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Whistleblower Levels Shocking Allegations at Bush's Spying Programs

It seems Bush's lust for spying went so far as to target reporters, and even the senator tasked with overseeing U.S. intelligence.

On Jan. 21, former U.S. intelligence official Russell Tice appeared on MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermannn" and broke a sobering bit of news that, sandwiched between Obama's inauguration and sweeping executive orders, went largely ignored by the media: Under the Bush administration's notorious warrantless spying program, not only did the NSA eavesdrop on millions of Americans, it turns out it specifically targeted "U.S. news organizations, reporters and journalists."

As Olbermannn put it, "non-terrorist Americans, if you will."

"It has taken less than 24 hours after the Bush presidency ended for a former analyst with the National Security Agency to come forward to reveal new allegations about how this nation was spied on by its by its own government," Olbermannn said on Wednesday night.

"Russell Tice has already stood up for truth before this evening as one source for the revelation in 2005 by the New York Times that President Bush was eavesdropping on American citizens without warrants … tonight, the next chapter for Mr. Tice -- a chapter he feared to reveal while George Bush occupied the Oval Office."

The contents of the exclusive interview, if not surprising, were chilling nonetheless. Tice, who was fired from the NSA in May 2005, discussed how part of his job had been to monitor information flow among organizations that were expressly not of interest, for the ostensible purpose of flagging and filtering them out.

"… In the world that I was in," he said, "(so) as to not harpoon the wrong people … we looked at organizations, supposedly, so that we would not target them. So that we knew where they were so as not to have a problem with them." But, "what I was finding out, though, is that collection on those organizations was 24/7, you know, 365 days a year -- and it made no sense."

Turns out it was a bait and switch, in Olbermann's words, in which the "discard" pile was actually the "save" pile.

Word of the interview made its way around the blogosphere. Emptywheel's Marcy Wheeler immediately spelled out some of the implications. "First, Tice's description of the program confirms everything we have surmised about the program," she wrote.

The program:

  • Established the means to collect all American communications.
  • Analyzed meta-data to select a smaller subset of communications to tap further.
  • Conducted human analysis of those messages.

That is, the Bush administration used meta-data (things, like length of phone call, that have nothing to do with terrorism) to pick which communications to actually open and read, and then they opened and read them.

And of course, everyone's communications -- everyone's -- were included in the totality of communications that might be tapped.

Despite the fact that the NSA scandal has been one of the biggest stories of the past few years, the story made no headlines the next day, including no mention in the New York Times, which broke the spying story to begin with (albeit one year after it first caught wind of it). In a week that saw orders from the new Obama White House to close Guantanamo and end the policy of torture, perhaps it is not surprising that this interview did not make headlines -- and indeed, as Wheeler pointed out, the news here is merely a confirmation of what others have long assumed.

But the implications bear repeating: Tice said, despite the Bush administration's claims to the contrary, "the National Security Agency had access to all Americans' communications, faxes, phone calls and their computer communications … and it didn't mater whether you were in Kansas in the middle of the country and you never made any … foreign communications at all. They monitored all communications."