The revelation that the National Security Agency was allowed to conduct non-FISA intercepts of American citizens should bring last summer's hearing on John Bolton's nomination to the United Nations back into focus. As Legal Times noted in September of this year, "During the confirmation hearings of John Bolton as the U.S. representative to the United Nations, it came to light that the NSA had freely revealed intercepted conversations of U.S. citizens to Bolton while he served at the State Department. . . . More generally, Newsweek reports that from January 2004 to May 2005, the NSA supplied intercepts and names of 10,000 U.S. citizens to policy-makers at many departments, other U.S. intelligence services, and law enforcement agencies."
TPM's Johnson reminds us that we still don't know what information those intercepts contained or whether or not they were obtained legally.
Here's what Newsweek reported on the story in June of last year.
The bitter debate about John Bolton's nomination to the United Nations may have called unwelcome attention to the spying practices of the National Security Agency. Bolton told Congress last month that he asked the NSA for the names of Americans in raw intel reports. NSA rules prohibit the agency from spying on Americans; if electronic eavesdroppers inadvertently pick up American names, the NSA is supposed to black them out before forwarding reports to other agencies. But analysts and policymakers can make written requests to the NSA for U.S. names, which the State Department says Bolton did 10 times since 2001.
As you may recall, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked for more information about Bolton's NSA dealings during his confirmation hearings, but the administration refused to comply with the request. The GOP controlled committee, chaired by Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), did not issue a subpoena.
The Senate delayed Bolton's confirmation, and Mr. Bush made him the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations with a recess appointment in August of 2005.
As Jason Leopold of Truthout observes, the revelations of the Bolton confirmation process should have "blown the lid off" of Bush's domestic NSA spying program last spring.
At the hearing in late April, Bolton, a former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control, told Congress that since 2001 he had asked the NSA on 10 different occasions to reveal to him the identities of American citizens who were caught in the NSA's raw intelligence reports in what appears to be a routine circumventing of the rules governing eavesdropping on the American public.
It turned out that Bolton was just one of many government officials who learned the identities of Americans caught in the NSA intercepts. The State Department asked the NSA to unmask the identities of American citizens 500 times since May 2001. (Italics added.)
Patrick Radden Keefe, author of Chatter: Dispatches From the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping, said at the time that he was troubled that, other than the questions raised by Rockefeller, Congress and the Senate showed little concern over the NSA's practices "beyond the specifics involving Bolton."
"If the National Security Agency provides officials with the identities of Americans on its tapes, what is the use of making secret those names in the first place?" Keefe wrote in an August 11 op-ed in the New York Times. "We now know that this hasn't been the case - the agency has been listening to Americans' phone calls, just not reporting any names. And Bolton's experience makes clear that keeping those names confidential was a formality that high-ranking officials could overcome by picking up the phone."
During Bolton's U.N. confirmation hearings, former head of the State Department's intelligence bureau Carl Ford described him as "a quintessential kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy."
Ford told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Bolton was a "serial abuser" of subordinates who once berated a State Department intelligence analyst and sought to have him fired for disagreeing with Bolton's assessment of Cuba's alleged biological weapons program.
Ford also said that in 30 years of government service that included lengthy assignments with the Pentagon and the CIA, he'd never seen anyone like Bolton " in terms of the way he abuses his power and authority with little people… The fact is that he stands out, that he's got a bigger kick and it gets bigger and stronger the further down the bureaucracy he's kicking."
Many political analysts (including this one) are convinced that Bolton's educated toe played a major role in suppressing intelligence assessments that disagreed with the Bush administration's preferred interpretations of information on the status of Saddam Hussein's WMD program. As Jason Lepold of Truthout reported, at the time of the run up to the invasion of Iraq, Bolton was Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. In the 1990s, he was a key member of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), the neoconservative think tank that crafted the Iraq policy well before George W. Bush declared his intention to run for the presidency.
From the "Irony is Dead" department:
Bolton, who so brazenly cooked the intelligence of Iraq's nuclear weapons program to justify an optional war, is up for a Nobel Peace Prize for exposing Iran's nuclear buildup.
Bolton exposed Iran's nuclear buildup just in time to ensure there was nothing American could do about it but refer the matter to the United Nations.
If irony were alive and with us, it might make a pithy comment about the fact that America didn't trust the UN to handle the Iraqi nuclear program that didn't exist, but trusts the UN to deal with the Iranian nuclear program that, apparently, does exist.