Sunday, July 29, 2007

Mining of Data Prompted Fight Over Spying


WASHINGTON, July 28 — 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....

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.

But members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who have been briefed on the program, called the testimony deceptive.

“I’ve had the opportunity to review the classified matters at issue here, and I believe that his testimony was misleading at best,” said Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, joining three other Democrats in calling Thursday for a perjury investigation of Mr. Gonzales.

“This has gone on long enough,” Mr. Feingold said. “It is time for a special counsel to investigate whether criminal charges should be brought.” ...

The first known assertion by administration officials that there had been no serious disagreement within the government about the legality of the N.S.A. program came in talks with New York Times editors in 2004. In an effort to persuade the editors not to disclose the eavesdropping program, senior officials repeatedly cited the lack of dissent as evidence of the program’s lawfulness. ...

Mr. Gonzales defended the surveillance in an appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee in February 2006, saying there had been no internal dispute about its legality. He told the senators: “There has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed. There have been disagreements about other matters regarding operations, which I cannot get into.”

By limiting his remarks to “the program the president has confirmed,” Mr. Gonzales skirted any acknowledgment of the heated arguments over the data mining. He said the Justice Department had issued a legal analysis justifying the eavesdropping program.

So maybe impeachment is more suitable than a perjury prosecution?

It has long been recognized that telling the literal truth when least expected is one of the most effective means of deception.

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