- Close Video

Andrew Card

Andrew Card served as chief of staff to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2006. As a top adviser to the president, Card played a central role in developing the administration's post-9/11 intelligence strategies. He spoke to FRONTLINE's Jim Gilmore on Jan. 5, 2014.

Andrew Card served as chief of staff to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2006. As a top adviser to the president, Card played a central role in developing the administration's post-9/11 intelligence strategies. He spoke to FRONTLINE's Jim Gilmore on Jan. 5, 2014.

  1. Ψ ShareTelling the president "America is under attack"

    Let's start with 9/11, on the day of 9/11, and that famous video of you going up to the president.

    We woke to a perfect day in America. I mean, in the lower 48 there wasn't a cloud in the sky. I remember waking up very early, which you do every single day as chief of staff to the president, so I get up early. And believe it or not, I was worried that the president was going to get sick, because I knew that he had challenged a reporter to go running with him that morning out in the golf course at the resort that we were in Sarasota, Fla., and the red tide had caused a stench because a lot of fish had died and washed up on the beach, and it stunk. …

    So I got up, walked outside of the hotel, took a sniff of the air -- it still stunk -- tracked down the president's doctor, said, "Is the president going to get sick if he goes for a run?" He says, "No." I then go up and see the president. He is getting up, putting on his running clothes and talking about the run out on the golf course, and I said: "When you get back we'll do the CIA briefing, then go over to the school. It should be an easy day, Leave No Child Behind, education."

    And I said: "Oh, by the way, I checked with the doctor, and you're going to be fine. You won't get sick if you go for a run." He looks at me like, "What are you talking about?" And I said, "Well, the red tide." And he gave me that "You're an idiot" look, which I got quite a few times. But that's how the day started. …

    And when the president came back from the run, he was filled with excitement, because he ran his good time, he beat the reporter, he felt all excited, and we sat down and had a quick CIA briefing and then piled into limousines and went over to the school.

    On the way to the school I do remember two people kind of asking a question. One was [Senior Adviser to the President] Karl Rove, the other one [White House Communications Director] Dan Bartlett, saying, "Anybody hear about a plane crash in New York City?" So when we arrived at the school there was that question, and the president went right -- we had a classroom that had been set up as a command center. The president went right to a phone and called Condoleezza Rice, his national security adviser. I went over and took a look inside the classroom where the president was going to be with the students to see if it was ready. I didn't hear the conversation that the president had with Condoleezza Rice.

    When I came back into that holding room and I'm standing at the door to the classroom where the president is going to walk in, I'm standing with the principal of the school and the president. And Deb Loewer, who was a Navy captain and the director of the White House Situation Room -- she was the acting national security adviser on the trip -- came up to the president and said, "Sir, it appears a small twin-engine prop plane crashed into one of the towers at the World Trade Center in New York City."

    The collective response from me, the president and from the principal of the school was: "Oh, what a horrible accident. The pilot must have had a heart attack or something." That was kind of the thought. Then the principal opened the door to the classroom, and she and the president went into the classroom. The door shut. I'm still in the holding room. Deb Loewer comes up to me and said: "Sir, it appears it was not a small twin-engine prop plane. It was a commercial jetliner."

    My mind flashed to the fear that must have been experienced by the passengers on the plane. They had to know it wasn't gaining altitude. I don't know why that's where my mind went, but that's where it went. But that was only for a nanosecond, because Deb Loewer came right back up to me and said, "Oh, my gosh, another plane hit the other tower at the World Trade Center."

    My mind then flashed to three initials, U.B.L. That's what we called Osama bin Laden. I knew about the attacks on the World Trade Center in 1992. I knew about Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network and what they wanted to do to Westerners, if you will. I don't know why that's where my mind went, but that's where it did.

    I then stood at the classroom door and performed a test the chiefs of staff have to perform all the time, and it's usually a tough test: Does the president need to know? This was an easy one to pass: Yes. …

    I opened the door to the classroom. I remember there was a dialogue going on between the students and the president. The teacher was saying, "Say good morning, Mr. President." The president would say, "Good morning," back. So this little dialogue. When I walked into the classroom Ann Compton from ABC News spotted me. It was unusual for me to enter a room after the president had gone in. She mouthed to me, "What's up?" And I mouthed back to her, "Planes." And then she mouthed back to me, "What?"

    Then it was a break in the conversation between the president and the students. The teacher was actually telling the students to take their books out, and that's when I walked up to the president, and I leaned over, and I whispered into his right ear: "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack." That was all I said to him.

    I stood back from him so he couldn't ask me a question. I kind of noticed his head bobbing up and down. I then went back to the door and looked around again, and I spotted in my left peripheral vision the principal of the school and Secretary Rod Paige, the secretary of education, and Sandy Kress, an adviser to the White House on education. In my right peripheral vision I saw Ari Fleischer, the press secretary, huddled with some reporters. And then I saw the president and was struck by how young and innocent those second-graders looked and how the president, I couldn't see his face, but I could see his head, and it was still kind of bobbing up and down. And I opened the door and left that classroom.

  2. Ψ Share

    ... Take us back to Washington the next day. What is the mood around the White House? What are you guys thinking about?

    ... We were dealing with what is happening with our economy, what is happening with our institutions of government. We were dealing with how do we protect the institutions of government so the government can function. We actually started to put in place the continuity of the presidency program, the continuity of government programs, secret programs that make sure the government will function if there is a big attack on Washington, D.C., and we lose the institutions of power in their natural home.

    So there was a lot going on, and there were many, many moving parts, lots of confusion, and it wasn't until actually I think Friday of that week, Sept. 14, that the fog begin to lift, and you were understanding the nature of the attack and could deal with the responses that are necessary to prevent the next attack.

    ... What you're defining is really -- it's that famous phrase -- there was before 9/11, and then there was after 9/11.

    Well, and the truth is it's even bigger than that. There was an analog world, and then there was a digital world. Most of the laws that relate to a war were written for an analog world, and now you have the digital world. …

    ... Let's focus on NSA here some. … Who is Gen. Hayden? Is he someone that was coming to the White House a lot and briefing the president?

    Prior to 9/11, I don't think I knew Gen. Hayden. I probably knew his name. I doubt that the president knew his name. He, to my knowledge, had not been a regular attendee of any of the White House Situation Room meetings or that context. ...

  3. Ψ Share

    So he comes into this meeting that has been talked about a bunch, and the president is there, and the vice president is there, [Director of Central Intelligence George] Tenet is there. Do you remember any about that meeting? ...

    Well, the National Security Council had been tasked to take a look at what needs to be done, what are the tools of government and how do we bring them together so that we understand what we have, and what are the needs, what are the defined needs to help us better protect America. One of those needs was understanding more about the level of communication between bad guys in the United States and bad guys overseas. That's when I first heard about the challenges of electronic communication. ...

    So this meeting was about what are the tools that we have, what are the needs that exist. Do we need other tools? Do we need to look at other authorizations that haven't been given before to deal with the reality of the world as it is today or it was on Sept. 11, 2001?

    How important was it felt, at that point, that to fight Al Qaeda, that the strategy to fight Al Qaeda necessarily meant that loosening of the structure around which the NSA rules were defined, it needed to be loosened?

    We wanted as much information as we could get about the communication that the terrorists were having with each other. I don't think that we gave definition to aspects of communication, whether it was phone or email or messaging or semaphore flags or whistles or smoke signals. We heard lots of different stories. I mean, I can remember hearing stories about they're using digital TV to communicate, they're using satellite television to communicate with each other, and time was spent trying to figure out are they doing that. We knew that they were using emails.

    Remember, the 9/11 Commission said that there was -- we learned that there was digital communication between the terrorists just before the attacks. If my memory serves me right, one of the people that was on one of the planes had communicated with folks in Yemen to a very dirty place. I kind of wish we had known that. I'm not sure we could have known it prior to 9/11 if we hadn't had NSA doing what they do.

  4. Ψ Share

    ... How was Congress' role viewed? Was there a debate over we have got a lot of things we need to do here?

    Well, the debate over Congress' role started with do you ask for authorization? Not NSA or FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] or any of that stuff. Do you ask for authorization?

    And there was a healthy constitutional debate. Does the president need to ask for authorization to do anything? And he can actually call up the military and say, "Protect us right now." He doesn't have to go to Congress to say, "Give me authority to do that." He can say, "Protect me." There is lots of precedent for that.

    But there was a debate, and yes, the president sought authorization and received it. There was some that would argue that he didn't have to or he didn't have to right then; let's see what happens later on; let them do it through the power of the purse, not through a declaration of war. ...

    And the role the vice president played in that debate about the importance of understanding the power of the presidency in this kind of situation was what?

    The vice president has been a student of the Constitution, because he had been a chief of staff and a secretary of defense and a member of Congress, so he had seen it from different perches. David Addington, his very able attorney at the time, was viewed as a student of Article II in the Constitution and the executive power that exists under Article II in the various interpretations that had been given by courts and others. But this is not a new debate. ...

  5. Ψ Share

    Oct. 4 is the day that the presidential authorization is brought over to the NSA by Mr. Addington because of the secretness of the whole thing. What was the importance of that moment?

    Oct. 4 was the day that the president gave people within our government permission to use tools to better protect America. And they were waiting to find out if they could use those tools. They knew the tools; they knew where they were; they knew how to access them. The private sector actually accesses them a lot, and so these were tools that existed that they felt they could use and reform and revise to allow the president to have better access to make decisions to protect the country.

    So that was a day that the NSA's role or relevance in the war on terror was certainly more enhanced. ...

    Define what permission was given as far as warrantless surveillance, warrantless domestic surveillance or however you want to define that.

    It's my understanding that NSA was given the authority to recognize the change in the world from an analog to a digital level of communication and to have access to a greater pool of data so that they could review it to see if there were indications of communication that might lead to knowledge about the next attack and how best to prevent the next attack. …

  6. Ψ Share

    Explain this and clarify it for me. This whole issue of whether you have a warrant or you don't have a warrant, a warrantless surveillance, why did that become such an issue?

    Well, there has been warrantless surveillance for a long time in the United States. It just changed with the nature of digital communication, so it wasn't anything new. The intelligence community was able to use warrantless intelligence gathering for a long time, in fact, I think as long as there has been intelligence gathering. So it wasn't like the FISA Court was always engaged with every aspect of intelligence gathering.

    The FISA Court involvement in this came a little later in the process, and that's when other questions were being asked, and how do you mitigate the angst that was existing, and legitimately. There was angst in the White House. Even the president -- he's a privacy freak; he loves privacy -- he was not looking to invade privacy. He was looking to use the tools of government to prevent the next attack.

    Were there debates that sort of helped define that angst that existed?

    There seemed to be an unlimited number of debates about what this would be like and how it would work. But remember, this was such a secret program. The president was the one who authorized people to be read into the program. It wasn't a third party or a second party -- the president. When the program first started, no one was read in unless the president authorized them to be read in.

    So this was not widely discussed, but it was discussed by people with very different views at very different bureaucracies in our government.

  7. Ψ ShareOn hearing the Justice Dept. had problems with "the program"

    ... Let's talk about the events of 2004. It's an amazing series of days there in March of 2004.

    More amazing by myth than reality, but that's all right.

    Well that's why you're here, to tell us what was going on in the White House. How did you hear that there were some problems? Some in DOJ [Department of Justice] [Head of the Office of Legal Counsel Jack] Goldsmith comes in. [Deputy Attorney General James] Comey, of course, is now in. There seems to be some problems with one aspect, as you said, one-quarter of the programs or a part of the programs. What are you guys hearing, and what is --?

    Well, first, this program required reauthorization every 30 to 60 days, so there wasn't one time when the authorization was happening that didn't invite some dialogue. So it wasn't just by rote.

    This thing was so secret and so important to our intelligence community and so complicated, some of the concerns were based on complications; they weren't based on policy questions. But these were reviewed and had to be reauthorized, I say every 30 days, but I'm sure there was some times where it was 60 days and maybe 45 days.

    But anyway, I do remember when I would be paying attention, this thing must be coming up for review, I wonder where it is, and I would go to the NSC and say, "Where are we in the process?" And it was something you had to be careful talking about, because a lot of people didn't know about it.

    So yes, frequently there were questions raised and discussions. What did we learn? What did we learn by what we were doing? What did we learn by how we are doing it? So it was two different functions.

    I'm not sure that I remember the exact day, but it was in March 2004, pretty early, I do remember it was we were anxious, because it was coming up for the reauthorization period. And where are we in the reauthorization period? And I understood that there was a healthy debate going on within the Justice Department, and there was a debate over some of the concerns over one-quarter of the aspect of the work that the NSA was doing. And there was a meeting convened in the Situation Room, and Vice President Cheney I think was the convener. I remember Mike Hayden being there and the normal players.

    We went over the challenges, and we went over the challenges that were expressed by some of the people at the Justice Department and others. And if my memory serves me right, that's when members of Congress were invited down.

  8. Ψ Share

    ... So the March 10 meeting, this is with the congressional leaders, to advise --

    Very significant meeting.

    Explain how the problem is defined, why it was significant and what happened.

    Well, there was this angst within one agency of the government, the Justice Department, and yet the program other people felt was very, very important, including me, and very valuable to the war on terror.

    We brought down a bipartisan group of members of Congress from the intelligence community and the leadership, so it was not just the Intelligence chairman and ranking members; it was a broader group.

    Mike Hayden did a wonderful job of taking this very challenging technical aspect of data collection and sorting and analyzing and presented it, and it was discussed that it was a very important program.

    And to my knowledge, every member of Congress that was there, Republican or Democrat, House or Senate, intelligence community, committee or leadership felt, first of all, they felt tremendous empathy for the president. They knew that this was a very tough decision, and they were understanding of the importance of the program. They all were supportive of the president making a decision, and they felt that Congress writ large was probably not in a position to be able to debate this and consider it in the normal consideration of legislation.

    So they were without objection all on board with the president proceeding. That didn't mean that they all agreed with every single aspect of it, but they agreed, they understood, and as my term I think they had empathy for the president and the tough decisions that he had to make, and they were saying that they would support the president.

    So there was a consensus there that it was believed --

    There was no doubt in my mind that there was a consensus that this program was important, that it was very valuable to our intelligence community and valuable to our effort to understand the nature of attacks and to help protect the country, and that they thought that the president should continue to exercise his authority to have the program.

    [White House Counsel] Mr. [Alberto] Gonzales at some point before Congress on July 24, I think, makes that point pretty much the way you just said it, that that was what came out of that meeting, that there was a consensus. There was some blowback from some of the Democrats at the meeting.

    Public blowback. There was never any private blowback. I view what they said publicly, that's just politics, and they just play politics. I made phone calls the day after the meeting to two of the people that had expressed not reservation but angst, and asked them: "Are you still OK? Can I represent that you are OK with this?" And both of them said yes -- with reluctance, but they both said yes.

    Why the comments afterward that really, that sort of went through something that has been heard in other points, too, that Congress wasn't fully briefed on --

    Congresspeople were fully briefed.

  9. Ψ ShareThe hospital room visit to John Ashcroft

    So March 10 is also the day that you and Gonzales go to the George Washington University Hospital. Tell us this story, because it's heard mostly without your side of it.

    I haven't talked about it.

    Why are you sent? What is the intention? What happens that evening?

    After the meetings with members of Congress and the discussions over the nature of what was happening, an effort was made to see where we are, when can we get this signed. Judge Gonzales had, who was the White House Counsel at the time, had taken a look at all the documents. He felt that it was ready to be authorized. Other lawyers had said that it was ready to be authorized. We didn't have approval from the Justice Department. The attorney general, John Ashcroft, had reauthorized the program several times, and so the question is, was he going to reauthorize it? We were told that some elements at the Justice Department were not in favor of reauthorizing it, but the attorney general had authorized it before.

    I then with Judge Gonzales went up to see the president, who was in the residence. It was after hours, if you will. And I went up to the residence part of the White House and met with the president and told him the situation, that this effort required reauthorization right away, it was going to expire, that it was very important; there had been a healthy debate, that there was some reluctance on the part of some at the Justice Department to go forward, that Attorney General Ashcroft had signed the authorizations in the past, there was an expectation that he would sign it again. And the president said, "I'll call him up and ask him if he's going to do it."

    It turns out General Ashcroft was in the hospital. I did not know that he was in the hospital prior to the time. I knew just before I went up to the suite to see the president, but I had not been told earlier in the day that he was in the hospital.

    The president called him at the hospital. I did not hear Gen. Ashcroft's responses, but I could hear the president's side of the conversation, and he said: "I'm here with Andy Card and Alberto Gonzales, and we've got this thing ready to be reauthorized. You've done it before." And the next thing I know, the president said: "Go over and see him. I'm sending Andy and Alberto over to see you, and they'll have the document, and you can sign it, and that's great."

    So we left. Alberto Gonzales, Judge Gonzales and I left and went over to the hospital. We get to the hospital, and General Ashcroft is laying in bed, and I learned that he was there, had been in some pain. I don't know if he was in pain then. His wife was with him, and there were two other people there. I think one of them might have been the FBI director. I'm not sure who was there, but there were two other people there.

    And as soon as we got there, I said nothing other than, "Sorry you're feeling bad." And Judge Gonzales said: "We have brought the document. You talked to the president. Here is the document." And Judge Gonzales -- I mean John Ashcroft says, "I've been told I'm not the attorney general right now."

    Oh, OK. And Judge Gonzales says: "If that's the case, then fine. I'm sorry. I hope you're feeling better." And we left. We turned, and we left. There was absolutely no pressure. There was no expectation that we were going to force his hand to sign a document, cajole him into doing that. I think Janet Ashcroft was upset that we were there. John Ashcroft did not seem to be upset that we were there. He was very businesslike. And we turned and left and came back to the White House.

    Then I learned that Comey was all upset and wanted to come see me. And I reported to the president that we didn't get it signed.

  10. Ψ Share

    So that is very different than the way Comey defined it in --

    He wasn't party to everything that I was party to.

    But he was in the room.

    I did not know that he was in the room. He certainly did not make himself known to me when I was in the room. But he didn't know the nature of my instruction from the president to go see John Ashcroft. ...

    Comey and Goldsmith say that at some point Ashcroft sat up in bed, and he very clearly defined why he felt that he wouldn't have signed, he couldn't sign this; that there had been a decision that legality-wise had never been made clear enough; that there was too tight of a noose around the program, so not enough -- he didn't have ways that could define --

    We weren't to have that long of a conversation with him. He barely sat up in bed -- yes, he sat up -- and he says, "I've been told that I am no longer the attorney -- I'm not the attorney general right now." And as soon as he said that, we said, "Fine, thank you very much." That was the extent of the conversation. He didn't go into great detail. …

    ... Not to be too much of a stickler about this, but it's told out there, it's reported on, and Comey has said and Goldsmith has said very different things.

    Goldsmith wasn't there, so I don't know how he could say things like that.

    He says that he was; he did show up, and [FBI Director Robert] Mueller showed up afterward.

    That Goldsmith was in the room?

    Yeah. ... And Comey's statement that the way it was said is that the attorney general sat up and said, and after he defined the way he felt about it, he then said: "And, by the way, I'm not the one you have to talk to. You have to talk to him, because he's the acting attorney general."

    He did not say that. If he had, I would have turned around and known he was there. I mean, seriously, I did not see Comey when I walked in the room, so I did not know Comey was there until I heard it after the fact, and I would swear on a stack of bibles that I didn't see him, so I didn't know he was there. …

    From my perspective, the meeting was much more benign than it's being portrayed by common myth.

    OK. Why would Comey spin it like that?

    I respect Comey. He's a Boy Scout. He's an Eagle Scout. He's a good guy. He's a Methodist. And he's the FBI director, and I supported him for being FBI director.

    But you think he got this wrong.

    No. I don't -- no. We can all view car accidents and describe them differently. I don't know what his perspective was, but I don't remember much of a conversation at all. I would bet on the clock that Judge Gonzales and I weren't in that room very long.

  11. Ψ Share

    ... All right, so you go back to the White House. The way it's told is that you called Comey and asked him to come to the White House.

    I did.

    Why?

    Because first of all, I was upset that I hadn't been informed that the attorney general was not the attorney general. So I was actually concerned with people at the White House. Did the Justice Department inform the president, i.e., the White House, that the attorney general was not the attorney general? Because I was embarrassed. Here I am, the chief of staff, and I didn't know he wasn't the attorney general when we went to see him, when the president -- I wouldn't have had the president call him if he wasn't the attorney general. Do you see what I'm saying?

    So I was upset. I was concerned that I hadn't been told or the Justice Department hadn't told the White House, and they should tell the White House if the attorney general is not the attorney general. So that's why I wanted to see him over there and to find out when were you the attorney general.

    He was very defensive. He was not very friendly, and he was clearly so upset that he didn't want to talk to me, and he was not a good listener.

    So nothing was resolved in that meeting?

    No. In fact, I felt it was an embarrassing meeting for both of us.

  12. Ψ Share

    ... You're meanwhile hearing after that there is some stuff going on over at the DOJ now, that there is this possibility of resignations, that --

    Well, that was pretty quickly after the meeting in my office, so I reported that to the president the first thing that I saw him in the morning, and I told him the whole situation, that it did not go well and that he might want to pull the FBI director aside the next morning in the briefing and when we came in for the normal briefings. And the president did pull the FBI director aside. I told the president straight up what had gone on. I didn't know about all of the legal arguments and who was doing what. I knew that it centered around one of the baskets, if you will, in the NSA program, but I also believed honestly that it was something that could be resolved, and so I told him.

    And the president was very upset. He was very upset when I told him about it. I think he was probably upset with me. I mean, that's the nature of being a chief of staff. I told him that the meeting did not go well, that Comey came back, that Bob Mueller was upset and that they were talking about resigning, and I thought that that would be counterproductive, and I thought that cooler heads should prevail, and we can talk about this, and the president might want to pull Bob Mueller aside, and he did.

    ... The next morning, so then during the briefing Comey is there and Mueller is there. The president pulls Comey aside, and they have a discussion. What happened? You're in the room when this is all happening?

    I was not in the room when it happened. They went and talked without me, and I think cooler heads did prevail, and the angst was addressed. I'm not sure that it removed all angst, but it was addressed, and the program was allowed to continue with modification.

    ... So the president at that point knew that there were possibilities of resignation before he sits and talks to them now.

    I think that may be an overstatement. I think the president, he certainly did not want a situation where the FBI director and the deputy attorney general would resign, so he was not too happy to learn that this had risen to a level of angst that it had risen to.

    ... And as far as the rest of you, the fact that there were possible resignations taking place, would he have put his point of view across about whether this was a big problem or not?

    I can't -- that's not -- it doesn't register as a level of concern that -- I knew that every time this program had been reauthorized there were some questions. I guess I was not surprised that there were some questions. I did think that Comey's angst was overstated and that it could have been addressed, and I think that it was addressed, and it was addressed to the satisfaction of most of the people that are involved. So the program continued, and it continues today, and it really wasn't significantly modified until several years later.

    By 2008 certainly. At this point, though, just to get through this meeting, because there is different points of view out there, and we want to clarify it more --

    Points of view are kind of irrelevant.

    Right. Well, Comey says the facts of it were that he --

    He can deal with it now. He's the FBI director. He can fix more things; he's got more power today than he had then. So if he's got angst he can deal with it.

    But he says at this meeting that one of the things that the president told him was, "I wish you hadn't waited until the last minute to bring this up." Comey, in Comey's head, he says he said: "Wait a minute. This means that the president has been out of the loop. He doesn't even know that this debate has been going on."

    That's what Comey says. Did the president say that?

    What was the truth?

    You'll have to talk to the president. I wasn't there for the conversation.

    But as far as the president being within the loop, I mean, what Comey says is --

    The president was appropriately in the loop, but presidents do not or should not get stuck in the weeds.

    And as far as a debate going on about with the DOJ at this point that there is a possibility that they weren't going to sign it, was he in the loop enough, do you think, at this point?

    I wish that he had been maybe informed earlier. I just wished I had been informed earlier. I didn't know about all of this angst. But I don't think that -- first of all, I think others want this to be a bigger deal than it was at the time, and the truth is it couldn't have been that big of a deal or it couldn't have been addressed to their satisfaction, and it was. It was addressed to their satisfaction.

  13. Ψ Share

    ... March 17, the program is revised. Let me ask you one other thing. Before this happens, before it's revised on March 17, the authorization is signed by the president without the attorney general's signature. How important a moment was that? Was that a big deal or not as seen in the White House?

    I don't remember it being a big deal. I remember the program is very important, and members of Congress that were read into it felt that it was very important, and I remember the people that were involved in our intelligence community saying, "We can't let this lapse." So I guess it was a big deal that it not lapse.

    And why does the president sign it?

    I can't remember. I mean, he was authorized. He had the authority to sign it.

    ... And the March 17 decision, which was very different than the idea of what had been signed before, I mean, this is basically a pullback on that decision. Why that decision then?

    Well, there were refinements in the program all along. Every time that -- well, not literally every time, but many times when it came up for reauthorization, there were refinements in the program, mostly based on the work that Mike Hayden was doing and the challenges they had. There were other refinements that came after the FISA Court got more involved in looking at it to help mitigate some of the angst that came through the FISA Court's review.

  14. Ψ ShareThe White House reaction to the New York Times surveillance story

    ... The New York Times article in December 2005, what was the reaction in the White House when they were initially told that there was this report --?

    We were very upset that The New York Timeswas going to publish the story that we felt would compromise America's ability to have better protection, and we were aghast that they would violate the trust of America and the security interests of this country to do it.

    I was personally very upset, and yes, I called folks at The New York Times and expressed my angst. And I know the president was upset. I know Condi Rice spoke to people at The New York Times, and we were very troubled that number one, the information had been leaked, and number two, that it was going to be published.

    What was riding on this?

    The security of the country. This was a, and still is, a very important tool for us to use in trying to protect the country.

    The discussions were basically had with the editors?

    I think I spoke to the publisher.

    The reporters afterward stated that the White House had misled the editors, were not telling the truth about the material that they had found. What is your attitude about that?

    I don't know anything about it, because I'm not sure that the reporters were telling us the truth, but I can't speak to whether the White House was telling them the truth. But --

    Meaning?

    Who leaked it? Who gave you the information? Help us protect America. Why would you want to compromise -- do you want another attack like 9/11 to happen, New York Times? This is a tool in the war on terror. That's not the only program that they leaked. There were others.

    So yes, I felt that The New York Times was not helpful to the president as he was trying to meet his constitutional obligations to protect America.

  15. Ψ Share

    So in 14 months they didn't run it; they had decided not to run it. What was the feeling at the White House, relief? What was the thoughts about that?

    There was some relief. I'm not sure that there was exuberant celebration, but there was relief; there was gratitude. I think there was some hope that that was a recognition that this was really important. Thank you, for allowing us to keep doing this program that is very, very, important.

    And then there is notification that it's back on the front burner.

    Yeah, which I thought -- I thought it was a little bit politically timed, and I didn't think that it -- I thought that it would compromise national security. I don't think any of the arguments that they had in theory agreed to or recognized earlier had changed. So what was the reason that they changed their opinion?

  16. Ψ Share

    ... The reaction of the White House to that article in December 2005 coming out, I know one of the big things that happened immediately was the president scrapped his radio address that he had that you were probably pretty involved in and spoke about it. What was the reaction of the White House?

    We were very disappointed. We were concerned that a tool that had been working quite effectively to help protect America would be now known by our enemies and that that meant that they might change their behavior to our disadvantage and that it would compromise or make it more difficult for the president to meet his constitutional obligations. So yes, there was a lot of angst.

    ... How aggressive was the White House in making sure that after The New York Times article came out that the Justice Department was on top of this?

    The White House was very interested in demonstrating that we took these leaks seriously, that they did compromise national security and the president's ability to do his job well, but the Justice Department was just as upset as the White House was. So it wasn't just that the White House was driving this. ...

    ... Going back in time, back to spring of 2004 during the March meetings and everything that was going on at that point, was there a sense that secrecy about the program was unraveling?

    Yes, the folks that knew about the program were worried that the circle was expanding and that the bad guys might realize that they shouldn't communicate the way they were communicating. And yes, there was angst about the secrecy of the program being compromised.

    That's one reason the president was so adamant when the program was instituted that there be a very small circle of people who had the need to know -- not the want to know, the need to know. And everybody in Washington, D.C., wants to know. The truth is, there are only a very small number of people that need to know, but that small number is actually much larger than most people realize. ...

  17. Ψ Share

    When you look back and you see these reports now that are questioning whether in fact these programs really were as effective, the fact that the metadata program in 2011 was killed off and yet nobody seems to be missing the fact that that part of the program is no longer in effect, what is your overview over this?

    It's a part of a part of a part of a program. … I think the statement that you just made is an overstatement. The work that the NSA does is still very important for us to be able to understand the nature of the threat to America and to our national security, and I don't like all of the debate about it, because I think that it's informing the enemy more than it informs us. We're learning about it kind of voyeuristically. Our enemy is looking at it as a new opportunity, and I don't want to give them new opportunities.

    And the point that the Presidential Commission and the IG [Inspector General] report questions the effectiveness. Your thoughts?

    I believe that the programs that the NSA has been using have been effective in helping to understand the nature of the enemy and what they want to do, and I believe that it's something that has to change as our communication level changes.

    I view this as a dynamic challenge, not a static challenge, and the NSA needs to have the tools to be able to meet the challenges that are dynamic. I don't want to tie their hands and compromise the president's ability.

    I do not want the government to use information inappropriately. I do think the president should have the use of all the tools necessary to protect us. I don't think that he should use tools to abuse us.

    ... And what do you think when you hear -- for instance, a couple of weeks ago, when the district court judge came out and said what the program consisted of was almost Orwellian in nature, and by the fact that all records from all Americans, this metadata was all being stored, content was being stored, what's your view of that problem?

    I pray that our government doesn't abuse the information that they have. I have confidence in the NSA. I would have less confidence if somebody else was storing it. I have confidence in the NSA.

    I'd love to say let it go by the wayside. I don't even know how to do that, because someone has -- Google and Facebook have more information than I want them to have, and there's nothing I can do about that. I know the IRS has more information than I want them to have, but there's nothing I can do about that. But I just don't want the people who have the information to be in a position where they abuse people because they have the information. I want them to use it to protect America. ...

blog comments powered by Disqus

In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS
Frontline Journalism Fund

Supporting Investigative Reporting

Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation, the John and Helen Glessner Family Trust, the Ford Foundation, Wyncote Foundation, and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation.

FRONTLINE   Watch FRONTLINE   About FRONTLINE   Contact FRONTLINE
Privacy Policy   Journalistic Guidelines   PBS Privacy Policy   PBS Terms of Use   Corporate Sponsorship
FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation.
Web Site Copyright ©1995-2016 WGBH Educational Foundation
PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.