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CIA Played a Leading Role in Warrantless Surveillance

Alex Constantine - July 11, 2009

By Spencer Ackerman
Washington Independent

What do I mean when I say that the inspectors general report on warrantless surveillance shows a larger role for CIA in the post-9/11 surveillance efforts than has been previously disclosed? According to the report, CIA would prepare a threat briefing for President Bush justifying the need for such surveillance. Then-CIA Director George Tenet’s chief of staff was in charge of compiling such a report:

According to the former DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] Chief of Staff, he directed CIA terrorism analysts to prepare objective appraisals of the current terrorist threat, focusing primarily on threats to the U.S. homeland, and to document those appraisals in a memorandum. Initially, the analysts who prepared the threat assessments were not read into the PSP [President's Surveillance Program] and did not know how the threat assessments would be used. …

After the terrorism analysts completed their portion of the memoranda, the DCI Chief of Staff added a paragraph at the end of the memoranda stating that the individuals and organizations involved in global terrorism (and discussed in the memoranda) possessed the capability and intention to undertake further terrorist attacks within the United States. The DCI Chief of Staff recalled that the paragraph was provided to him by a senior White House official. The paragraph included the DCI’s recommendation to the President that he authorize the NSA to conduct surveillance activities under the PSP.

Then the agency lawyers would vet the assessment to determine whether there was “a compelling case for reauthorization" of the surveillance. Tenet or his deputy, John McLaughlin, would sign it. Then the Department of Justice lawyers would get involved. By 2005, owing to bureaucratic changes, the responsibility for approving this threat assessment every 45 days passed to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the responsibility for drafting it went to the National Counterterrorism Center

By the way, White House counterterrorism czar John Brennan was indeed Tenet’s chief of staff in 2001, but he had moved on before 9/11, becoming deputy executive director in spring 2001. John Moseman was Tenet’s chief of staff on 9/11 and afterwards.


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