(WMR) -- The
warrantless National Security Agency (NSA) electronic eavesdropping program
known to only a handful of Bush administration officials by its code name, Stellar Wind, and by a few other Justice
Department officials only as �The Program,� routinely intercepted the
communications and transactional data, including credit
card usage, of journalists and public officials, according to sources
familiar with the program.
The Stellar Wind
program was considered so illegal by the Justice Department and FBI agents who
knew about it, there was a belief that then-Attorney General John Ashcroft
would be indicted for allowing the interception program to operate. Known also
as the �Terrorist Surveillance Program,� the warrantless wiretapping was
authorized by President George W. Bush in the wake of 9/11 and had to be recertified
every 45 days. In March 2004, Deputy Attorney General James Comey, upon
the determination of the Justice Department�s Office of Legal Counsel, decided
that certification would not occur because the program was deemed illegal.
After Comey became acting attorney general when Ashcroft
went to George Washington University hospital suffering from acute
pancreatitis, there was a now infamous scene of White House Chief of Staff
Andrew Card and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales demanding that a barely
conscious Ashcroft recertify �The Program.� Comey, with Ashcroft�s wife by the
bedside of her husband, were present as Card and Gonzales demanded that
Ashcroft recertify the surveillance program. Ashcroft said Comey was the
attorney general. The min-rebellion within the top echelons of the Bush
administration resulted in the White House reauthorizing the illegal Stellar
Wind without the concurrence of the Department of Justice. Bush called his
illegal surveillance program, using NSA to spy on innocent Americans, the �crown
jewels of national security.�
WMR has also learned that the ranking Democrat on the House
Judiciary Committee, John Conyers, was, after the 2004 Ashcroft hospital
scene, informed of the illegal wiretap program. Conyers took no action
when informed by a contact within the Justice Department and replied in an
email to the contact, �Whistleblowers don�t fare very well.�
Conyers also refused to take any action when NSA employees
like Russell Tice, familiar with the illegal NSA program, validated
the information about �The Program� that was coming from within
the Justice Department. Congress, including then-Senator Barack Obama, then
gave telecommunications companies like AT&T and Verizon, which were
cooperating in the illegal NSA surveillance program by granting the firms
immunity from prosecution. These telecommunications firms maintained a number of
�secret rooms� at their major switching centers that allowed NSA to conduct
illegal surveillance on Americans.
WMR has also learned that one of the main architects of the Stellar Wind program was Vice President
Dick Cheney�s then-chief counsel David Addington. Cheney and Addington decided
to keep a number of details of the super-classified Stellar Wind program secret from the Congress. What we were told is
that �Cheney did not view Congress as a co-equal branch� of the executive. The
so-called �unitary executive,� which has powers greater than the legislative
and judicial branches in violation of the U.S. Constitution, was an idea that
was being pushed by Addington and other officials within the Bush White
WMR has also discovered that Addington once joked about �blowing
up the FISA Court.�
Sources have also told WMR that there was a �predisposition�
by the Bush White House to implementing Stellar
Wind prior to 9/11. Cheney was also particularly fond of using NSA to
illegally spy on Americans. The Stellar
Wind program was so classified that Comey�s predecessor as deputy attorney
general, Larry Thompson, was never �read into� the special access program that
minimally required a Top Secret/Special Compartmented Information (TS/SCI)
security clearance along with clearance to the Stellar Wind program.
WMR has learned from informed sources familiar with Stellar Wind that it was used to create
a Richard Nixon-style �enemies list� and that one of the victims of the
surveillance of this transactional data and communications traffic was New York�s
then-Governor Eliot Spitzer. Spitzer�s Internet web page visits, e-mails,
credit card transactions, and phone calls were all used by the Bush
administration to discover his activities with a New York escort service and bring
about his humiliation and resignation from office.
The NSA, when it learned something juicy about a public
official like Spitzer, would scrub the information of all �intelligence sources
and methods� information, including the involvement of companies like AT&T
and Verizon, and provide it to Justice Department prosecutors for action or
White House political operatives for a political sting operation targeting the
individual eavesdropped upon.
There is also reason to believe that Stellar Wind was used to eavesdrop on Illinois Democratic Governor
Rod Blagojevich, New Mexico Democratic Governor Bill Richardson, New Jersey
Democratic Governor Jon Corzine, former North Carolina Democratic Senator and
presidential candidate John Edwards, and then-Illinois Democratic Senator and
current President Barack Obama to �dig up� political dirt by the Bush-Cheney
Others on the Bush-Cheney enemies list subject to
surveillance were certainly those opposed to the Iraq War. Ironically, one of
those who may have been subjected to NSA surveillance was the late former NSA
director under Ronald Reagan, General William Odom, one of the earliest retired
military top brass who came out publicly in opposition to the Iraq war.
It is important to note that while the NSA and White House Stellar Wind operation �minimized�
intelligence reports, in a normal and legal Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Court warrant, there is no such minimization of sources and methods.
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants must be specific as to
their relevance to a counter-intelligence or counter-terrorism investigation.
However, the illegal Stellar Wind
reports merely provided incriminating information without providing sources,
methods, or justification information since no judicial concurrence was
necessary. Under a FISA warrant, a target may only be wiretapped for 90 days in
foreign counter-intelligence cases.
WMR has learned that during the Bush administration, FISA
warrants were obtained by NSA on a number of foreign dignitaries visiting the
United States. In addition, FISA warrants were issued for anyone, including
American citizens, with Middle Eastern names who traveled to the Middle East.
The warrants were requested even though there was no evidence that they were
connected to any terrorist organizations.
WMR has also learned that John Bolton, while undersecretary
of state for Arms Control and International Security, used Stellar Wind to target a number of U.S. ambassadors, especially
those career diplomats who were known to privately oppose the Bush
administration�s war against Iraq. One of those ambassadors was likely John
Danforth, former Republican Senator from Missouri, who resigned in December
2004 as U.S. ambassador to the UN after less than six months in office.
Danforth cited �policy differences� with the State Department. Danforth�s
resignation followed by a few weeks that of Secretary of State Colin Powell,
who was also subjected to NSA eavesdropping.
WMR previously reported that Bolton received NSA transcripts
of phone conversations between his boss, Powell, and New Mexico Governor Bill
Richardson concerning back channel nuclear talks with North Korean
diplomats in New York.
We have also learned that journalists were �high on the list�
for surveillance by the Bush White House under the Stellar Wind program. In December 2005, WMR first reported on a
CIA/NSA program called FirstFruits
that was authorized in October 2004 that was a �database that contained both
the articles and the transcripts of telephone and other communications of
particular Washington journalists known to report on sensitive U.S.
intelligence activities, particularly those involving NSA.� Targeted
journalists, reported by NSA sources, included author James Bamford, the New
York Times� James Risen, the Washington Post�s Vernon Loeb, the New
Yorker�s Seymour Hersh, the Washington Times� Bill Gertz, UPI�s John
C. K. Daly, and this editor [Wayne Madsen].
Risen was one of the New York Times journalists who
first became aware of the illegal NSA intercept program. The other was
Eric Lichtblau, the author of Bush�s Law: The Remaking of American Justice.
published in the Wayne
Copyright � 2009 WayneMadenReport.com
Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and
nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report