A former National Security Agency official wants to tell Congress about electronic intelligence programs that he asserts were carried out illegally by the NSA and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Russ Tice, a whistleblower who was dismissed from the NSA last year, stated in letters to the House and Senate intelligence committees that he is prepared to testify about highly classified Special Access Programs, or SAPs, that were improperly carried out by both the NSA and the DIA.
“I intend to report to Congress probable unlawful and unconstitutional acts conducted while I was an intelligence officer with the National Security Agency and with the Defense Intelligence Agency,” Mr. Tice stated in the Dec. 16 letters, copies of which were obtained by The Washington Times.
The letters were sent the same day that the New York Times revealed that the NSA was engaged in a clandestine eavesdropping program that bypassed the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. The FISA court issues orders for targeted electronic and other surveillance by the government.
President Bush said Sunday that the NSA spying is “a necessary program” aimed at finding international terrorists by tracking phone numbers linked to al Qaeda.
Mr. Bush said during a visit to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio that al Qaeda is “making phone calls, [and] it makes sense to find out why.”
Critics of the eavesdropping program, which gathered and sifted through large amounts of telephone and e-mail to search for clues to terrorists’ communications, say the activities might have been illegal because they were carried out without obtaining a FISA court order.
The Justice Department has said the program is legal under presidential powers authorized by Congress in 2001.
Mr. Tice said yesterday that he was not part of the intercept program.
In his Dec. 16 letter, Mr. Tice wrote that his testimony would be given under the provisions of the 1998 Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, which makes it legal for intelligence officials to disclose wrongdoing without being punished.
The activities involved the NSA director, the NSA deputies chief of staff for air and space operations and the secretary of defense, he stated.
“These … acts were conducted via very highly sensitive intelligence programs and operations known as Special Access Programs,” Mr. Tice said.
The letters were sent to Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, and Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican. Mr. Roberts is chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Mr. Hoekstra is chairman of the House counterpart.
Spokesmen for the NSA and the Senate intelligence committee declined to comment. Spokesmen for the House intelligence committee and the DIA said they were aware of Mr. Tice’s letters, but had not seen formal copies of them.