If you missed Countdown with Keith Olbermann last night, you missed this:
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GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE:
When youâ€˜re talking to your daughter at state college, this program cannot intercept your conversations. And when she takes a semester abroad to complete her Arabic studies, this program will not intercept your communications.
Had this program been in effect prior to 9/11, it is my professional judgment that we would have detected some of the 9/11 al Qaeda operatives in the United States, and we would have identified them as such.
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OLBERMANN: For a reality check on that claim and everything else we heard from the Bush administration today, Iâ€˜m joined now by Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies.
Ms. Martin, thanks for being with us tonight.
KATE MARTIN, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR NATIONAL SECURITY STUDIES: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Thatâ€˜s a pretty bold claim there from General Hayden today, obviously an improvable one. What credibility is it given by experts in the field?
MARTIN: Well, you know, Vice President Cheney made the same statement, I think, in an effort to deflect the conversation from whether or not the president broke the law.
I mean, what General Hayden said is that we would have detected al Qaeda operatives in the United States before 9/11. But, of course, the 9/11 commission found that they did detect two al Qaeda operatives, two of the hijackers, in the United States before 9/11, they knew they were al Qaeda, and they didnâ€˜t do anything about it.
OLBERMANN: The issue then was not finding, but knowing what to do when you find.
OLBERMANN: A question about the semantics of what we just heard General Hayden say about the domestic spying program. He said that a call to your kid at state college â€œcannotâ€ be intercepted by this program, but he then said that if sheâ€˜s studying Arabic, the program â€œwill notâ€ intercept. Is that anything more than just somebody writing it unclearly? Or should we assume that thereâ€˜s something about â€œwill notâ€ that implies that in the past the program could have intercepted those calls?
MARTIN: Well, I think the problem is that the administration hasnâ€˜t been forthcoming about who they are listening to at all. The only thing theyâ€˜ve said is, they are listening Americans without warrants who are calling overseas, and that thereâ€˜s some link to al Qaeda.
And so heâ€˜s trying to reassure people. But, of course, if you look at the actual law and their words about what is that mean with regard to the link to al Qaeda, any American whoâ€˜s conspiring with al Qaeda, they can get a warrant on in about two seconds.
And so these people that theyâ€˜re wiretapping, and we donâ€˜t know who they are, appear to be people who are maybe calling somebody who, in turn, is calling somebody, who then may be linked to some al Qaeda affiliate.
And thatâ€˜s apparently why they havenâ€˜t gone to court to get a warrant do the wiretapping.
OLBERMANN: Even inâ€”just in terms of the technology, could this domestic spying program really be targeted, as targeted, as limited, as the administration is saying? Because this is what does not add up for me. How would you know in advance that itâ€˜s an al Qaeda operative making a phone call, sending an e-mail, making a contact in some way with somebody here?
Is there not necessarily, even if youâ€˜re hitting a 500 percentage here, is there not some fishing around just to find out, in fact, that itâ€˜s an al Qaeda representative calling someone?
MARTIN: Well, those are all unanswered questions, but very good questions, because, of course, the NSA does have the capability to vacuum up millions of telephone conversations and then sort them through a computer and pick out which ones some actual person is going to listen to.
And even though the law that the president is ignoring, and, in my judgment, violating is very specific, that if you have some probable cause that an American is in communication with, is involved with, al Qaeda or some other terrorist organization, you can get a secret warrant and secretly wiretap them.
So the question that hasnâ€˜t been answered by the administration is, why didnâ€˜t they get those warrants? Who is it that theyâ€˜re trying to wireâ€”that they are wiretapping, who the judge wouldnâ€˜t give them a warrant for? The judges have given them 13,000 warrants, and generally say yes when they ask.
OLBERMANN: Which question resonates more within the intelligence community, that one, or the one that the president asked today rhetorically that, of course it was legal, because if he were trying to break the law, why would he have briefed Congress?
MARTIN: Well, of course, if youâ€”he did not brief Congress in any forthcoming way at all. In fact, Senator Rockefeller wrote Vice President Cheney a handwritten note after that briefing, saying, You told me something, I donâ€˜t understand the significance, it was completely confused. And then you told me that I was prohibited from telling my staff or anyone else. I want more details.
He never got an answer.
And, you know, telling Congress, of course, doesnâ€˜t matter, because the law says you may not wiretap without a warrant. And whether or not he told Congress doesnâ€˜t make it legal.
OLBERMANN: Kate Martin, the director of the Center for National Security Studies, thanks for your perspective. Thanks for joining us tonight.
MARTIN: Thank you.