Privacy Law

Justice officials threatened mass resignation over retroactive approval of NSA program

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Justice Department officials threatened mass resignation after President George W. Bush tried to retroactively approve bulk collection of purely domestic metadata for Americans’ phone calls and emails, according to papers disclosed in a lawsuit.

The newly declassified information sheds new light on the hospital room showdown in which Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was recovering from gallbladder surgery, refused to approve a National Security Agency surveillance program, the New York Times reports. The newspaper obtained the new passages from a report by six inspectors general as a result of the lawsuit.

The new passages reveal the hospital meeting was an attempt to gain Justice Department authorization of bulk collection of metadata that apparently exceeded previous authorizations by President George W. Bush, the Times reports. The NSA had searched the bulk metadata for links to terrorism suspects.

Ashcroft refused to recertify the program as it was operating, citing an analysis by Jack Goldsmith, who headed the Office of Legal Counsel.

Bush had authorized bulk collection of domestic metadata only if the sender or receiver was from abroad, or if the communication was linked to terrorism. After Ashcroft refused to certify the program during the hospital visit, Bush retroactively authorized the collection of domestic metadata, as long as the database was only searched for information relating to terrorism suspects.

The “fix” signed by Bush had been drafted by David Addington, who was counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Justice Department officials responded by threatening mass resignations, and Bush agreed to program curbs, the Times reports.

Related article: “Lawyer Who Withdrew ‘Torture Memos’ Speaks Out”

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