NSA Began Training Employees in 2004 on Giving Congressional Testimony about Domestic Spying

Saw it coming: Two years before the existence of the NSA’s illegal domestic spying program was revealed in the news, the agency created an employee training program, including a training film, for dealing with congressional inquiries into the matter:

As part of a sweeping assertion of executive privilege by President Gerald Ford, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered Tomba not to answer legislators’ questions, particularly those about Project Shamrock.

After leaving the National Security Agency in 1976, Joseph J. Tomba had no contact with his former employer until 2004. Then, for the first time in almost three decades, the super-secret signals intelligence agency called to ask him to come back to headquarters to be interviewed for an in-house training film. Though long retired from government service, Tomba, a former technical specialist for NSA, proceeded to Fort Meade, Md., home of the agency.

The film, however, had nothing to do with instruction about technical specialist work. It was a primer for NSA employees on how to deal with congressional inquiries and subpoenas. Tomba has a unique perspective on the subject. On Feb. 25, 1976, the West Virginia-born engineer became the first, and so far the only, NSA employee subpoenaed by Congress for his role in a domestic surveillance program. And because he was a less-than-cooperative witness before a House Government Operations subcommittee, he also became the only NSA employee to be recommended for a citation for contempt of Congress. The lack of cooperation wasn’t entirely his idea. As part of a sweeping assertion of executive privilege by President Gerald Ford, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered Tomba not to answer legislators’ questions, particularly those about Project Shamrock, under which NSA had spent the previous three decades intercepting almost all outgoing U.S. telegram traffic.

Tomba says the 2004 training film shows that NSA was preparing for a collision over its domestic activities even before the current and still not fully understood surveillance program authorized by President Bush. “What they were doing was building a training film for . . . what’s happening right now,” he says. The program shows NSA staffers how to handle such situations, he says, good evidence that the agency had reason to expect the problem might recur.

One comment

  • The Oracle
    May 16, 2006 - 12:30 am | Permalink

    (Just checking to see if anyone remembers the Hayden/NSA/Bolton connection)


    June 6 issue – 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.

    The Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked for more information about Bolton’s requests, but the administration refused, leading to last week’s vote to delay Bolton’s nomination. Meanwhile, the Senate intelligence committee’s chairman, Pat Roberts, and its top Democrat, Jay Rockefeller, got a closed-door briefing on Bolton’s NSA dealings from the deputy intel czar, Gen. Michael Hayden. The senators agreed Bolton’s initial NSA requests for U.S. names were legit. But the normally collegial Roberts and Rockefeller couldn’t agree on whether Bolton handled the names appropriately once he received them. In dueling letters made public, the senators aired their differences. Senator Roberts argued that Democrats called unnecessary attention to intel “sources and methods” by raising Bolton’s NSA dealings publicly. Rockefeller complained that Bolton sought out a State Department official whose name was supplied by the NSA “to congratulate him”—for unspecified reasons—which Rockefeller said was “not in keeping” with Bolton’s request for the uncensored NSA report. Roberts said this charge was ill founded.

    —Mark Hosenball”

    I wouldn’t put anything past the Bush Nixonians. I bet other Bush administration officials, in addition to Bolton, requested unredacted raw NSA intel reports, especially people in Dick Cheney’s and Donald Rumsfeld’s offices. Odds are many State Department officials under Colin Powell were monitored by the Bush Nixonians, primarily during the lead-up to the war in Iraq. Hey, they’re Nixon holdovers. It’s what they do. “Enemies lists” come naturally to them.

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