Picking up on a front page New York Times story
, “Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts,” the three broadcast networks led Friday night with the revelation, which animated the cable networks during the day, about how post-9/11 the NSA has monitored communication by a few thousand people in the U.S. in touch with those on al-Qaeda lists captured in Pakistan, or an expanding chain of those connected to that initial cache. Despite the limited focus on identifying sleeper agents before they could murder Americans, the networks treated the policy as a violation of the rights of all Americans. With “Big Brother” in front of a picture of President Bush, ABC anchor Bob Woodruff teased: “Big brother, the uproar over a secret presidential order giving the government unprecedented powers to spy on Americans." NBC's Brian Williams teased: "Government spying. Tonight, revelations of domestic eavesdropping on hundreds of phone calls by the federal government, part of top secret orders by President Bush after 9/11." Williams insisted that now “the questions begin about civil liberties and privacy and the protection of all of us.”
Though the White House maintains the policy is legal and congressional leaders as well as a federal judge were told about it in 2002, CBS characterized the policy as illegal. CBS anchor Bob Schieffer asked: "Has the government been using its spy satellites to illegally eavesdrop on Americans?” Schieffer then declared as fact: "It is against the law to wiretap or eavesdrop on the conversations of Americans in this country without a warrant from a judge, but the New York Times
says that is exactly what the President secretly ordered the National Security Agency to do in the months after 9/11.” (Transcripts of the newscast leads, and some excerpts from the New York Times
All three network stories did note how the operation uncovered a plot by a man in Detroit to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge.
In their story, New York Times
reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau at least noted the notification of congressional leaders and the relevant federal judge, the legal defense and the narrow focus on potential sleeper operatives inside the U.S. An excerpt:
....Administration officials are confident that existing safeguards are sufficient to protect the privacy and civil liberties of Americans, the officials say. In some cases, they said, the Justice Department eventually seeks warrants if it wants to expand the eavesdropping to include communications confined within the United States. The officials said the administration had briefed Congressional leaders about the program and notified the judge in charge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret Washington court that deals with national security issues....
Mr. Bush's executive order allowing some warrantless eavesdropping on those inside the United States - including American citizens, permanent legal residents, tourists and other foreigners - is based on classified legal opinions that assert that the president has broad powers to order such searches, derived in part from the September 2001 Congressional resolution authorizing him to wage war on Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, according to the officials familiar with the N.S.A. operation....
The program accelerated in early 2002 after the Central Intelligence Agency started capturing top Qaeda operatives overseas, including Abu Zubaydah, who was arrested in Pakistan in March 2002. The C.I.A. seized the terrorists' computers, cellphones and personal phone directories, said the officials familiar with the program. The N.S.A. surveillance was intended to exploit those numbers and addresses as quickly as possible, they said.
In addition to eavesdropping on those numbers and reading e-mail messages to and from the Qaeda figures, the N.S.A. began monitoring others linked to them, creating an expanding chain. While most of the numbers and addresses were overseas, hundreds were in the United States, the officials said. Woodruff soon added that “Senator Arlen Specter called the revelations 'devastating.'”...
After the special program started, Congressional leaders from both political parties were brought to Vice President Dick Cheney's office in the White House. The leaders, who included the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House intelligence committees, learned of the N.S.A. operation from Mr. Cheney, Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden of the Air Force, who was then the agency's director and is now a full general and the principal deputy director of national intelligence, and George J. Tenet, then the director of the C.I.A., officials said.
It is not clear how much the members of Congress were told about the presidential order and the eavesdropping program. Some of them declined to comment about the matter, while others did not return phone calls.
Later briefings were held for members of Congress as they assumed leadership roles on the intelligence committees, officials familiar with the program said. After a 2003 briefing, Senator Rockefeller, the West Virginia Democrat who became vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee that year, wrote a letter to Mr. Cheney expressing concerns about the program, officials knowledgeable about the letter said. It could not be determined if he received a reply. Mr. Rockefeller declined to comment. Aside from the Congressional leaders, only a small group of people, including several cabinet members and officials at the N.S.A., the C.I.A. and the Justice Department, know of the program....
END of Excerpt
The teases and leads to the Friday, December 16 editions of the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts:
#ABC's World News Tonight
Anchor Bob Woodruff teased, over a picture of President Bush with “Big Brother” imposed over him: “On World News Tonight: Big brother, the uproar over a secret presidential order giving the government unprecedented powers to spy on Americans.”
Woodruff set up his lead story, with the Big Brother” tag in a graphic showing images on an envelope, a cell phone and the White House: “Good evening, everyone. Ever since 9/11, government officials have said the terrorist attacks changed everything. Today, we learned of a profound shift in policy that affects the civil liberties of Americans. The New York Times reported that the President secretly authorized the National Security Agency to monitor and record phone calls and e-mail messages of U.S. citizens in this country without having to get a warrant. The NSA, according to the report, is now eavesdropping on as many as 500 Americans at any given time. Today, Senator Arlen Specter called the revelations 'devastating.' We begin with our chief White House correspondent, Martha Raddatz.”
# CBS Evening News
Bob Schieffer teased: “Good evening, I'm Bob Schieffer. Has the government been using its spy satellites to illegally eavesdrop on Americans? That's where we start tonight, then we'll cover these stories...”
Schieffer led, over “Spying on Americans” graphic: “It is against the law to wiretap or eavesdrop on the conversations of Americans in this country without a warrant from a judge, but the New York Times says that is exactly what the President secretly ordered the National Security Agency to do in the months after 9/11. The administration will neither confirm nor deny this story, but Congress is in a fury. Alan [Arlen] Specter, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, calls it inappropriate and says he will hold hearings to investigate. We begin with Bill Plante at the White House.”
# NBC Nightly News
Brian Williams teased: “Government spying. Tonight, revelations of domestic eavesdropping on hundreds of phone calls by the federal government, part of top secret orders by President Bush after 9/11.”
Williams opened his newscast, over a “Government Spying” graphic: “Good evening. This week here we've been showing you the reporting of our own Lisa Myers detailing how the Pentagon has been spying on people in this country, some of whom are members of anti-war groups. Well, today the story changed a bit with a page-one article in this morning's New York Times, saying the super-secret National Security Agency has been eavesdropping, spying on people in this country since 9/11. The Times has had this story for a year, but apparently agreed for national security reasons not to run the story until now. And now that it's all out, the questions begin about civil liberties and privacy and the protection of all of us. We begin here tonight with our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell.”