Did the National Security Agency (NSA) spy on Barack Obama back in 2004? Former intelligence analyst Russ Tice, who left the NSA in 2005, claimed in a podcast on "The Boiling Frogs Show" on Wednesday that under the Bush administration the agency was ordered to spy on high-ranking military leaders, members of Congress, judges, and a certain then-Senate candidate from Illinois. Tice was one of the sources of this New York Times report in 2005 that revealed the warrantless wiretapping program being run by the NSA under Bush. While Bush was forced to admit that a small number of Americans were targeted by the program, Tice has always maintained that the net was cast far wider.
Following Edward Snowden's recent revelations about the NSA's surveillance programs, Obama defended the practice but also said that he sympathized with people's concerns about the extent of the surveillance because he would probably be "pretty high" on a list of possible NSA targets. While it is one thing for Obama to say that as the president under whom the programs are operating, given that he was strongly critical of Bush's surveillance policies while campaigning for president he would probably would have taken a much dimmer view of being an NSA target back in 2004.
Tice, who worked as an intelligence analyst in various government agencies for 20 years, argues that the NSA has "turned themselves into a rogue agency that has J Edgar Hoover capabilities at a monstrous scale on steroids." He claims that while he was working for the NSA it was carrying out surveillance on a laundry list of American targets including high ranking military leaders, members of Congress (especially on the Intelligence, Armed Services, and Judicial committees), lawyers and law firms, judges (including a sitting U.S. Supreme Court judge and two former FISA court judges), people who worked for the White House, U.S. companies doing business overseas, anti-war activists, and NGOs such as the Red Cross. Tice said in the interview, "I know this because I had my hands literally on the paperwork for these sort of things."
Speaking about one of these alleged targets, Tice said: "Here's the big one ... this was in summer of 2004, one of the papers that I held in my hand was to wiretap a bunch of numbers associated with a 40-something-year-old wannabe senator for Illinois. You wouldn't happen to know where that guy lives right now would you? It's a big white house in Washington, D.C. That's who they went after, and that's the president of the United States now."
In a post on the Boiling Frogs website on Friday, Sibel Edmonds, a former FBI translator and founder of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, said that Tice has previously tried to take his claims to other news outlets but that they "refused to publish or air Mr. Tice’s revelations; while some cited legal concerns others refrained from providing any justification whatsoever." Although MSNBC did air an interview with Tice on Friday, Tice says that less than 10 minutes before they went to air, he was told that lawyers for the network did not want him to mention anything about his allegations that NSA wiretapped any of the targets, such as Obama, members of Congress, and high-ranking military officials, that he had told Boiling Frogs about on Wednesday.
While it is hard to verify Tice's claims, given what has been revealed by Snowden about the widespread extent of the NSA's surveillance programs over the past couple of weeks, and given that Tice's previous revelations helped to force Bush to admit that the warrantless wiretapping program did target Americans, there is very little about the extent, and targets, of U.S. government surveillance that would surprise me now. "Don't tell me there is no abuse," Tice said in Wednesday's interview, "because I've had this stuff in my hand and looked at it."