National Security Agency (NSA) veterans Bill Binney, Russ Tice, and Kirk Wiebe spoke at a Friday news conference at the National Press Club, in Washington, D.C., with Tice declaring that the spy agency monitored Barack Obama’s telephone conversations—and those of his wife—in 2004, apparently as a result of Obama’s run for the U.S. Senate and emergence as a major figure in the Democratic Party. This should have been big news. However, the claim was ignored or dismissed by most of the major media.
A major exception was NBC News, which posted a clip from the press conference and an item noting that “Former NSA analyst Russ Tice says that, during his tenure, the NSA had a program that spied on phone and email messages of Congress, the Supreme Court, reporters, military and an up-and-coming politician named Barack Obama.” These are sensational charges.
Jeff Mason of Reuters interviewed Tice about Obama’s proposed “reforms” of the agency, but didn’t include any comments on the agency’s alleged surveillance of Obama.
Why would the NSA watch Obama? Could it have something to do with his communist and foreign connections?
Tice, who says he supported Obama for president even though he had been a conservative Republican, told Russia Today (RT) television that “…a high-level person at NSA told me this was being directed from the vice president’s office. That would be Vice-President Dick Cheney. I don’t know that for sure, but that’s what I was told from a very senior person at NSA.” Tice also told the Moscow-funded propaganda channel that Obama may somehow be “controlled” as President as a result of its surveillance of him.
Tice cannot be dismissed completely as a nut by the Left, since he was one of the sources used in The New York Times’ reporting in December 2005 on domestic surveillance activity. The media have treated him as credible in the past. His affiliations reportedly include his roles as a former intelligence analyst for the U.S. Air Force, Office of Naval Intelligence, Defense Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency. Jesselyn Radack, an associate of NSA leaker Edward Snowden, has defended Tice as a “whistleblower”; and Tice is featured on the site of the National Whistleblowers Center.
Tice said at the January 17 National Press Club news conference that he had “in my hand,” during his work for the NSA, the telephone numbers for Barack Obama and his wife, but that the documents were destroyed. “I had numerous phone numbers. I assume his wife’s number was there as well,” he said. “I don’t know what they did with it. I know that they were recording his phone conversations, and then they were storing the information.”
I asked him about the possible grounds for NSA surveillance of Obama, such as his association in Hawaii with Communist Party member Frank Marshall Davis, who was on the FBI’s security index. Tice seemed unfamiliar with Davis. I also asked about Obama’s association with communist terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, who helped launch Obama’s political career in Chicago. That meeting was set up by Illinois State Senator Alice Palmer, who had traveled to the Soviet Union and came back praising Soviet-style communism.
Tice ridiculed the idea that there were any legitimate grounds on which to monitor or investigate Obama. At the same time, he said the agency may have been seeking something they could “use against him in the future.” He wasn’t clear as to whether or not he meant they were seeking something specific. Is there something Obama is hiding?
If the interest was communism, Tice said, then why were so many other people, including admirals, members of congress, and Supreme Court justices, under surveillance? Of course, we have to take his word that all of these people were under surveillance because he said the documentation for all of this was destroyed when he worked for the NSA.
The answer may lie in Obama’s NSA reform speech, in which the President admitted that foreign intelligence agencies may be trying to monitor his conversations. He said, “There is a reason why BlackBerrys and iPhones are not allowed in the White House Situation Room. We know that the intelligence services of other countries—including some who feign surprise over the Snowden disclosures—are constantly probing our government and private sector networks, and accelerating programs to listen to our conversations, and intercept our emails, and compromise our systems. We know that.”
So is it possible that the NSA is conducting some monitoring for the purpose of determining which foreign intelligence agencies have themselves conducted surveillance of U.S. citizens, in order to compromise or recruit them? That would make complete sense.
Tice, an analyst, may not have been in a high enough position to know or understand this. His speculation about then-Vice President Cheney ordering the surveillance is just that—speculation. And it may stem from his announced preference for Obama as president. But the guidelines under which the NSA operates stipulate that investigating an American political figure for connections to foreign terrorists and regimes is permitted and justified. Similarly, the NSA would be derelict if it did not attempt to follow what foreign regimes and movements are trying to do here as well.
While Frank Marshall Davis was under surveillance for 19 years, he may have engaged in espionage for the Soviet Union. Obama covered up Davis’s real identity when he ran for president. Although Obama publicly claimed that he regarded Ayers and Dohrn as just neighbors and respected academics, declassified intelligence in the Weather Underground case shows that Ayers, Dohrn, and their comrades had connections to the Soviet KGB, the Cuban intelligence service, and the DGI, in addition to their terrorist ties.
We addressed the matter of domestic surveillance in a column on Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders (VT), asking the same kinds of questions about NSA activities. Sanders seemed shocked that anything like this was being done. The fact is that Sanders’ extensive affiliations with Soviet front groups were more than enough to justify NSA surveillance of this senator. Other senators may have been monitored because of a massive communist spy effort on Capitol Hill.
Tice ridicules the idea of the NSA monitoring “commies” on Capitol Hill. But that should be one of the legitimate functions of the NSA. After all, the NSA’s Venona project deciphered Soviet communications with agents in the U.S., including the federal government. This effort disclosed traitors and spies. However, only Obama could order the declassification of any documents in the possession of the U.S. intelligence community about his own foreign and communist connections.
We are not holding our breath.
We also don’t expect the Institute for Public Accuracy, which sponsored the news conference, to do a follow-up on this mystery. The group is funded by left-wing foundations associated with such figures as Barbra Streisand. She endorsed Obama for president in 2012, calling him a “good man” and praising Obamacare.
This commentary originally appeared at AIM.org and is reprinted here with permission.