All I can say is that I am damn glad that I got medically retired back in 1998.

    Welcome to the CRAZY.

  9. TalkingStick says:

    somewhat OT– FYI Judgement at Nuremberg will be showing on Turner Classics at 3 Eastern Time today. Super movie explores accountability in of the Judges who make crimes legal.

    • fatster says:

      I’d like to recommend Dodd’s book, Letters from Nuremberg. It’s a collection of his father’s letters home (his father was a lawyer and distinguished himself at Nuremberg), sort of an “insider’s view.” Quite interesting.

      • TalkingStick says:

        Yes Thanks. I am familiar with the elder Dodd and his work. It seems a shame in such a short time we have lost so much of what Nuremberg brought us..

  10. windje says:

    Why Rehnquist?

    Well – Who should have been aware of this program? Probably the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

    Who appoints the members of this Court?

    From the wiki –

    When the court was founded, it was composed of seven federal district judges appointed by the Chief Justice of the United States, each serving a seven year term, with one judge being appointed each year. In 2001, the USA PATRIOT Act expanded the court from seven to eleven judges, and required that at least three of the judges of the court be from within twenty miles (32 km) of the District of Columbia. No judge may be appointed to this court more than once, and no judge may be appointed to both the Court of Review and the FISC.

    So its likely Rehnquist would have had some close connection with some of the members of this court.

    And he now knows something that FISA should know about . . . and probably doesn’t.

    So when certain matters are brought before that court, would it is a real advantage knowing what questions to ask and what the answers should be to any interlocutor or judge?

    I think so.

    And I think that was the motivation.

    And don’t forget who currently is the Chief Justice. John “Stare Decisis” Roberts. (sic)

    From 2006

    Roberts Appoints Conservative Ex-Starr Deputy to Surveillance Court

    According to a new report by the Federation of American Scientists, Chief Justice John Roberts has appointed Judge John Bates to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Bates is replacing Judge James Robertson, who resigned last December to protest President Bush’s illegal domestic wiretapping program.

    And that’s why the S Court is so important to individual liberty and shouldn’t be populated by political hacks.

    • bmaz says:

      Might be something about that, might not. Hard to know. Might be the protagonist’s best assured path to a power that be was through her friend Janet, and so the target became Rehnquist. Personally, I would have gotten it to the chief judge of the FISA Court who, depending on timing, was either Lamberth or Kollar-Kotelly. The fact that this is not in the descriptive facts leads me to believe the effort was not as well thought out as you are giving it credit for and that the important thing may have been the perceived path of semi-guaranteed delivery.

  11. TalkingStick says:

    And that’s why the S Court is so important to individual liberty and shouldn’t be populated by political hacks.

    Well it is and it’s going to be that way for a long time unless a voice begins to speak to them from a burning bush.

    I think we have to design strategies that accept that fact.

  12. susiedow says:

    fwiw, Janet Rehnquist was the IG who kept a gun in her office – in case of a terrorist attack. She also delayed an audit of Florida’s pension fund under Jeb Bush losing $300 million through Enron before his election. She stepped down in 2003 saying she wanted to spend more time with her family.

    It just adds a weird twist to an already weird story.

    Report Criticizes Health Dept. Inspector General as a Poor Manager
    By Robert Pear, NY Times, June 6, 2003

    Janet Rehnquist Resigns
    By Sue Chan, CBS News, March 2003

  13. flyarm616 says:

    Janet Rehnquist had lots of problems in Florida..I remember posting alot about it at the time..sorry I can’t remember all the facts other than she was given something like 4-5 months to vacate her offices when she was fired..

    Then it was disclosed she shredded lots of files..

    It was all under Jeb as Gov..

    I just found this piece on it..sorry but I no longer have the info in my files..

    Janet Rehnquist News – The New York Times
    Janet Rehnquist, daughter of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, … trying to delay audit of Florida pension fund and possibly shredding relevant documents; … Grassley and GAO are investigating Rehnquist’s other ethics issues involving her … intervened in legal battle between two medical societies and Medicare …… – Similar

  14. Mary says:

    epuu’d but there’s always the possibiilty that, rather than expecting Rhenquist to do anything, the heads up went to him as a protective measure. If she knew that they were dragnetting and not just capturing “Al-Qaeda Calling” communications, then there might have been some concern over who an admin might want to have some “goods” on, and a Chief Justice of the Sup Ct seems a likely target.

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