Warrantless Wiretap Memos Timeline

I laid out the OLC opinions described in the Steven Bradbury declaration to the ACLU. In this post, I’ll add in the other significant documents he describes. Note, Bradbury names four documents–OLC 56, 57, and 58, and OIPR 138–which are documents created by the President or his immediate staff, and so are not agency documents; he provides no description of these documents. There are, of course, a great number of documents withheld, which therefore have no description or date.

Materials not included in Bradbury’s memos are not bold.

October 4, 2001, from DAAG OLC to Alberto Gonzales: OLC 132,which consists of two copies, one with handwritten comments and marginalia, of a 36-page memorandum, dated October 4, 2001, from a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in OLC to the Counsel to the President, created in response to a request from the White House for OLC’s views regarding what legal standards might govern the use of certain intelligence methods to monitor communications by potential terrorists.

October 21, 2001, from Ashcroft to Mueller: FBI 7 is a one-page memorandum, dated October 20, 2001, from the Attorney General to the Director of the FBI, advising the Director that certain intelligence collection activities are legal and have been appropriately authorized. The memorandum is classified TOP SECRET.

October 23, 2001, from Yoo and Delahunty to Alberto Gonzales: OLC 146, which is a 37-page memorandum, dated October 23, 2001, from a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in OLC, and a Special Counsel, OLC, to the Counsel to the President, prepared in response to a request from the White House for OLC’s views concerning the legality of potential responses to terrorist activity.

November 2, 2001, from DAAG OLC to John Ashcroft: OLC 131, which consists of two copies, both with underscoring and marginalia, of a 24-page memorandum, dated November 2, 2001, from a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in OLC to the Attorney General, prepared in response to a request from the Attorney General for OLC’s opinion concerning the legality of certain communications intelligence activities.

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Was the October 23, 2001 OLC Opinion the Basis for the Illegal Wiretap Program?

By now, you’ve noted the footnote in the Torture Memo referencing a different OLC opinion declaring the 4th Amendment invalid.

[O]ur office recently concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations. See Memorandum for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, and William J. Haynes, II, General Counsel, Department of Defense, from John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Robert J. Delahunty, Special Counsel, Re: Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States at 25 (Oct. 23, 2001).

Scribe and I have been in a bit of a dispute whether or not that October 23, 2001 document was written to justify the illegal wiretapping program. I’m going to try to lay out what we know about it here.

The Case for Believing the 10/23/01 Memo Authorized the Warrantless Wiretap Program

The basis for arguing that the opinion is the rationale for the illegal wiretapping program is simple. First, the timing is right. As the AP notes, the opinion was written just two days before Dick briefed the Gang of Four on the program.

The October memo was written just days before Bush administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, briefed four House and Senate leaders on the NSA’s secret wiretapping program for the first time.

Then there’s the argument that DOJ included the document in a list of materials withheld in response to an ACLU FOIA.

The government itself related the October memo to the TSP program when it included it on a list of documents that were responsive to the ACLU’s request for records from the program. It refused to hand them over.

The document they’re referring to is this Steven Bradbury declaration. In the declaration, Bradbury writes,

OLC 146, which is a 37-page memorandum, dated October 23, 2001, from a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in OLC, and a Special Counsel, OLC, to the Counsel to the President, prepared in response to a request from the White House for OLC’s views concerning the legality of potential responses to terrorist activity OLC 146 is withheld under FOIA Exemption Five.

I’m going to add an update below, showing the other OLC documents Bradbury withheld in this declaration. But note that this one does not specifically address communications (some of the others do).

The last reason it would make sense is the content. By all appearances, the warrantless wiretap program is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches. Thus, it would be logical that the Administration simply invalidated the Fourth Amendment in an OLC opinion to make its illegeal wiretap program legal.

Update: Here’s part of scribe’s logic for arguing the opinion relates to domestic spying (click through to the comment for his complete argument).

The NSA is part of the military .

The title of Yoo’s 10/23/01 memo is, what: “Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States”

But the proposition for which that memo is cited* in footnote 10 of the memo is:

Indeed, drawing in part on the reasoning of Verdugo-Urquidez, as well as the Supreme Court’s treatment of the destruction of property for the purposes of military necessity, our Office recently concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations.

So, what does this mean? Depends on how you define “domestic military operations”, don’t it?

I argue the 10/23/01 memo was the lawyerly justification for:

(a) NSA (military) wiretapping and surveillance operations inside the United States;
(b) domestic military operations of the intel-gathering sort – e.g., CIFA, physical surveillance, black-bag jobs, etc.;
(c) the incarceration of suspected terrists in military brigs, regardless of citizenship status (e.g., Jose Padilla, etc.), their removal from the civilian criminal justice system and their transportation from place to place;
(d) when done by the military, the odd kidnapping, interrogating, whacking of suspected terrists who happened to be within the United States (none of which we know about actually having occurred, but which could have been deemed “legitimate” under the analysis we know about so far).

All of those things are military operations. 

The Case against Believing the 10/23/01 Memo Authorized the Warrantless Wiretap Program

But there are several reasons to believe the opinion has nothing to do with the warrantless wiretap program. Least credibly, there’s Tony Fratto’s insistence that it doesn’t.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Wednesday that the Fourth Amendment finding in the October memo was not the legal underpinning for the Terrorist Surveillance Program.

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The Joint Inquiry and Mukasey’s Call

Alright. Glenn has me intrigued by Michael Mukasey’s story about an intercept that–if it had been disseminated–might have prevented 9/11. So I’m going to flog it for a couple more posts. As a reminder, here’s the story that Mukasey has apparently heard, Zelikow doesn’t recognize, and Conyers has not heard.

And before 9/11, that’s the call that we didn’t know about. We knew that there has been a call from someplace that was known to be a safe house in Afghanistan and we knew that it came to the United States. We didn’t know precisely where it went.

As I pointed out in this comment, Mukasey tells a similar (thought not exactly the same) story in his and Mike McConnell’s letter to Harry Reid listing which FISA amendments would have incurred a veto threat (I think this story was also actually used in the debate in the Senate, though that’s going to have to wait for a later post).

The Joint Inquiry has learned that one of the future hijackers communicated with a known terrorist facility in the Middle East while he was living the United States. The Intelligence Community did not identify the domestic origin of those communications prior to September 11, 2001, so that additional FBI inevstigative efforts could be coordinated.

Before moving on, note the key difference here: Mukasey’s weepy story has the person in the US receiving a call from an Afghan safe house. The Joint Inquiry was told the US person called the known terrorist facility. That may have import as we move forward–but for now, just keep in mind that little discrepancy.

Also note the reference is somewhat vague. When did this intercept come in? Which hijacker did it involve? Did the Joint Inquiry see the intercept itself, or did they just "learn" about it, as the passage implies?

To see if I could clarify those issues, I decided to look at the Joint Inquiry to see precisely what it said about this intercept that could have prevented 9/11 (see page 36 of the PDF). From the context, it is clear the members and staffers from both intelligence committees–who conducted this inquiry–believed that the NSA had all the legal authority it needed to collect this intercept.

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Jane Harman v. Jello Jay: Compare and Contrast

Jane Harman explained her response to the warrantless wiretap program over at TPMCafe. I’m interested in it not so much to determine whether Eric Licthblau or she is right about whether she "switched her view" on the program (I think Harman is actually too sensitive to the charge; as she tells it, she did drastically change her view, but not because of the publicity of Lichtblau’s reporting, but because of the new information she learned from it; though after writing this post, I’m a little sympathetic to Lichtblau’s claim). Rather, I’m interested in the contrast Harman’s narrative presents with what we know of Jello Jay’s evolving views toward the illgeal wiretapping program. After all, Harman and Jello Jay apparently learned of the program in the same briefing (Harman had just replaced Pelosi as Ranking Member on HPSCI; Jello Jay had replaced Graham as the top Democrat on SSCI). But the two have apparently taken dramatically different trajectories in their positions on the program, and the comparison offers an instructive view on oversight.

The First Harman/Jello Jay Briefing: January 29, 2003

Harman provides this description of the January 29, 2003 she and Jello Jay received (along with Pat Roberts, then SSCI Chair, and Porter Goss, then HPSCI Chair):

When I became Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee in 2003, I was included for the first time in highly classified briefings on the operational details of an NSA effort to track al Qaeda communications using unique access points inside the US telecommunications infrastructure. The so-called “Gang of Eight” (selected on the basis of our committee or leadership positions) was told that if the terrorists found out about our capability, they would stop using those communications channels and valuable intelligence would dry up (which had happened before).

This program was so highly classified that I could discuss it with no one, not even my colleagues on the Intelligence Committee or the committee’s professional staff. (See p. 169 of the Lichtblau book.) And I was assured that it complied with the law and that the senior-most officials in the Justice Department conducted a full legal review every 45-60 days.

At that point, then, she and Jello Jay appear to have learned that:

  • The US was tracking Al Qaeda communication via US-based access points
  • The program was legal and was reviewed regularly by top Justice Department officials

If Harman’s description is accurate, it suggests the Administration gave a very distorted view of the program. Read more

It Turns Out There Was No Wolf

Even as Mike McConnell is making ham-handed attempts to prove his good faith with Democrats, the White House is facing up to the fact that its fear-mongering no longer works.

The White House, seeking to break a months-long standoff, has signaled to Democratic lawmakers it is open to negotiation over a proposal to expand government spy powers, according to officials familiar with the conversations.


Over the two-week spring recess, administration officials contacted Democratic leaders to suggest they were open to compromise on updating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. "We definitely want to get it done," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. "We’ve had some initial conversations with Congress about the need to get FISA reform done quickly." He added that Mr. Bush still prefers the Senate measure, which the White House negotiated with Senate Democrats.


The White House’s more conciliatory posture reflects a recognition that the Bush administration’s leverage on national-security matters has slipped since this past summer, a top Republican congressional aide said. "There’s a recognition that if they’re actually going to get a product they can support, there’s going to have to be some new level of engagement," the aide said.

For months, the White House has tried to replicate its performance last August, when Republicans outmaneuvered Democrats and forced passage of a temporary expansion of domestic spy powers. Republicans then tried to use the temporary law’s expiration date to force Democrats to accept a permanent expansion. But since the law expired Feb. 16, House Democrats have stood firm.

Democrats see the White House’s new tack as acknowledgment that their strategy failed. "Once they saw we had the votes in the House for something other than the Senate bill, they saw the writing on the wall," said one Democratic aide. "They’re more willing to reach out and begin those conversations." [my emphasis]

We’re not there yet on a reasonable FISA bill. After all, Mukasey and McConnell are still plying dishonest claims. The Gorman article points to Steny Hoyer as the key player in the House, which seems logical–which means we’re still trying to persuade a moderate to stand firm.

But this is a good sign. If for no other thing, it suggests that Republicans are facing an election season, with a Presidential candidate who believes he should be elected solely because his Daddy was a big Admiral, finally recognizing the bankruptcy of its fear-mongering strategy.

The DNI Is Well-Meaning. Really. Except with Those He Claims Want No IC.

The LAT has an article on the acrimony between Mike McConnell and Democrats over FISA. In it, McConnell’s backers insist in his good faith in his negotiations with Democrats.

A spokesman for McConnell said that the director’s dealings with Congress were "always in good faith."

"He values the relationship with Congress," said the spokesman, Michael Birmingham. "He works at it, and he invites and welcomes the oversight they provide."


"I think the fact that it was open and argumentative at times was very positive," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.). "I think he improved his relations [with the committee] just by communicating."


"I feel he’s an honorable person," Ruppersberger said. "Some of my peers feel he’s compromised. I would say that on the majority side, we were not happy with some of the positions he took."

But the article also lists the many attacks McConnell has made against Democrats. Apparently, in a secret meeting leading up to the House vote, Democrats aired those complaints. And McConnell responded by attacking HPSCI members for being insufficient cheerleaders for the Intelligence Community (I really do hope he attacked both parties equally, since Crazy Pete Hoekstra is one of the loudest critics of the Intelligence Community).

Democrats accused McConnell of making exaggerated claims and of doing the bidding of the Bush administration, according to officials who attended the event. McConnell bristled at the Democrats’ charges, and chastised members of the committee for failing to defend the intelligence community amid a barrage of bad press. [my emphasis]

Incidentally, can someone point out where in the Constitution it requires Congress to defend Executive Branch incompetence in the press? That McConnell would even make such a complaint reveals his rather stunted understanding of the role of Congress.

Given McConnell’s apparent attempt to make nice with Congress, though, I’m utterly mystified by the comments he made in a speech at his alma mater, Furman University in South Carolina, last Friday, about the negotiations with the Senate.

We had a bill go into the Senate. It was debated vigorously. There were some who said we shouldn’t have an Intelligence Community. Some have that point of view. Some say the President of the United States violated the process, spied on Americans, should be impeached and should go to jail. I mean, this is democracy, you can say anything you want to say. That was the argument made.

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Not Even John Yoo Approved of the Illegal Wiretap Program

I do hope that Eric Lichtblau’s book gets enough coverage this week to further stall Jello Jay’s attempts to ram through telecom immunity. The excerpt in the NYT today reveals that when the illegal wiretap program started in 2001, it had no specific legal authorization–not even from the compliant John Yoo!

Robert S. Mueller III, the F.B.I. director, assured nervous officials that the program had been approved by President Bush, several officials said. But the presidential approval, one former intelligence official disclosed, came without a formal legal opinion endorsing the program by the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department.

At the outset of the program in October 2001, John Ashcroft, the attorney general, signed off on the surveillance program at the direction of the White House with little in the way of a formal legal review, the official said. Mr. Ashcroft complained to associates at the time that the White House, in getting his signature for the surveillance program, “just shoved it in front of me and told me to sign it.”

Aides to Mr. Ashcroft were worried, however, that in approving a surveillance program that appeared to test the limits of presidential authority, Mr. Ashcroft was left legally exposed without a formal opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel, which acts as the legal adviser for the entire executive branch.

At that time, the office had already issued a broad, classified opinion declaring the president’s surveillance powers in the abstract in wartime, but it had not weighed in on the legality or the specifics of the N.S.A. operation, officials said.

The nervousness among Justice Department officials led the administration to secure a formal opinion from John Yoo, a deputy in the Office of Legal Counsel, declaring that the president’s wartime powers allowed him to order the N.S.A. to intercept international communication of terror suspects without a standard court warrant.

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Listening To You – Mukasey Plays The Emotion Card

The Bush Administration and their never say die FISA/Immunity push are like cockroaches. You can’t kill em, and they never go away. Well, they’re back again. Attorney General Michael Mukasey has graduated from DC water carrier to full fledged traveling snake oil salesman for the Cheney/Bush Administration and their sordid attempts to cover their own criminal wrongdoing via retroactive immunity for telcos.

Last night, Mukasey spoke at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco and got so emotional in his desperate plea for retroactive immunity and unlimited snooping that he he welled up with tears in the process.

… Mr. Mukasey grimaced, swallowed hard, and seemed to tear up as he reflected on the weaknesses in America’s anti-terrorism strategy prior to the 2001 attacks. "We got three thousand. … We’ve got three thousand people who went to work that day and didn’t come home to show for that," he said, struggling to maintain his composure.

Isn’t that special? Who from this Administration of criminals, fools and incompetents will cry for the Constitution that has been shredded? Who will lament the privacy of ordinary American citizens that has been lost? Who will shed a tear for the souls that have been tortured, beaten, extinguished and/or disappeared? That would be left to us I guess. There is no justice; just us.

Here, from the San Francisco Chronicle, are a few more highlights from Mukasey’s traveling minstrel show:

Attorney General Michael Mukasey defended the Bush administration’s wiretapping program Thursday to a San Francisco audience and suggested the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks could have been prevented if the government had been able to monitor an overseas phone call to the United States.
The government "shouldn’t need a warrant when somebody picks up a phone in Iraq and calls the United States," Mukasey said in a question-and-answer session after a speech to the Commonwealth Club

Mukasey also defended President Bush’s insistence on retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that have cooperated with the administration’s surveillance program, in which phone calls and e-mails between U.S. citizens and foreign terrorist suspects were intercepted without warrants.

"They have cooperated," Mukasey said of the companies, without naming them. "It just ain’t fair to ask somebody to cooperate with the government" and face a lawsuit for substantial damages, he said.
If Congress denies the companies retroactive immunity, he said, the firms will withdraw their voluntary participation and the government will have to Read more

Bushco Rolled Out A Parade Of Liars To Squelch Lichtblau, Risen & NYT

A fairly significant article just posted at Slate by Eric Lichtblau on the jaded history of the publication, and withholding of publication for well over a year, of his and Jim Risen’s seminal story on the criminal warrantless wiretapping by the Bush Administration. Some of it we knew, some of it we guessed and some of it is first impression. As a whole however, it is stunning to digest.

For 13 long months, we’d held off on publicizing one of the Bush administration’s biggest secrets. Finally, one afternoon in December 2005, as my editors and I waited anxiously in an elegantly appointed sitting room at the White House, we were again about to let President Bush’s top aides plead their case: why our newspaper shouldn’t let the public know that the president had authorized the National Security Agency, in apparent contravention of federal wiretapping law, to eavesdrop on Americans without court warrants.

As the door to the conference room opened, however, a slew of other White House VIPs strolled out to greet us, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice near the head of the receiving line and White House Counsel Harriet Miers at the back.

The risk to national security was incalculable, the White House VIPs said, their voices stern, their faces drawn. "The enemy," one official warned, "is inside the gates." The clichés did their work; the message was unmistakable: If the New York Times went ahead and published this story, we would share the blame for the next terrorist attack.

That shared skepticism would prove essential in the Times’ decision to run the story about Bush’s NSA wiretapping program. On that December afternoon in the White House, the gathered officials attacked on several fronts. There was never any serious legal debate within the administration about the legality of the program, Bush’s advisers insisted. The Justice Department had always signed off on its legality, as required by the president. The few lawmakers who were briefed on the program never voiced any concerns. From the beginning, there were tight controls in place to guard against abuse. The program would be rendered so ineffective if disclosed that it would have to be shut down immediately.

All these assertions, as my partner Jim Risen and I would learn in our reporting, turned out to be largely untrue.

Go read the entire article, it and you deserve nothing less. There was one great little aside that Read more

Nacchio Gets a New Trial

In news that may have repercussions for Bush’s attempt to hide all details of his warrantless wiretapping program, Joseph Nacchio just won a new trial (h/t scribe). Mind you, the reason his trial was overturned does not relate directly to his claim that the Administration retaliated against him because he refused to illegally wiretap Americans. Rather, the Appeals Court overturned his case because he was not allowed to make a case for his expert witness.

A federal appeals court ordered a new trial Monday for former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio, saying the trial judge wrongly excluded expert testimony important to Nacchio’s defense in his insider trading case.


Attorneys for Nacchio told the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in December the case against him didn’t meet standards set by previous court rulings.

Nacchio’s attorney, Maureen Mahoney, also told the court that U.S. District Court Judge Edward Nottingham wrongly prevented a defense witness from testifying and that Nottingham’s instructions to the jury were inadequate.


At the appeals hearing, the judges repeatedly asked Oestreicher why Nottingham denied Daniel Fischel from testifying in Nacchio’s defense. Prosecutors say the defense didn’t establish the reliability of Fischel’s opinions or disclose how he arrived at them.

Nacchio’s attorneys say Fischel, an expert on corporate law and markets, was a core part of his defense and could have explained to jurors what must be publicly disclosed and that Nacchio’s stock sales were to diversify his portfolio. Mahoney said a reasonable jury hearing testimony from Fischel would have acquitted Nacchio.

So the Appeals Court has not specifically said Nacchio should be able to tell us about being strong-armed to wiretap Americans (that’s not why they accepted his appeal). But given another trial–not to mention the House’s recent confirmation that different carriers responded to government requests differently (that is, AT&Treason happily wiretapped us, while Qwest resisted)–Nacchio might have the opportunity to explain why he thinks he was retaliated against because he believes in the Fourth Amendment.