The thing is, Russ Tice tried to tell Congress about some of the NSA's illegal and unconstitutional spying programs and not a single person in congress had sufficiently high clearance to hear what Tice had to say - not even the Chairs of the Senate or House Intelligence Committees.
In fact, it's not apparent that the Attorney General is even clued into the program. And Tice even has doubts as to whether your Ostensible President has any idea what was going on. It's no wonder that they all find themselves tripping the linguistic fantastic.
Here's a short clip of Sibel Edmonds discussing the situation:
Atrios probably got closest last weekend when he wrote:
"Whoever the Hell They Wanted To Without Warrants
Look, all the parsing of statements is a waste of time. They were eavesdropping on whoever they wanted to without any warrants or oversight. Whether or not "whoever they wanted to" included, say, the John Kerry campaign or Markos Moulitsas is still an open question. They obviously claimed the power to do so, it just isn't clear if they did it."
But even that isn't a sufficient description of what is going on. Yes, we all acknowledge that they have the technical capability to spy on whoever they want, whenever they want - and we all acknowledge that they have no respect for any laws (or, at least, that they can justify anything to themselves so long as we are 'at war.') And yes, we all know about Echelon - but Tice seems to be talking about something that is revolutionary, not incremental.
Read this interview from last year with Tice - it doesn't sound like he's talking about incremental technological or constitutional issues:
"REASON: You're referring to what James Risen calls "The Program," the NSA wiretaps that have been reported on?
Tice: No, I'm referring to what I need to tell Congress that no one knows yet, which is only tertiarily connected to what you know about now."
REASON: What aspect of that, within the parameters of what you're able to talk about, concerned you?
Tice: The lack of oversight, mainly—when a problem arose and I raised concerns, the total lack of concern that anyone could be held accountable for any illegality involved. And then these things are so deep black, the extremely sensitive programs that I was a specialist in, these things are so deep black that only a minute few people are cleared for these things. So even if you have a concern, it's things in many cases your own supervisor isn't cleared for. So you have literally nowhere to go.
REASON: So there's a problem of inadequate channels of communications to raise concerns?
Tice: Yeah, zero channels of communication because you're talking about information so closely held that even within a large organization like the Agency, only a handful of people may know. The director would know, maybe the deputy director, the chief of security, maybe one level-supervisor, maybe my own supervisor—and these are all management people. And then you have one person, me, the worker bee who does the work, writes the reports, goes into the field, does the liaison work, makes the phone calls. I was the nitty-gritty detail guy.
REASON: Are you at all sympathetic to claims that the New York Times' reporting on NSA surveillance may have harmed national security?
Tice: In my case, there's no way the programs I want to talk to Congress about should be public ever, unless maybe in 200 years they want to declassify them. You should never learn about it; no one at the Times should ever learn about these things. But that same mechanism that allows you to have a program like this at an extremely high, sensitive classification level could also be used to mask illegality, like spying on Americans. And spying on Americans is illegal unless you go to a FISA court. It's the job of the FBI to conduct operations against Americans with the proper court warrants—not that I have a very high opinion of the FBI.
With [James Risen's] book, someone has come across, and basically reported, a crime. It just so happens that somebody put some super-duper clearances on it to mask the fact that a crime was being committed. Now we're claiming after the fact, to do some damage control, that "oh no, now the terrorists know." Come on, let's be rational about this. Do we think that the terrorists are just plain stupid? Do we think that, especially after 9/11, the terrorists aren't smart enough to think that maybe the United States might be interested in the communications they conduct and how they conduct them? Even if you believe there's some negativity in that information coming out, which I think is a totally disingenuous claim, but even if you think there's some merit to that, when you weight it against the fact that you're breaking the constitutional rights of American citizens, the scale on the right side incredibly outweighs any claim on the other side.
Tice: And the president—I'm a Republican, I voted for (Bush). I've always given him the benefit of the doubt. I didn't like the PATRIOT Act; I don't like a lot of what I've seen. But I've always felt that this president, in his heart, felt he was doing his best to protect the American people. I thought PATRIOT, and throwing the key away on Jose Padilla, were unconstitutional, but I've always given him the benefit of the doubt. I'm certainly hoping that he's been misled, and that if a broad-brush approach was used that the president wasn't aware of it or didn't understand the ramifications, that hundreds of thousands if not millions of Americans could have their rights violated. But if that happened and the president knew totally the extent of it, and everything we're hearing now is just damage control from the White House...
Tice is obviously working at the pointy-est end of technology. The NSA has the most extravagant technology in the history of mankind - and Russ is suggesting that, maybe, this information could be declassified in 200 years??? I've followed Tice's story pretty closely - and he generally isn't one for hyperbole, but this particular quote is obviously absurd. But let's say he was out by a factor of ten - and he actually meant 20 years. Nearly everything that we've seen discussed about what might or might not be happening with the latest NSA spying program has been happening, internationally, with Echelon for twenty or thirty years - so it appears that Tice is talking about something that is categorically different to Echelon, and it is also categorically different to any of the incremental discussion this past month about any of the programs that Gonzales and the Gang of Eight might have discussed.
(And, yes, I know that this is only peripherally related to Sibel's case. I'm not trying to branch out beyond my area of expertise, but I got stuck trying to put together a piece on Sibel and needed another outlet. More tomorrow.)