I had an interesting discussion this morning with DC political consultant Marc Laitin. We both came to the conclusion that it sounds like Bush's super-secret illegal domestic spying program may be targeting US journalists and that may be why Bush never got it cleared by the court and is worried about it coming forward now.
Think about it.
1. Bush had the authority to go the court AFTER THE SURVEILLANCE and RETROACTIVELY get the warrant to do surveillance he'd already done. He didn't. The only reason I can come up with for why Bush would NOT go to the court after the fact is because he thought the court would slap him down. The court's greatest concern would likely be spying on US citizens, and an even greater concern would be spying on either members or Congress or the American media. If Bush were spying on American media, he might just lose this retroactive warrant.
2. Bush says that these were only Americans making phone calls to people with known Al Qaeda ties. That probably knocks out members of Congress, but it very much sounds like US journalists. Who else, other than terror cells, would be talking on a regular basis with people who might have ties to terrorism? American journalists working on stories.
It could even include US journalists talking to their bureaus abroad. Read again who Bush said the program is targeting (if you believe him):
"intercept the international communications of people with known links to Al-Qaida and related terrorist organizations."What's a "known link"? Does a journalist who has contacts inside Al Qaeda have a "known link" to Al Qaeda? Well sure he does, he absolutely has links/contacts with Al Qaeda.
3. Bush says that revealing the details of his spy program would tell Al Qaeda what we were doing and stop the program from being effective. Again, journalists. Al Qaeda already knows we're monitoring phone calls and emails, we've been doing that for years. They also know that the Patriot Act lets Bush spy on Americans (with the appropriate court orders). So what about the revelation of this domestic spying program could possibly tip off Al Qaeda to something they already know we're doing? There has to be a new wrinkle to the program, something Al Qaeda never thought we'd do. Spy on US journalists.
If terrorists knew that Bush was monitoring every communication US journalists were having a lot of their foreign sources would dry up. As much as "the terrorists" think that the US is monitoring everything, they'd be more willing to trust a US journalist since they know we don't spy on our journalists in this country. Until now.
Remember the case of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearle. The terrorists were happy to meet with Pearle, and kill him, a few years back. They clearly weren't that worried about Pearle being surveilled by the US government. And just look at all of Al Jazeera's interviews with people tied to Al Qaeda, how Al Jazeera gets its Al Qaeda videos etc. It's clear the terrorists trust their reporters, and it's hard to believe the Bush administration isn't spying on Al Jazeera. Sure, Al Jazeera are foreigners, but don't you think it's possible the success of such spying on Al Jazeera, if it's true, would make someone high up in the administration say "hey, what about following the NYT too?"
And here's another possibility. We outsource torture to foreign governmments, why wouldn't the Bush administration outsource surveillance of American citizens, including American journalists? It would be just the kind of too-cute-by-half move the Bush administration would come up with to obey the law against spying on US citizens while at the same time doing it. Ask your foreign government friends to do the spying on Americans for you.
I don't have proof yet, but Bush spying on US journalists would explain everything UNEXPLAINED about this entire story. Bush refusing to follow the law, Bush refusing to go to court, Bush refusing to tell more members of Congress, Bush's concern that the terrorists, if they knew we were doing this, would be tipped off, and Bush's desire to keep this from the public. It all makes sense that the target of the domestic spying could be US journalists.
Perhaps some enterprising journalist will ask the White House directly, has the Bush administration or its allies ever spied on American journalists?