Failing to note Rockefeller's letter to Cheney, Herald Tribune, NY Times website reported only that Democrats "say" they expressed concerns over domestic spying

››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN

An International Herald Tribune article -- also published on The New York Times' website -- asserted that some Democrats who had been briefed on the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program before it was publicly revealed "say" they "expressed concerns or objections" at the time -- suggesting that their claims are the only evidence that they did in fact express concern. The report ignored a letter written more than two years ago by the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee describing his "lingering concerns" about the program.

In a February 5 International Herald Tribune article -- also published on The New York Times' website -- reporter Brian Knowlton wrote that some Democrats who had been briefed on the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program before it was publicly revealed "say" they "expressed concerns or objections" at the time -- suggesting that their claims are the only existing evidence that they did in fact express concern. The report failed to note a letter to Vice President Dick Cheney by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, describing his "lingering concerns" about the program written more than two years before its public disclosure.

The New York Times Company publishes the International Herald Tribune.

Knowlton's article described an appearance by deputy director of national intelligence Gen. Michael V. Hayden on the February 5 edition of Fox News Sunday. From Knowlton's February 5 article, as it appeared on the Times' website:

But citing the secrecy of the program, the general was circumspect in answering other questions.

Asked whether any of the eight members of Congress who had regularly been briefed on the program had expressed concern or objections -- as some say they did -- he replied, "I certainly never left the room believing we had to do anything differently."

As Media Matters for America has noted, the fact that Rockefeller expressed concerns about the program shortly after being briefed on it is not in dispute. On July 17, 2003, Rockefeller was briefed on the program by Hayden, who was then serving as director of the National Security Agency (NSA). In a handwritten letter to Cheney dated the same day, Rockefeller repeatedly referenced his "concerns" about the program and the limited information provided in the briefing:

I am writing to reiterate my concern regarding the sensitive intelligence issues we discussed today with the DCI [Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet], DIRNSA [Hayden], and Chairman [Pat] Roberts [R-KS] and our House Intelligence Committee counterparts.

Clearly the activities we discussed raise profound oversight issues. As you know, I am neither a technician nor an attorney. Given the security restrictions associated with this information, and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own, I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities.

As I reflected on the meeting today, and the future we face, John Poindexter's TIA project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the Administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveillance.

Without more information and the ability to draw on any independent legal or technical expertise, I simply cannot satisfy lingering concerns raised by the briefing we received.

Rockefeller added: "I am retaining a copy of this letter in a sealed envelope in the secure spaces of the Senate Intelligence Committee to ensure that I have a record of this communication."

In addition, Knowlton's reference to "the eight members of Congress who had regularly been briefed on the program" is misleading. Knowlton was apparently referring to the so-called "Gang of Eight," which is composed of the House speaker and minority leader, the Senate majority and minority leaders, and the chairmen and ranking minority members of the House and Senate intelligence committees. But several Democrats have said that their briefings did not adequately describe the program.

For example, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a December 21, 2005, statement, "I have been briefed since 2003 on a highly classified NSA foreign collection program that targeted Al Qaeda." She added: "Like many Americans, I am deeply concerned by reports that this program in fact goes far beyond the measures to target Al Qaeda about which I was briefed."

Similarly, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) said there were "omissions of consequence" in the briefings he received in 2002 and 2004, according to an article in the January 9 issue of Newsweek:

"The presentation was quite different from what is now being reported in the press. I would argue that there were omissions of consequence." At his briefing in the White House Situation Room, Daschle was forbidden to take notes, bring staff or speak with anyone about what he had been told. "You're so disadvantaged," Daschle says. "They know so much more than you do. You don't even know what questions to ask."

And former Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time the program was created, has claimed that he was never informed "that the program would involve eavesdropping on American citizens," as the Times reported on December 21.

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