From Wired News:
Former National Security Agency director Bobby Ray Inman lashed out at the Bush administration Monday night over its continued use of warrantless domestic wiretaps, making him one of the highest-ranking former intelligence officials to criticize the program in public, analysts say.
"This activity is not authorized," Inman said, as part of a panel discussion on eavesdropping that was sponsored by The New York Public Library. The Bush administration "need(s) to get away from the idea that they can continue doing it."
Since the NSA eavesdropping program was unveiled in December, Inman — like other senior members of the intelligence community — has been measured in the public statements he's made about the agency he headed under President Jimmy Carter. He maintained that his former colleagues "only act in accordance with law." When asked whether the president had the legal authority to order the surveillance, Inman replied in December, "Someone else would have to give you the good answer."
But sitting in a brightly lit basement auditorium at the library next to James Risen, the New York Times reporter who broke the surveillance story, Inman's tone changed. He called on the president to "walk into the modern world" and change the law governing the wiretaps — or abandon the program altogether.
"The program has drawn a lot of criticism, but thus far former military and intelligence officials have not spoken up. To have Adm. Inman — the former head of the NSA — (come) forward with this critique is significant," said Patrick Radden Keefe, author of Chatter: Dispatches From the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping, who sat on the panel with Inman and Risen. "Because of the secrecy surrounding this type of activity, much of the criticism has come from outsiders who don't have a firm grasp of the mechanics and the utility of electronic intelligence. Inman knows whereof he speaks."
In 1978, Inman helped spearhead the effort to pass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which makes it illegal to eavesdrop on American citizens without court approval. Inman said he wouldn't have a problem sidestepping that law — as a "limited response to an emergency situation," like the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But nearly five years since those strikes, the NSA is continuing to track phone calls and e-mails without warrants.
Inman didn't contest the Bush administration's claim that the FISA courts can't keep up with the NSA's new breed of surveillance. "My problem is not going to Congress to revise the statute to deal with the problems I didn't think of in '78," Inman said. "We can do what the country needs and work within the law."
Inman put the White House's reluctance to change the surveillance regulations squarely on the shoulders of Vice President Dick Cheney. He noted that Cheney formerly served as chief of staff to President Gerald Ford, who was in power before the FISA restrictions were put in place. Cheney never really agreed with the controls, Inman asserted. "The ultimate test," the retired admiral added, will be whether President Bush "walks away from the vice president on this."
Despite his critical remarks, Inman was supportive of Gen. Michael Hayden, who initiated the controversial wiretap program as NSA director. Hayden was nominated Monday by Bush to take over the troubled CIA, which has been pounded by critics for a string of intelligence failures. Hayden "proved over time to be someone who could transform an organization" geared to deal with Cold War demands, changing it into one that could handle the new challenges of counterterrorism.
Inman also brushed aside criticism that Hayden, as a military man, might be subservient to the secretary of defense. "(Donald) Rumsfeld can't abide him," he said.
But Inman, who also served as the CIA's deputy director during the Reagan administration, said that he was surprised that Hayden would take the new job.
"It's an impossible task," he said. A decade ago, Inman noted, he became "persuaded … that (the CIA) was a broken agency." Testifying before Congress, he advocated separating the agency's intelligence analysts from its clandestine agents because the analysts "always want to make the collectors look good." Those same pressures are, if anything, stronger today.
Risen agreed, saying that the Bush administration "managed under (outgoing director Porter) Goss to break the spirit of the place." The agency is now "permanently a backbencher" in intelligence circles, Risen added.
Risen was less charitable toward Hayden, however. Early in Hayden's term as NSA director, he was "constantly out there, saying, 'We never spy on Americans,'" Risen noted. Those proclamations abruptly stopped after 9/11, but Hayden left the impression that Americans were still being left out of the surveillance net. "He has a credibility issue," said Risen.