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Mining and Digging

Whenever the Bush administration finds itself in the midst of a controversy, one tried and true method they use to try to squash the issue has been selective leaking. Whether it's selectively declassified intelligence data or revelations of as yet unknown terror threats, inevitably information will leak that they think will somehow bolster whatever claims they are making at the time.

But this time all the may have accomplished in doing is digging the hole they're in even deeper. On Tuesday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified that a March 2004 confrontation in then AG John Ashcroft's hospital room was due to concerns over "other activities" not related to the NSA spying program already confirmed by the administration. Subsequently we learned that the dissent was indeed regarding the NSA program, as both the Gang of Eight and FBI Director Robert Mueller came forward to confirm. This left Gonzales in the very serious position of having potentially misled Congress.

So given that Gonzales might be facing a perjury charge, it's not surprising that the administration is suddenly willing to talk (anonymously) about those "other activities".
A 2004 dispute over the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance program that led top Justice Department officials to threaten resignation involved computer searches through massive electronic databases, according to current and former officials briefed on the program.

It is not known precisely why searching the databases, or data mining, raised such a furious legal debate. But such databases contain records of the phone calls and e-mail messages of millions of Americans, and their examination by the government would raise privacy issues.

The N.S.A.’s data mining has previously been reported. But the disclosure that concerns about it figured in the March 2004 debate helps to clarify the clash this week between Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and senators who accused him of misleading Congress and called for a perjury investigation.

It is quite obvious this info was leaked on Gonzo's behalf. But in revealing that there was in fact data mining taking place at the NSA, the administration has opened up a whole nother can o' worms. Because up till now, they've adamantly denied that such activities were ever taking place. Indeed, as A.L. notes, the President himself called a press conference to try to dispel any concerns that the government was "mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans."

Glenn Greenwald has been among those pining for Congress to get to be bottom of just how extensively the NSA has been spying on Americans and in light of today's revelation I'm sure he'll have something to say on the issue in the coming days. Until then, the need to learn more just became that much more paramount.

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(Filed at State of the Day and All Spin Zone)

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