Legislators want to hear from domestic spying witness
House Government Reform National Security Subcommittee Chairman Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and ranking member Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, have told the NSA they want to hear from Russell Tice, who worked on what are known as "special access programs" at the agency until he was fired in May 2005.
Tice alleges that the NSA conducted illegal and unconstitutional surveillance of U.S. citizens while he was there with the knowledge of its former director, Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, who is now director of the CIA.
During an 18-year career, Tice worked on some of the most secretive programs in the government. He would not discuss with a reporter the details of his allegations, saying doing so would compromise classified information and put him at risk of going to jail. Tice said his information is different from the terrorist surveillance program that President Bush acknowledged in December and from news accounts last month that the NSA has been secretly collecting phone call records of millions of Americans.
Because he worked on special access programs, however, it has not been clear on Capitol Hill which committees have jurisdiction to debrief him. Shays and Kucinich gave the NSA until Friday to explain any legal reason why they cannot interview him.
But that deadline passed without a response, and a subcommittee aide on Monday called the missed deadline troubling. Shays and Kucinich had originally asked the NSA to give them a reason by May 26, but the agency asked for an extension until June 9.
NSA spokesman Don Weber said Monday that the agency "is performing due diligence in developing a response to the committee's request," but added that Tice has not notified the agency of the alleged illegal activity. Tice said he does not believe he needs to notify the agency of his allegations.
Tice originally wrote letters last December asking to meet with the Senate and House Intelligence committees. He got a meeting earlier this year with staff from the House Intelligence Committee, but they told him they were not cleared to hear what he had to say. Instead, Tice met last month in a closed session with senior staff from the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Tice said he told the staffers everything he knew. But he said the aides did not say how, or if, they would follow up on his allegations. Shays and Kucinich believe that the House Government Reform Committee has jurisdiction to hear from Tice. In a May 17 letter to the NSA, the lawmakers argue that they can hear from Tice because the House Intelligence Committee does not have exclusive jurisdiction over special access programs that Tice worked.
"If the SAP [special access programs] does not fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of [the House Intelligence Committee], but rather under the jurisdiction of the Armed Services Committee, the House rules provide that the Government Reform Committee may exercise oversight jurisdiction to investigate allegations of illegal activity under that government program," the letter said.
Tice was fired after the NSA ordered him to undergo psychological evaluations following a separate clash with agency leadership, and psychologists diagnosed him as being paranoid. Tice claimed the order to undergo psychological evaluations was retaliation for raising concerns. He also said he saw an independent psychologist who found no evidence that he has a mental disorder.