CNN's Ensor suggested Rockefeller was disingenuous in criticism of administration briefings on domestic spying program


CNN national security correspondent David Ensor suggested that Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV was disingenuous in his criticism of the Bush administration's apparent failure to fully inform Congress about its warrantless domestic surveillance program because he had been briefed on the program in 2003. But Ensor failed to note that, immediately after being briefed, Rockefeller wrote a letter to Vice President Dick Cheney expressing strong reservations about the program and restrictions on information he needed to evaluate it.

In a report on the Senate Intelligence Committee's February 2 hearing on national security threats, CNN national security correspondent David Ensor aired a clip of Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the committee, criticizing the Bush administration's apparent failure to fully inform Congress about its warrantless domestic surveillance program. Ensor then said, "[I]n fact, Rockefeller was one of the few who were briefed," suggesting that Rockefeller's criticism at the hearing was disingenuous. Notably absent from Ensor's report was any indication that after learning of the surveillance program in July 2003, Rockefeller wrote a letter -- by hand, to prevent the potential disclosure of classified information to his staff -- to Vice President Dick Cheney that expressed strong reservations over "the activities we discussed" and concern over Congress' ability to exercise oversight and his own ability to evaluate the program.

From the February 2 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

ENSOR: The spy chiefs faced a barrage of pointed questions from Intelligence Committee Democrats angered by the president's National Security Agency domestic [NSA] surveillance program and the fact that most of them were never briefed about it.

ROCKEFELLER [video clip]: This rationale for withholding information from Congress is flat-out unacceptable and nothing more than political smoke.

ENSOR: But, in fact, Rockefeller was one of the few who were briefed. Director of Nation Intelligence John Negroponte stressed that the NSA carefully reviews and minimizes any information collected on Americans.

Ensor's suggestion that Rockefeller was hiding the fact that he was one of the few lawmakers who were briefed ignores what actually happened. Ensor made no mention of a letter dated July 17, 2003 -- the day of his classified briefing -- in which Rockefeller expressed concerns not only about President Bush's authorization of the NSA to eavesdrop on the international communications of U.S. residents, but also about the amount of information disclosed in the briefing. In a handwritten letter to Cheney, Rockefeller wrote:

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.


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

Rockefeller is not the only senator briefed on the program who has criticized the Bush administration's repeated claim that Congress had adequate information about the NSA program. For example, 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."

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, have also said that they did not receive a complete accounting of the program. 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 New York Times reported on December 21.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Domestic Spying, National Security & Foreign Policy
David Ensor
The Situation Room
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