Joe Wilson, Meet Russell Tice
You don't have to be a political operative to figure out that Democrats will earmark NSA "whistle-blower" Russell Tice as this year's answer to Joe Wilson, and use his allegations to tar the Bush Administration. And so far, Mr. Tice seems quite willing to go along for the ride.
Mr. Tice is the former NSA employee who went public with information on the agency's domestic surveillance program. He has admitted that he was "one of the sources" for the NYT article that first exposed the program last month. Since then, he has claimed "whistle-blower" status, and is prepared to testify before Congress. Tice told ABC News that he believes some of the NSA's Special Access Programs (SAPs) were operated in ways that violate the law. However, he did not specify how the agency may have crossed the line.
Tice also believes that he isn't in legal jeopary, as long as he doesn't divulge classified information. That's a little like dropping a match in a gas can and hoping it doesn't explode. Given the nature of his work at the NSA, any testimony that Tice gives to Congress will quickly enter the classified realm, and probably result in the disclosure of extraordinarily sensitive information.
In fact, Tice's willingness to talk with Congress sets up an immediate legal battle with his former employer. As the NSA noted in a letter to Mr. Tice (and posted on the ABC News website), none of the Congressmen or staffers are cleared for the SAPs that Tice wants to discuss. Disclosure of highly-sensitive information to unauthorized personnel could put Tice in legal jeopardy, despite his claim of whistle-blower status. According to the NSA letter, Tice is required to file a formal complaint with the agency's inspector general, and comply with NSA and DOD guidelines in contacting Congressional committees and providing information to them.
I'm guessing that Tice will probably reject these demands, as an attempt to delay or dilute his testimony. Mr. Tice clearly has a bone to pick with the NSA; the agency revoked his security clearance last year (due to reported "psychological concerns"), and later dismissed him. Tice claims that NSA uses such justification to get rid of troublemakers and whistleblowers.
Perhaps. But it's also worth noting that the agency may have been entirely justified in removing Tice's clearance. Unfortunately, it would be difficult--if not impossible--for the agency to discuss Tice's alleged problems, since the diagnosis and/or treatment of psychological conditions would be protected by doctor-patient confidentiality and (perhaps) the Privacy Act.
In other words, Tice seems to have the NSA boxed into something of a legal corner. While he has sought assurances that any information provided to Congress will be "protected," Mr. Tice clearly realizes that even closed-door testimony will quickly leak to the press. So much for his desire to "safeguard" classified information. Meanwhile, his "whistle-blower" status and medical confidentiality rules will keep the government from making much of a media counter-attack, let alone prosecute him for divulging secrets. Tice will become the new darling of the liberal left, and the bane of the Bush Admnistration. Could a Vanity Fair cover be in the offing? And don't forget about a possible book and movie deal.
Tice told ABC that NSA operated with the mindset that "we've got to get these guys" (terrorists). In other words, the agency wanted to do its job, and prevent future terrorist attacks against the United States. It's also worth noting that, based on what we know so far, there is no indication that the agency violated the law, except through the eyes of Russell Tice and his new friends in the MSM. As a dismissed staffer, Mr. Tice clearly has an axe to grind with the NSA, just as Joe Wilson had his agenda in advancing false claims about his trip to Niger.
For the record, Mr. Wilson was later exposed as a liar by no less than three government commissions (two U.S., one British), but that really didn't matter. After endless regurgitation by the MSM, Wilson's allegations had taken on a life of their own, and became widely accepted as the gospel truth. The validity of Mr. Tice's claims has not been determined. But based on what we know right now, his assertions about illegal NSA activity seem a little suspect. But that doesn't matter; administration critics in the MSM and the Democratic Party will eagerly embrace his charges, and repeat them so frequently that much of the public will accept them as true. Meanwhile, the NSA surveillance program will be subverted, our national security jeopardized, and Russsell Tice can continue advancing along the Joe Wilson career path.