National Security Agency officials are unlikely to face any punishment or censure for defying a court order and destroying data they had broken the law to collect in the first place, former FBI special agent and whistleblower Colleen Rowley told.
The NSA was under court order to hold on to information that was linked to warrantless wiretapping during the George W. Bush administration, but instead the agency got rid of data it had been specifically asked to retain, according to US media reports.
“What should be shocking about this news is that it’s about the illegal deletion of the previously illegally collected data on US citizens in the Presidential Surveillance Program,” Rowley said.
There was no accountability for the government’s prior destruction of evidence, including the CIA’s destruction of the “torture tapes,” Rowley noted.
Consequently, “I don’t think there is much chance of any accountability of NSA officials for any of their official negligence or malfeasance that led to these intercepted communications being destroyed and not preserved for purposes of this court proceeding,” she said.
The data was gathered during the administration of President George W. Bush under an illegal program called the “Presidential Surveillance Program,” Rowley recalled.
However, “When the Pulitzer-prize winning news of the illegal program was finally released by New York Times writers, [President] George Bush misled the US public by downplaying it and calling it his ‘Terrorist Surveillance Program,’” she said.
The illegal surveillance of Americans had been secretly “legalized” just as the CIA’s practice of torture as so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques had been Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) attorney John Yoo and his senior OLC partner Robert Delahunty, Rowley noted.
Yoo and Rowley justified the secret surveillance program “shortly after 9-11 in dozens of secret memos claiming the President had inherent “Commander in Chief” powers to violate the Bill of Rights, a form of martial law,” she said.
The NSA’s interception of communications was illegal in the first place and was in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) statute and the entire program was also possibly unconstitutional, Rowley pointed out.
Rowley also said much of the deleted material might have contained details of secret sexual activities that could have proven highly embarrassing to US military and diplomatic personnel who were involved.
“From some of my prior readings, I also suspect that these previously illegally intercepted communications after 9-11 contained a lot of ‘pillow talk’ between American spouses/girlfriends/boyfriends of military members and State Department personnel stationed abroad,” she said.
Had the secret data not been destroyed, it might have exposed the falsehood of many statements and assurances by President George W. Bush that claimed the surveillance program was responsible and limited in scope, Rowley remarked.
“So this content that apparently no longer exists would have proved very embarrassing if it had ever been made public… contradicting George Bush’s descriptions that his program only targeted ‘terrorists,’” she said.
The destroyed NSA data would have angered the important constituency of US military and Foreign Service members as well as other American travelers whose privacy and rights were violated, Rowley noted.
Rowley sent a May 2002 memo to then-FBI Director Robert Mueller that exposed some of the FBI’s pre- September 11, 2001 failures. She was named one of TIME magazine’s “Persons of the Year” in 2002. Mueller is now the Special Counsel investigating President Donald Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia. Both Trump and Russia have denied colluding during the 2016 US presidential campaign.