Sunday, July 29, 2007

This Sounds Familiar

You heard it here first:

As incredible as it may seem to the liberal blogosphere, Alberto Gonzales is almost certainly telling the truth here.

There is evidence that there is more than one extra-legal warrantless domestic surveillance program that involves massive data mining of American citizens.

Now the New York Times is on to the scent of the truth, which involves the super-secret CATCH-ALL program.

A 2004 dispute over the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance program that led top Justice Department officials to threaten resignation involved computer searches through massive electronic databases, according to current and former officials briefed on the program.

It is not known precisely why searching the databases, or data mining, raised such a furious legal debate. But such databases contain records of the phone calls and e-mail messages of millions of Americans, and their examination by the government would raise privacy issues.

The N.S.A.'s data mining has previously been reported. But the disclosure that concerns about it figured in the March 2004 debate helps to clarify the clash this week between Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and senators who accused him of misleading Congress and called for a perjury investigation.

The confrontation in 2004 led to a showdown in the hospital room of then Attorney General John Ashcroft, where Mr. Gonzales, the White House counsel at the time, and Andrew H. Card Jr., then the White House chief of staff, tried to get the ailing Mr. Ashcroft to reauthorize the N.S.A. program.

Mr. Gonzales insisted before the Senate this week that the 2004 dispute did not involve the Terrorist Surveillance Program “confirmed” by President Bush, who has acknowledged eavesdropping without warrants but has never acknowledged the data mining.

If the dispute chiefly involved data mining, rather than eavesdropping, Mr. Gonzales' defenders may maintain that his narrowly crafted answers, while legalistic, were technically correct. ...

A half-dozen officials and former officials interviewed for this article would speak only on the condition of anonymity, in part because unauthorized disclosures about the classified program are already the subject of a criminal investigation. Some of the officials said the 2004 dispute involved other issues in addition to the data mining, but would not provide details. They would not say whether the differences were over how the databases were searched or how the resulting information was used.

Here's an important hint. The program involves the data mining of every phone call and e-mail made in the United States.

More than that, we are obliged not to say openly.

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