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Tice and the poison tree

May 14, 2006


Ever since the NSA domestic wiretapping story broke, 20-year NSA analyst Russell Tice has been petitioning Congress for a chance to testify about what the public hasn’t learned. For a long time, Congress didn’t want to know, and the big committees (intelligence and Judiciary) still prefer to be ignorant. But this week, he will speak to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Tice said his information is different from the Terrorist Surveillance Program that Bush acknowledged in December and from news accounts this week that the NSA has been secretly collecting phone call records of millions of Americans. “It’s an angle that you haven’t heard about yet,” he said. … He would not discuss with a reporter the details of his allegations, saying doing so would compromise classified information and put him at risk of going to jail. He said he “will not confirm or deny” if his allegations involve the illegal use of space systems and satellites.

Perhaps thanks to Tice it will be sooner. In any case, sooner or later we are going to learn that the NSA has been listening without warrants to the content of purely domestic conversations.
How do we know this? The national security logic demands it. The whole point of the database of all US citizens’ phone calls is to look for “patterns” suggestive of terrorism. Now, suppose they find just such a pattern. Suddenly they have probable cause to believe that a domestic phone owner is taking part in a terrorist conversation. How can they use what they’ve learned?
The next step is plain. They’ve got probable cause, so they go to the FISA court and ask for a warrant to tap the phone in question. Problem is, they can’t go to the court. They violated the law when they did the surveillance that turned up the “pattern”. The court will be obliged to toss out their claim of probable cause, on the grounds that it is the fruit of the poison tree.

Therefore, once the NSA has started down this road, the only way to take advantage of having found the “pattern” is to go ahead and listen in to the purely domestic calls, without benefit of a warrant. Since they knew from the beginning that this would be the only way to utilize the intelligence coming from the phone database, they would not have bothered to set up the database unless they were planning to listen in on content. Without warrants.

Anyone care to place a bet that this isn’t what Tice will tell the Senate ASC?

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One comment

  1. nicteis,
    I believe you would make a good intelligence analyst.
    V/r,
    Russ Tice



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