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Risen had ferreted out explosive information on eavesdropping (and other highly questionable operations) several months before the 2004 presidential election, disclosures that would have given American voters some important information regarding whether Bush deserved reelection or not.
But the Times, in its wisdom, acquiesced to the Bush administration's demands that the story be spiked -- not because the article was inaccurate, but precisely because it was so accurate, and embarrassing. The White House gave the Times the familiar warning that disclosure would "damage national security."
But as 2005 drew to an end, the newspaper could wait no longer, since Risen's book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, was already in galley and about to be published. The book contained, literally, chapter and verse on the illegal activity authorized by NSA Director Hayden at the behest of Bush and Cheney.
When the Times finally published the story in December 2005, the Bush administration scrambled to defend the warrantless eavesdropping, a demonstrably gross violation of FISA expressly forbidding eavesdropping on Americans without a court warrant. The White House immediately asked Hayden, then Deputy Director of National Intelligence, to play point man with the media, helping hapless Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defend the indefensible.
Hayden's perfidy was too much for Gen. Odom, who had been NSA Director from 1985 to 1988. Odom was seething as he prepared to be interviewed on Jan. 4, 2006, by George Kenney, a former Foreign Service officer and now producer of "Electronic Politics." Odom blurted out, "Hayden should have been court-martialed." And President Bush "should be impeached," added the general with equal fury.
Odom ruled out discussing, during the interview itself, the warrantless eavesdropping revealed by the New York Times three weeks earlier. In a memorandum about the conversation, Kenney opined that Odom appeared so angry that he realized that if he started discussing the still-classified issue, he would not be able to control himself.
Why was Gen. Odom so angry? Because he, like all uniformed officers (as well as many civilian officials), took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; because he took that oath seriously; and because he had done his damndest to ensure that all NSA employees strictly observed the prohibition against eavesdropping on Americans without a warrant.
Also deeply disappointed was former NSA Director Bobby Ray Inman, who led NSA from 1977 to 1981 and actually played a key role in helping shape the FISA law of 1978. (Before he retired, Inman had achieved virtual sainthood in Official Washington as one of the country's most respected intelligence managers, although he was known for looking the other way -- or as he put it, "pulling up my socks" -- when the powers-that-be were spinning the facts or exceeding their legal powers.)
From the Bush/Cheney White House perspective, Hayden had performed quite well working with the supine mainstream media to defend the Bush/Cheney illegal eavesdropping programs. For services performed, Hayden was nominated on May 8, 2006, reportedly at Cheney's urging, to replace CIA Director Porter Goss, who retired abruptly on May 5 after just seven controversial months as director.
So the nomination of Hayden to lead the CIA was very much on the minds of Inman, Risen and others who gathered for a public discussion at the New York Public Library that same afternoon, May 8, 2006. Participants were brought up short when Inman took strong issue with Hayden's flouting of FISA:
"'There clearly was a line in the FISA statutes which says you couldn't do this,' said Inman, who went on to call specific attention to an 'extra sentence put in the bill that said, 'You can't do anything that is not authorized by this bill.'"
Inman spoke proudly of the earlier ethos at NSA, where "it was deeply ingrained that you operate within the law and you get the law changed if you need to." Risen quipped about how easy it would have been to amend the FISA statute after the 9/11 attacks when the American people were demanding revenge: "In October 2001, you could have set up guillotines on the public streets of America."
Attorney General Gonzales, however, knew that there were still institutional obstacles to the NSA figuratively decapitating the Fourth Amendment. At a press conference on Dec. 19, 2005, three days after the Risen/Lichtblau disclosures in the New York Times, Gonzales was asked why the administration did not seek new legislation to enable it to conduct the eavesdropping program legally. He responded:
"We have had discussions with Congress in the past -- certain members of Congress -- as to whether or not FISA could be amended to allow us to adequately deal with this kind of threat, and we were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible."
This was not the only hint at the time that the surveillance program was so huge in scope and so intrusive that even a servile Congress, typically reluctant to turn down any project labeled "anti-terrorist," would not have blessed it. Really, could even a doormat Congress be expected to approve "Collect Everything?"