Warrantless Eavesdropping Timeline

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The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.



  • Congress passes the the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. Wiretapping can be performed only after a court order is obtained. An exception allows the President to use warrantless wiretapping to respond to national security issues.



  • Congress holds hearings on Warrantless Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance. (part I, part II)


  • The Church Committee hearings document extraordinary federal government abuse of surveillance powers. The Church Committee Final Report finds that covert action has been excessive, has circumvented the democratic process, and has violated the Constitution. The report concludes that Congress needs to prescribe rules for intelligence activities.


January 1978

  • President Jimmy Carter issues an executive order generally governing United States intelligence activities. (E.O. 12036)
2-202. Electronic Surveillance. The CIA may not engage in any electronic surveillance within the United States. No agency within the Intelligence Community shall engage in any electronic surveillance directed against a United States person abroad or designed to intercept a communication sent from, or intended for receipt within, the United States except as permitted by the procedures established pursuant to section 2-201.

October 1978

  • Analysis: By legislative history and by the act itself, inherent Presidential authority to conduct warrantless wiretaps is ruled out and made a crime. (Center for National Security Studies)


May 1979


  • A 4th Circuit decision, U.S. v. Truong Dinh Hung, applying pre-FISA standards, holds that "the executive branch should be excused from securing a warrant only when the surveillance is conducted 'primarily' for foreign intelligence reasons" (629 F.2d 908, 439 U.S. 1326, 667 F.2d 1105 (4th Cir. 1981)). The decision will influence interpretations of FISA language "the purpose" of surveillance is to collect foreign intelligence information as meaning "the primary purpose".


December 1981

December 4, 1981

  • President Ronald Reagan issues Executive Order 12333 establishing the general framework for U.S. intelligence activities. "[A]gencies are not authorized to use such techniques as electronic surveillance, unconsented physical searches, mail surveillance, physical surveillance, or monitoring devices unless they are in accordance with procedures established by the head of the agency concerned and approved by the Attorney General." (E.O. 12333)


December 1982

  • The DOD issues Procedures Governing the Activities of DOD Intelligence Components that Affect United States Persons. (DOD 5240.1-R)


April 1983

  • The DOJ issues Attorney General Guidelines for FBI Foreign Intelligence Collection and Foreign Counterintelligence Investigations. (DOJ)


July 1993


October 1994

  • FISA is amended to authorize secret physical searches of Americans' homes and offices. (Public Law 103-359)
  • Congress enacts The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (CALEA). The act requires telecommunications carriers to enable interception of conversations. (47 U.S.C. § § 1001-1021)


February 1995

February 9, 1995

April 1995

April 17, 1995

July 1995

July 19, 1995

  • Attorney General Janet Reno issues mimimization procedures for intelligence sharing. The FISC is informed of the new procedures and implements them, though they are not formally submitted under the law (FISC ruling, p. 14)


November 1997

  • FISA is amended to allow pen registers, trap and trace devices, and to grant access to certain business records of suspected agents of a foreign power. (Public Law 105-72, 50 U.S.C. §§ 1821-1829)


December 1999

  • The definition of "agent of a foreign power" is amended to include people working for a foreign government who intentionally enter the US with a fake ID or who obtain a fake ID while inside the US. (Public Law 106-120)


January 2000

January 21, 2000

  • Attorney General Janet Reno augments the July 1995 minimization procedures for intelligence sharing, to permit more sharing of FISA cases with criminal investigation. The procedures are promulgated to address problems identified by the Attorney General's Review Team about the FBI investigation of possible espionage at Los Alamos National Laboratory (GAO-01-780, p. 16).

February 2000

  • The NSA delivers a report Legal Standards for the Intelligence Community in Conducting Electronic Surveillance to Congress. (NSA)

March 2000

  • The government first notifies the FISC of cases of unauthorized dissemination of FISA information to the FBI New York field office. (FISA ruling, p. 16)

April 2000

April 12, 2000

  • NSA Director Michael Hayden makes a statement before the House intelligence committee. He outlines regulatory and oversight mechanisms concerning electronic surveillance of U.S. persons, and responds to allegations that NSA provides intelligence information to U.S. companies. (Hayden Statement)

August 2000

August 15, 2000

  • The Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit issues a decision in United States Telecom Association v. FCC, effectively interpreting CALEA to require pen register trapping of information such as cell phone tower locations and email headers and routing.

September 2000

  • The government confesses to the FISC some 75 cases of mistatement and omission of material fact in FISA applications concerning terrorist attacks against the United States. (FISC ruling, p. 16)

October 2000

  • The DOJ core group and briefing protocol established in January are temporarily disbanded. (GAO-01-780, pp. 4, 21)
  • A DOJ coordination working group sends a decision memo to Attorney General Janet Reno. The Attorney General takes no action on the memo before leaving office. (GAO-01-780, pp. 22, 23)

October 17, 2000

  • OLC issues an opinion about sharing court-authorized electronic surveillance information with intelligence. "In extraordinary circumstances electronic surveillance conducted pursuant to Title III may yield information of such importance to national security or foreign relations that the President's constitutional powers will permit disclosure of the information to the intelligence community notwithstanding the restrictions of Title III."

November 2000

  • The NSA begins soliciting concept studies on its TRAILBLAZER program. (NSA)

December 2000

  • FISA "chain of command" is amended, FISA judges may take into account the previous behavior and circumstances of a target. (Public Law 106-567)
  • National Security Agency/Central Security Service releases its Transition 2001 document for the incoming Bush Administration, outlining and reasoning proposed structural changes to the organizations. (Transition 2001, AP)

December 28, 2000


January 2001

January 20, 2001

February 2001

  • QWEST refuses to cooperate in an NSA program to eavesdrop on domestic communications. (Sources: Documents: Qwest was targeted, Rocky Mountain News, October 11, 2007, NSA Sought Data Before 9/11, by Shane Harris, National Journal, November 2, 2007.)

March 2001

  • The government confesses to the FISC another series of mistatement of material fact in FISA applications (see November 2000). (Source: FISC ruling, p. 17)

April 2001

  • In light of problems, the FBI promulgates detailed new procedures governing submission of FISA surveillance requests. (FISC ruling, p. 17)
  • The DOJ core group, disbanded in October 2000, is reestablished with a broader role. (GAO-01-780, pp. 5, 29, 30)

June 2001

June 12, 2001

  • The Office of Intelligence Policy and Review sends a formal articulation of notification policy to all staff. (GAO-01-780, pp. 32-33)

July 2001

  • The GAO issues a report, FBI Intelligence Investigations: Coordination Within Justice on Counterintelligence Criminal Matters is Limited. (GAO-01-780)
  • The NSA awards a potentially $2 billion contract (Project GROUNDBREAKER) to an alliance led by CSC, and including Verizon as well as many defense contractors, for Information Technology Infrastructure services. Former QUEST CEO Joe Nacchio will claim that QWEST lost this contract as retaliation for not cooperating with domestic eavesdropping. (Sources: Rocky Mountain News, 10/11/2007; NSA Press Release, July 31, 2007.)

August 2001

August 6, 2001

  • The Attorney General augments the July 1995 minimization procedures for intelligence sharing.

September 2001

September 11, 2001

  • Attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
  • FISC judge Royce C. Lamberth grants five warrantless surveillance requests after the Pentagon attack. (Source: AP, 6/24/2007)

After September 11

  • In September and early October, John Yoo prepares several preliminary opinions relating to hypothetical random domestic electronic surveillance activities. (Source: IG report, p. 11)

September 12, 2001

  • FBI Director Robert Mueller and Justice Department officials go to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court presiding judge Royce C. Lamberth, who agrees to expedited procedures to issue FISA warrants for eavesdropping. The requirement for detailed paperwork is greatly eased, allowing the NSA to begin eavesdropping the next day on anyone suspected of a link to al Qaeda, every person who had ever been a member or supporter of militant Islamic groups, and everyone ever linked to a terrorist watch list in the United States or abroad. (Source: WaPo)

September 15, 2001

  • The FISC revises information sharing procedures to authorize criminal division attorneys to review international terrorism case files. (FISC ruling, p. 18)

September 17, 2001

  • NSA Director Michael Hayden begins an expansive surveillance program. The NSA forwards intercepts and identifying information to the FBI, without FBI request for the information and without following minimization procedures. Hayden begins these early NSA activities without Presidential authorization, using Executive Order 12333. (Sources: Draft NSA IG report, IG report, p. 5; Hayden speech; Pelosi letter; emptywheel)

September 18, 2001

  • "Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote" on the use of force authorization, the administration seeks to add the words 'in the United States and' after 'appropriate force' to the agreed-upon text (WaPo). According to Sen. Tom Daschle:
"This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas -- where we all understood he wanted authority to act -- but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused."
  • Congress authorizes the use of United States military force against those responsible for the attacks. (S.J. Res. 23)

About September 21, 2001

  • Ten days after 9/11, John Yoo writes an internal memo arguing that the NSA could use "electronic surveillance techniques and equipment that are more powerful and sophisticated than those available to law enforcement agencies in order to intercept telephonic communications and observe the movement of persons but without obtaining warrants for such uses." Yoo argues that the actions are justified as a result of the 9/11 attacks. (Source: James Bamford, Shadow Factory)

September 25, 2001

  • John Yoo writes the infamous memorandum opinion asserting basically unlimited Presidential power in fighting terrorism. (DOJ)

September 26, 2001

  • NSA Director Michael Hayden determines that any Afghan telephone number in contact with a U.S. telephone number on or after this date is of presumed foreign intelligence value, and can be passed to the FBI. (Source: Draft NSA IG Report, p. 3)

October 2001

October 1, 2001

  • NSA Director Michael Hayden briefs Congressional intelligence committee members on NSA activities. (WaPo)

October 3, 2001

  • The 15-day exception in FISA after declaration of war expires.

October 4, 2001

  • The Program - President George Bush issues the original presidential order for the warrantless spying program, "authorizing a range of surveillance activities inside of the United States without statutory authorization or court approval, including electronic surveillance of Americans’ telephone and Internet communications." The authorization is based on a declaration of extraordinary emergency following the attacks. (Sources: Draft NSA IG Report; EFF complaint; WaPo, 8/20/2007).
  • The DOJ Office of Legal Counsel sends a memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, concerning legal standards on the monitoring of communications by potential terrorists. (Source: Steven Bradbury declaration).

October 5, 2001

  • President George Bush issues a directive on information sharing with Congress. Classified or sensitive law enforcement information will be shared only with the "gang of eight": the Speaker of the House, the House Minority Leader, the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, and the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Intelligence Committees in the House and Senate. (Directive)

October 6, 2001

  • The program begins operation. (Sources: Barton Gellman, Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency; emptywheel)
  • NSA Director Michael Hayden meets with staff and explains the presidential authorization. (Source: James Bamford, Shadow Factory; emptywheel)

October 11, 2001

you indicated that you had been operating since the September 11 attacks with an expansive view of your authorities with respect to the conduct of electronic surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and related statutes, orders, regulations, and guidelines.
Therefore, I am concerned whether, and to what extent, the National Security Agency has received specific presidential authorization for the operations you are conducting.

October 18, 2001

In my briefing, I was attempting to emphasize that I used my authorities to adjust NSA’s collection and reporting.

October 21, 2001

October 23, 2001

  • The DOJ Office of Legal Counsel sends a memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, expressing views concerning the legality of potential responses to terrorist activity. The memo states that domestic military operations are not regulated by the Constitution's Fourth Amendment.

October 25, 2001

  • White House officials and NSA Director Michael Hayden brief Congressional intelligence committee heads Porter Goss, Nancy Pelosi, Bob Graham and Richard Shelby on the programs. (Sources: IG report, p. 16; Negroponte response)

October 26, 2001

  • The USA PATRIOT Act amends FISA. The original standard that "the purpose" of the surveillance is to obtain foreign intelligence information is lowered to "a significant purpose".

November 2001

  • The FISC formally adopts the July 1995 minimization procedures for intelligence sharing, as augmented in January 2000 and August 2001. The procedures had previously been practice rather than formal rule. (FISC ruling, p. 7, In Re Sealed Case No. 02-001, p. 21-22)

November 2, 2001

  • John Yoo for OLC sends a memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft, concerning the legality of certain communications intelligence activities (Source: Steven Bradbury declaration). This is the first opinion "directly supporting the legality of the PSP." It focuses almost exclusively on the Terrorist Surveillance Program. (Source: IG Report)
  • President George W. Bush makes an authorization concerning the program. (Source: OVP letter, 8/20/2007)

November 14, 2001

December 2001

December 4, 2001

  • Senate appropriations committee heads Daniel Inouye and Ted Stevens are briefed on the program. (Source: Negroponte response)


Early 2002

  • According to the original New York Times reporting exposing the program, a secret presidential order authorizing a warrantless NSA eavesdropping program is issued in early 2002. (NYT). Later reporting about the program has the presidential order being issued in the fall of 2001.
  • Government lawyers and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court presiding judge Royce C. Lamberth reach a compromise agreement on FISA warrant applications in cases where the government has already conducted warrantless surveillance. These applications are to be carefully "tagged"; they are to be presented only to the presiding judge; and information obtained through warrantless NSA surveillance cannot form the basis for obtaining the FISA warrant, instead, independently gathered information must provide the justification for FISA monitoring. (WaPo)

January 2002

  • DARPA creates the Information Awareness Office.
  • FISC Presiding Judge Royce Lambert is read into the program, (Source: IG Report, p. 17)

January 9, 2002

  • The DOJ Office of Legal Counsel sends a memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft, concerning the Attorney General’s review of the legality of the President’s order authorizing the program, in the course of considering that program’s reauthorization, which was done approximately every 45 days. (Source: Steven Bradbury declaration).

January 10, 2002

  • In a signing statement on a defense appropriations bill, President Bush disavows a section of the act prohibiting spending on special access programs until 30 days after congressional defense committee notification of the program. (White House)

February 2002

February 8, 2002

  • The DOJ Office of Legal Counsel sends a memo to the counsel of an unknown agency, regarding the legality of certain hypothetical activities. (Source: Steven Bradbury declaration).

February 19, 2002

March 2002

March 5, 2002

March 6, 2002

  • Attorney General John Ashcroft adopts new intelligence sharing procedures, and promulgates them in form of a memo to the FBI and senior Justice Department executives. The new procedures are intended to break down the wall of communication between intelligence gathering and law enforcement. (Sources: FISC ruling, p. 6; In Re Sealed Case No. 02-001, p. 22)

March 7, 2002

  • The Justice Department moves the new intelligence sharing procedures before the FISC. (Source: FISC ruling, p. 4)

March 28, 2002

  • Abu Zubaydah is captured in Pakistan. "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." (Source: NYT)

April 2002

April 10, 2002

April 11, 2002

  • Attorney General John Ashcroft issues a directive on the building of investigative databases. (Discussion: emptywheel.)

April 17, 2002

  • The government files a supplemental memorandum of law in support of its March 7 motion. (FISC ruling, p. 4)

May 2002

May 17, 2002

  • The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) issues a ruling granting the Justice Department motion for new procedures, but substantively modifies the procedures. The ruling rejects arguments in the April 17 memorandum, and sidesteps questions of "jurisdiction". (FISC ruling, WaPo)

About May 18, 2002

The new presiding judge is informed of the warrantless surveillance program, and agrees not to disclose the secret program to the ten other FISC judges. She accepts the early 2002 "tagging" compromise regarding FISA warrant applications in cases where the government has already conducted warrantless surveillance. (WaPo)

June 2002

June 12, 2002

June 19, 2002

  • NSA Director Michael Hayden speaks before a joint closed-door session of the House and Senate Intelligence committees. Hayden discloses the September 10, 2001 NSA intercepts of two Arabic-language messages suggesting that terrorist attacks against the United States were imminent. (Source: Cheney's Call, by Murray Waas, National Journal.)

June 20, 2002

  • Vice President Dick Cheney, angry about the leaks of the June 19th disclosures, calls Senate Intelligence Chairman Bob Graham. (Source: Cheney's Call, by Murray Waas, National Journal.)
  • Senator Michael DeWine introduces a bill that would lower the FISA standard of proof for issuance of orders regarding non-United States persons from probable cause to reasonable suspicion (S. 2659).

July 2002

July 8, 2002

July 19, 2002

  • The government tests the FISC by submitting an application expressly proposing using the March 2002 procedures without the May 2002 FISC modifications. (Source: In Re Sealed Case No. 02-001, p. 23.)

July 22, 2002

  • Jay S. Bybee at OLC sends a memo to the DAG, about information sharing (Source: OLC Memo, 5/6/2004; Discussion: emptywheel)

July 31, 2002

  • James A. Baker for the DOJ makes a statement before the Senate intelligence committee, against the lowered standard of proof for FISA warrants of S. 2659. "Because the proposed change raises both significant legal and practical issues, the Administration at this time is not prepared to support it." (Source: DOJ; Discussion: Glenn Greenwald, Knight Ridder.)

August 2002

August 2, 2002

August 21, 2002

September 2002

  • The NSA contracts out research for a new early-warning datamining program called Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD). (GovExec)
  • The NSA contracts out the Trailblazer program to a private firm. (Hayden Statement, p. 8, SAIC)

September 9, 2002

September 23, 2002

October 2002

October 1, 2002

  • The DOD Northern Command (NORTHCOM) in Colorado Springs begins responsibility for homeland defense: it conducts operations to deter, prevent and defeat terrorist threats in the United States and its territories. The command's area of responsibility covers the continental United States, Alaska, Canada, Mexico and surrounding water out to 500 miles. (Global Security, Wikipedia)
Two fusion centers receive and analyze intelligence gathered by other government agencies. The centers conduct data mining, where information received from the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, state and local police, and the Pentagon's Talon system are cross-checked to see if patterns develop that could indicate terrorist activities. (WaPo)

October 10, 2002

  • Joint resolution to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq. (H.J. Res. 114)

Around October 10

  • NSA cements a deal with a corporate giant to develop a datamining system. (Hayden Statement, p. 9)

October 11, 2002

October 17, 2002

  • NSA Director Michael V. Hayden makes a statement before the joint inquiry of the Congressional intelligence committees. Hayden discusses intelligence performance prior to the 9/11 attacks, the relationship between SIGINT and law enforcement, and the line between the government's need for counterterrorism information and the privacy interests of individuals residing in the United States. (Hayden Statement)

November 2002

November 9, 2002

  • John Markoff in the New York Times reports that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing a tracking system called "Total Information Awareness" (TIA), that claims to detect terrorists through analyzing troves of information. (NYT)

November 18, 2002


January 2003

January 31, 2003

  • Frank Koza, a supervisor at the NSA, orders staff to step up surveillance against UN Security Council Members, as part of a battle to win votes in favor of the war against Iraq. The targets of the heightened surveillance are the delegations from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea and Pakistan at the UN headquarters in New York. The NSA seeks tipoffs on "how delegations on the Security Council will vote on any second resolution on Iraq, but also 'policies', 'negotiating positions', 'alliances' and 'dependencies' - the 'whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to US goals or to head off surprises'." (Observer).
The NSA memo will later be revealed to have been leaked to the Observer by Katharine Gun, a translator at GCHQ. She will be charged under the Official Secrets Act, with the case dropped when the goverment refuses to produce evidence. (BBC, ZNet)

February 2003

February 25, 2003

  • The OLC sends a memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft, concerning the potential use of certain information collected in the course of classified foreign intelligence activities. (Source: Steven Bradbury declaration).

February 27, 2003

March 2003

March 21, 2003

  • The Congressional Research Service issues an updated version of its report "Privacy: Total Information Awareness Programs and Related Information Access". (CRS)

March 25, 2003

  • President George W. Bush issues an executive order amending Bill Clinton's E.O. 12958 on classification of national security information. (E.O. 13292)

April 2003

May 2003

  • Responsibility for preparing the threat assessment memorandum associated with the 45-day program reauthorization cycle is shifted from the CIA to the newly-established Terrorist Threat Integration Center. (Source: IG Report, p. 8)

May 2, 2003

  • Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz directs that the TALON report program be instituted department wide with a memo, “Collection, Reporting, and Analysis of Terrorist Threats to DoD Within the United States." The memo also directs that TALON reports be provided to the DoD Counterintelligence Field Activity for incorporation into a database repository. (Source: DOD IG report, p. 30)

May 30, 2003

  • The OLC sends a 19-page memo to the General Counsel of another agency.

July 2003

July 17, 2003

  • Vice President Dick Cheney, the Director of Central Intelligence and the Director of the NSA make some disclosure of the program to Senate and House intelligence committee heads. (Source: John Negroponte response)
  • Following from the briefing, Senator John Rockefeller sends a hand-written letter to the Vice President expressing concern over the program and his inability to evaluate it on legal and technical grounds. He stores a copy of the letter for safekeeping. (Rockefellar)

August 2003

September 2003

September 23, 2003

  • Congress denies use of funds for the TIA program, and any successor programs.

October 2003

October 3, 2003

October 6, 2003

December 2003

December 11, 2003


  • Sometime in 2004, James A. Baker, the counsel for intelligence policy in the Justice Department's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, discovers that the government's failure to share information about its spying program had rendered useless the "tagging" compromise the FISC presiding judges had insisted upon to shield the court from tainted information. He alerts Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who complains to Attorney General John Ashcroft, prompting a temporary suspension of the NSA spying program. The judge requires that high-level Justice officials certify the information was complete, or face possible perjury charges (Sources: WaPo, Newsweek)

January 2004

Late January, 2004

March 2004

March 4, 2004

  • James Comey briefs Attorney General John Ashcroft on concerns about ability to recertify the legality of the program. Ashcroft agrees that changes need to be made. (Sources: IG Report, p. 21; WaPo, 5/15/2007)
  • Afternoon - Ashcroft is rushed to George Washington University Hospital, and is diagnosed with pancreatitis.

March 5, 2004

  • Jack Goldsmith advises James Comey that John Ashcroft's hospitalization makes him absent from control of the DOJ. Alberto Gonzales is cc'd. This effectively memorializes that Comey is in charge. (Source: IG Report, p. 21)
  • Gonzales calls Goldsmith requesting a letter stating that John Yoo's prior opinions "covered the program". Patrick Philbin understands that this is not a request for a new opinion, but merely for an acknowledgement that prior opinions had concluded that the programs were legal. Following from this, Goldsmith, Comey, and Patrick Philbin re-examine Yoo's memoranda, with a view toward determining whether the opinions had "covered the program" as actually implemented. Comey concludes that some of the "Other Intelligence Activities" were not accurately described, and that therefore the memoranda do not provide a basis for declaring the activities legal. (Source: IG Report, pp. 21, 22)

March 6, 2004

March 7, 2004

March 9, 2004

  • Attorney General John Ashcroft undergoes a gallbladder operation. (DOJ)
  • White House counsel Alberto Gonzales summons Jack Goldsmith to the White House to try to persuade him that Yoo's analyses are sufficient. Gonzales next argues for a 30-day bridge, to get past the next approval deadline on March 11, and to allow John Ashcroft to return. Goldsmith refuses, because aspects of the program lack legal support (Source: IG report, p. 22).
  • noon - A meeting is held in the office of White House chief of staff Andrew Card. Card, Dick Cheney, Robert Mueller, John McLaughlin, Michael Hayden, and Alberto Gonzales are present. (Source: IG report, p. 22).
  • Another meeting is held, this time also with Comey, Goldsmith, and Philbin present. The White House and the DOJ deadlock. (Sources: IG report, pp. 22, 23); WaPo, 6/7/2007; dKos diary).

March 9 or after

  • Acting Attorney General James B. Comey refuses to give his certification to crucial aspects of the classified program, as required under the procedures set up by the White House. (NYT, Newsweek)

March 10, 2004

  • morning - President George Bush instructs Vice President Dick Cheney to call a meeting with congressional leaders and inform them of the impasse. (Source: IG report, p. 23)
  • about 3:00 or 4:00 p.m - The White House gives an "emergency meeting" about the program to Gang of Eight congressional leaders. Dick Cheney leads the meeting, with Alberto Gonzales, Andrew Card, Michael Hayden, John McLaughlin, and George Tenet present. (Sources: IG report, p. 23; WaPo; AP; Newsweek)
  • The President instructs Gonzales that Gonzales and Card should go to the hospital and speak with John Ashcroft. (Source: IG report, p. 24)
  • 6:20 p.m - Card calls the hospital and speaks with an agent in Ashcroft's security detail. Card tells the agent that the president will be calling shortly. Ashcroft's wife Janet tells the agent that John would not accept the call from the president. (Sources: IG report, p. 23; WaPo)
  • 6:30 p.m - The security detail agent calls Ashcroft's chief of staff David Ayres, and conveys the information from Janet Ashcroft that calls should not be made for the next day or two.
  • 6:45 p.m. - Card and the President call the hospital. Janet Ashcroft takes the call from Card, and learns that Card and Gonzales will be coming to the hospital.
  • 7:00 p.m. - Ayres tells James Comey about the impending visit. Comey directs his chief of staff to "get as many of my people as possible to the hospital immediately". Comey then calls Robert Mueller and asks him to come as witness.
  • 7:20 p.m - Comey arrives at the hospital and runs up the flights of stairs. Jack Goldsmith and Patrick Philbin arrive, and the three meet in a room next door. (Source: IG report, pp. 24, 25)
  • 7:35 p.m. - Gonzales and Card arrive at Ashcroft's room. Gonzales has the March 11 reauthorization in a manila envelope. Ashcroft tells Card and Gonzales "in very strong terms" about his objections to the program. He then points to Comey as acting Attorney General.
  • 7:40 p.m. - Card and Gonzales leave. Mueller arrives.
  • Card calls Comey and demands that Comey come to the White House. Comey gets Card to agree on the presence of DOJ Solicitor General Ted Olsen as witness.
  • 11:00 pm. - Comey and Olsen meet with Card and Gonzales. Gonzales will say that little was achieved at the meeting other than acknowledging that a "situation" exists.

March 11, 2004

  • morning - President George Bush reauthorizes the program without DOJ's certification of legality. White House counsel Alberto Gonzales signs instead. The authorization contains language drafted by David Addington that asserts presidential authority to displace any contrary provisions of law. (Source: IG report, p. 26)
  • morning - White House chief of staff Andrew Card calls acting Attorney General James Comey, and informs him of the signing.
  • noon - Gonzales tells Jack Goldsmith at OLC that the president had made an interpretation of law, and that DOJ should not act in contradiction of the President's wishes.
  • noon - Card meets with FBI head Robert Mueller. Card tells Mueller that if no legislative fix can be found by May 6, the program will be discontinued. Mueller tells Card that the details of the events (no DOJ present at the congressional briefing, the hospital visit) make it look like the White House was trying to do an end run around DOJ, whom they knew to have serious reservations about the legality of the program.
  • House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is given a private briefing on the program. (Source: DailyKos diary)

March 12, 2004

  • 1:30 a.m. - FBI director Robert Mueller drafts but does not send a resignation letter.
  • morning - James Comey and Mueller attend the daily threat briefing. The President meets with Comey after. Comey outlines his concerns about the program. From the conversation, Comey feels that the President has not been fully informed of the concerns. The President next meets with Mueller. Mueller outlines the issues, and tells the President he had considered resigning.
  • Comey decides not to direct the FBI to stop cooperation with the program. The decision is memorialized in a one page memo from Jack Goldsmith. Goldsmith concludes that legal determinations by the president are binding on the entire executive branch.
  • A working group, headed by OLC, is organized to reanalyze legality of the program.

March 14, 2004

  • A presentation and a bullet point document are prepared for purposes of providing legal assistance and advice to other Executive Branch officials concerning DOJ’s views about foreign intelligence activities.

March 16, 2004

  • James Comey drafts a memo to Alberto Gonzales. The memo states that DOJ is still unable to find legal basis to support the some of the programs. He recommends that the programs be discontinued immediately.
  • Gonzales responds that the president has definitively addressed the legal interpretation.
  • Comey drafts but does not send a resignation letter. (The date is from the document. It would fit better with earlier events.)

March 17, 2004

  • President George Bush decides to modify certain PSP intelligence-gathering activities and to discontinue certain Other Intelligence Activities that DOJ believed were legally unsupported. The directive is expressed as two modifications to the March 11 authorization. (Source: IG report, p. 29)

Around March

  • About the time of the hospital visit, the White House suspends parts of the program for several months and moves ahead with more stringent requirements on the NSA program. (NYT)
  • After the hospital standoff, Bush signed two orders modifying his domestic spying programs on March 19 and April 2. (Source: Warrantless Wiretapping: Nine Days of Illegal Intent, based on a list of documents released by the Vice President's office to the Senate Judiciary Committee).

April 2004

April 19, 2004

  • The President speaks about the Patriot Act to an audience in Hershey, Pennsylvania. He parses his words carefully. (White House)
For years, law enforcement used so-called roving wire taps to investigate organized crime. You see, what that meant is if you got a wire tap by court order -- and, by the way, everything you hear about requires court order, requires there to be permission from a FISA court, for example.

April 20, 2004

  • The President speaks about the Patriot Act and information sharing to an audience in Buffalo, New York. He again parses his words. (White House)
Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so.

May 2004

May 4, 2004

  • The GAO issues a report on federal datamining programs. (GAO-04-548)

May 6, 2004

May 11, 2004

  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard B. Myers gives a speech at a technology conference on "Combating Emerging Threats". (Source: JCS)

May 12, 2004

  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard B. Myers testifies before a Senate Defense Subcommittee Hearing. (Source: Senate Committee on Appropriations)

June 2004

  • Thomas M. Tamm first contacts the New York Times to disclose his awareness of the illegal NSA program. (Source: Newsweek)

July 2004

July 14, 2004

  • First PR/TT order - The FISC signs the first PR/TT order, restarting NSA bulk access to metadata (see March 26, 2004). (Source: Draft NSA IG Report, p. 39)

August 2004

August 9, 2004

  • President George W. Bush issues an authorization concerning electronic surveillance activities (Source: OVP letter, 8/20/2007).

September 2004

September 17, 2004

  • President George W. Bush issues an authorization concerning electronic surveillance activities (Source: OVP letter, 8/20/2007).

October 2004

  • New York Times reporter James Risen first presents to his editors his story about the secret N.S.A. wiretapping program. (MediaChannel)

November 2004

November 9, 2004

December 2004

  • The Heritage Foundation releases a report "DHS 2.0: Rethinking the Department of Homeland Security" (Heritage Foundation). Reorganization of the Department of Homeland Security will be influenced by this report.

December 17, 2004

  • FISA is amended to include the "lone wolf" provision, that non-US individuals engaged in terrorism are defined as agents of a foreign power even when they are not agents of a foreign power. (Public Law 108-458, CRS)


February 2005

February 3, 2005

April 2005

  • Responsibility for preparing the threat assessment memorandums associated with the 45-day program reauthorization cycle is shifted to the newly-established Office of the Director of National Intelligence, under John Negroponte. Memos from this period are called the "scary memos". (Source: CIA IG Report, p. 8, 9)

April 19, 2005

  • President George W. Bush issues an authorization concerning electronic surveillance activities. The date is roughly in line with the regular 45-day reauthorization cycle. (Source: OVP letter, 8/20/2007)

May 2005

  • The Department of Justice Audit Division releases a report "The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Efforts to Hire, Train and Retain Intelligence Analysts." (Audit Report 05-20)

June 2005

June 14, 2005

  • President George W. Bush issues an authorization concerning electronic surveillance activities. The date is roughly in line with the regular 45-day reauthorization cycle. (Source: OVP letter, 8/20/2007)

July 2005

July 13, 2005

  • The Department of Homeland Security is reorganized.

Mid July

  • In a Hoover Institution report, Richard A. Posner recommends creation of a new domestic intelligence agency within the the Department of Homeland Security, this to "avoid the deep tension between criminal investigation and national security intelligence that plagues the FBI." Posner points out how the DHS reorganization plan allows for creation of a new agency. (Hoover Press)

July 25, 2005

  • Whistleblower Russell Tice is subpoenaed in an investigation of leaks of classified information.

July 26, 2005

  • President George W. Bush issues an authorization concerning electronic surveillance activities. The date is roughly in line with the regular 45-day reauthorization cycle. (Source: OVP letter, 8/20/2007)

August 2005

  • The Congressional Research Service releases a report on the Department of Homeland Security reorganization plan.

September 2005

September 10, 2005

  • President George W. Bush issues an authorization concerning electronic surveillance activities. The date is roughly in line with the regular 45-day reauthorization cycle. (Source: OVP letter, 8/20/2007)

October 2005

October 26, 2005

  • President George W. Bush issues an authorization concerning electronic surveillance activities. The date is roughly in line with the regular 45-day reauthorization cycle. (Source: OVP letter, 8/20/2007)

December 2005

December 6, 2005

  • President George W. Bush meets with New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller in the Oval Office in an attempt to talk them out of running the warrantless surveillance story. (Newsweek)

December 13, 2005

  • President George W. Bush issues an authorization concerning electronic surveillance activities. The date is roughly in line with the regular 45-day reauthorization cycle. (Source: OVP letter, 8/20/2007)

December 16, 2005

  • Reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau disclose the warrantless eavesdropping program in their New York Times article "Bush Secretly Lifted Some Limits on Spying in U.S. After 9/11, Officials Say".

December 18, 2005

  • President Bush gives an 8-minute live TV address and confirms that he had authorized the warrantless searches and phone taps. (transcript)
I authorized the National Security Agency, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations.

December 19, 2005

  • 8:30 a.m. - Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Deputy Director for National Intelligence General Michael Hayden give a press briefing on the program. (transcript)
GONZALES: We've had discussions with members of Congress, certain members of Congress, about whether or not we could get an amendment to FISA, and we were advised that that was not likely to be -- that was not something we could likely get, certainly not without jeopardizing the existence of the program, and therefore, killing the program. And that -- and so a decision was made that because we felt that the authorities were there, that we should continue moving forward with this program.
  • 10:30 a.m. - President George W. Bush gives a press briefing, again acknowledging parts of the program. (transcript)
I authorized the interception of international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. This program is carefully reviewed approximately every 45 days to ensure it is being used properly. Leaders in the United States Congress have been briefed more than a dozen times on this program.

December 20, 2005

  • Judge James Robertson resigns his position with the FISC, apparently in protest of the warrantless surveillance. (WaPo, Miami Herald)

December 22, 2005

  • The DOJ defends the warrantless program in a letter to the heads of the Congressional intelligence committees. (OLA Letter)
the President determined it was necessary following September 11 to create an early warning detection system. FISA could not have provided the speed and agility required for the early warning detection system.

December 24, 2005

  • Reporters Eric Lichtblau and James Risen disclose data-mining components of the warrantless eavesdropping program in their New York Times article "Spy Agency Mined Vast Data Trove, Officials Report". (NYT)

December 30, 2005

  • The DOJ announces it has opened a criminal investigation into leaks of classified information about the warrantless NSA surveillance program to the New York Times. (AP, NYT, WaPo)

Late December

  • Sen. Patty Murray writes to the IRS about IRS collection of taxpayer party affiliation. The information was acquired through purchase of data from an outside vendor mining voter registration rolls. (Tacoma News Tribune)


January 2006

January 1, 2006

  • Eric Lichtblau and James Risen at the New York Times first disclose the March 10, 2004 hospital meeting with John Ashcroft.
  • President George Bush defends the program while speaking at Brooke Army Medical Center. (Source: Lichtblau, NYT, 1/2/2006)

January 4, 2006

  • Rep. Jane Harman sends a letter to President Bush that the "gang of eight" standard of Congressional intelligence notification is illegal. (Harman letter)
However, with respect to the NSA program that you have disclosed, I have reviewed the law and now believe that the practice of briefing only certain Members of the intelligence committees violates the specific requirements of the National Security Act of 1947.

January 5, 2006

  • The Congressional Reseach Service releases a report "Presidential Authority to Conduct Warrantless Electronic Surveillance to Gather Foreign Intelligence Information." The rebuke is mild: "the Administration's legal justification, as presented in the summary analysis from the Office of Legislative Affairs, does not seem to be as well-grounded" as the Administration suggests. (CRS; NYT, 1/6/2006)

January 18, 2006

  • The Congressional Research Service issues a memorandum opinion, "Statutory Procedures Under Which Congress Is To Be Informed of U.S. Intelligence Activities, Including Covert Actions". Though in hedged language, the report essentially supports Jane Harman's position that Gang of Eight notification of the TSP is illegal.
If the NSA surveillance program were to be considered an intelligence collection program, limiting congressional notification of the NSA program to the Gang of Eight ... would appear to be inconsistent with the law.
(Sources: CRS; WaPo 1/18/2006; NYT 1/19/2006)

January 19, 2006

  • The DOJ issues a 42-page defense, "Legal Authorities Supporting the Activities of the National Security Agency Described by the President." (DOJ, WaPo, 1/19/2006)

January 23, 2006

  • Deputy Director for National Intelligence General Michael Hayden defends the program in a speech at the National Press Club. Hayden specifically denies that the government is doing "driftnet" programs. (Transcript, Reuters)

January 27, 2006

  • President George W. Bush issues an authorization concerning electronic surveillance. The date is roughly in line with the regular 45-day reauthorization cycle. (Source: OVP letter, 8/20/2007)

January 24, 2006

  • Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defends the program in a speech at Georgetown University Law Center.

January 31, 2006

  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation files a lawsuit against AT&T, accusing the telecom giant of violating the law and the privacy of its customers by collaborating with the NSA in its program to wiretap and datamine Americans' communications. (EFF)

February 2006

February 2, 2006

  • U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan approves monitoring of e-mail header information--address, date, and time etc.-- under Patriot Act "pen register" and "trap and trace" sections, without need for evidence of criminal behavior. (CNet)

February 6, 2006

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee begins hearings on the surveillance. (transcript; Gonzales statement; firedoglake)

February 8, 2006

  • In a turn-around from the Gang of Eight notification policy, the administration briefs the full House intelligence committee on the program. (WaPo, 2/19/2006)

February 15, 2006

  • The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility announces it has opened an internal investigation into the department's role in approving the warrantless domestic eavesdropping program. "They will not be making a determination on the lawfulness of the NSA program but rather will determine whether the department lawyers complied with their professional obligations in connection with that program" says the DOJ. (WaPo)

February 19, 2006

  • Senator Bill Frist states on CBS's Face the Nation that no new intelligence legislation was needed and that court orders are not necessary before domestic eavesdropping. Source: Deb Reichmann. "Frist: No New Spy Legislation Needed." Associated Press. February 20, 2006.

February 28, 2006

  • Bill Young and John Murtha, majority and ranking heads of the defense subcommittee of the House appropriations committee, are briefed on the program.

March 2006

March 21, 2006

  • President George W. Bush issues an authorization concerning electronic surveillance activities. The date is roughly in line with the regular 45-day reauthorization cycle. (Source: OVP letter, 8/20/2007)

March 28, 2006

  • Five former judges from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where they support a proposal to give the court formal oversight of the National Security Agency's eavesdropping program. Source: Eric Lightblau, "Judges on Secretive Panel Speak Out on Spy Program", New York Times, March 29, 2006.

March 30, 2006

  • Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz writes a memo, “Threats to the Department of Defense,” changing the scope of the TALON system. The memo designates that the system should report information for possible international terrorist activity only, and be retained as intelligence rather than law enforcement information. (DOD IG report, p. 32)

March 31, 2006

  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation files for a preliminary injunction in its class action lawsuit against AT&T. At the request of the Department of Justice, "much of the evidence that was to be included in the motion—as well as the legal arguments based on that evidence" is held back from the motion. (EFF)
  • One time Nixon White House counselor John Dean tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that President Bush's domestic spying exceeds the wrongdoing that toppled his former boss from power. Source: Laurie Kellman, "John Dean Blasts Warrantless Eavesdropping", Associated Press, March 31, 2006.

May 2006

May 2, 2006

  • Newsweek reports that although the NSA is supposed to follow data minimization procedures that protect the identities of its intelligence targets, the agency has apparently revealed the names of more than 10,000 U.S. citizens that is has monitored. (Spying: Giving Out U.S. Names, Newsweek, May 2, 2006)

May 5, 2006

  • President Bush issues a presidential memorandum that allows the Director of National Intelligence to authorize a company to conceal its activities related to national security. Source: ThinkProgress.org, May 17.

May 10, 2006

  • The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, or OPR, closed their inquiry because the NSA refused to grant security clearances to the investigators. AP

May 11, 2006

  • USA Today reveals that the NSA has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth. The NSA is paying those companies for their cooperation; however, Qwest has refused to participate in the program. The article says that "the agency's goal is 'to create a database of every call ever made' within the nation's borders." NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls by Leslie Cauley, USA Today, May 11, 2006. A few days later, both BellSouth and Verizon flatly denied these allegations, see Verizon Denies NSA Sought Call Data.

May 15, 2006

  • ABC reporter Brian Ross writes "A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we call in an effort to root out confidential sources." [1]
  • The government files a motion to dismiss the Electronic Frontier Foundation's class-action lawsuit against AT&T. The government claims that its legal brief and two affidavits from senior intelligence officials that accompany the motion are classified. The parties to the lawsuit, EFF and AT&T, are granted very limited access to the brief. (EFF)

May 16, 2006

  • President George W. Bush issues an authorization concerning electronic surveillance activities. The date is roughly in line with the regular 45-day reauthorization cycle. (Source: OVP letter, 8/20/2007)
  • The administration reverses course, and agrees to brief all members of the House and Senate intelligence committees about its warrantless eavesdropping program.
  • FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps says that the Commission should investigate whether phone companies are violating federal communications law by providing calling records to the National Security Agency. Source: FCC Chief Calls for Probe of Phone Cos. by Douglass K. Daniel for AP.

May 22, 2006

  • Wired magazine publishes technical documents about the NSA's secret room within AT&T's San Francisco office, along with statements from AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein. Source: Wired
  • FCC Chairman Kevin Martin sends a letter to Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), saying that the FCC would not investigate the NSA's eavesdropping program, because its staff did not have security clearances. Markey requests an investigation because Section 222 of the 1934 Communications Act requires telecommunications carriers to protect the confidentiality of certain consumer call information, "except as required by law" or when the customer approves its release. Source: [2] by Jeremy Pelofsky, Reuters.

May 26, 2006

May 29, 2006

  • Reporter Seymour Hersh writes that the NSA domestic intelligence program began by tracking chains of phone numbers connected to phones that had called high-risk regions, and that they began eavesdropping on the content of those calls after the program was underway. Source: The New Yorker

June 2006

June 20, 2006

  • Both federal and local law enforcement used semi-legal online data brokers to acquire phone records for American citizens, bypassing any judicial oversight. The Bush administration has also pulled Congressional legislation that would regulate these data brokers. DailyKos

June 22, 2006

  • The New York Times reports that officials from the Treasury Dept. and CIA have been secretly reviewing international financial transactions provided by the SWIFT clearinghouse. This database contains mostly international transactions between banks. (Although this is not directly related to the warrantless eavesdropping on US calls, it is an apparent violation of the 4th Amendment and the Right to Financial Privacy Act of 1978.) Bank Data Secretly Reviewed by U.S. to Fight Terror by Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, New York Times, June 22, 2006.

June 30, 2006

July 2006

July 6, 2006

  • President George W. Bush issues an authorization concerning warrantless electronic surveillance. The date is roughly in line with the regular 45-day reauthorization cycle. (Source: OVP letter, 8/20/2007)

July 10, 2006

  • Pete Hoekstra (R), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, complains that the administration was running a major intelligence program without briefing him or his committee, and that he only found out about it from a whistleblower's tip. This unknown program is different from either the NSA eavesdropping program or the SWIFT financial snooping program.

July 17, 2006

  • Attorney General Alberto Gonzales reveals that President Bush had personally blocked lawyers from the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility from investigating the NSA's eavesdropping program by denying them security clearances. (Source: VIDEO: Bush Personally Blocked DOJ Investigation Of Wiretapping Program - ThinkProgress)

July 20, 2006

  • A federal judge denies the government's motion to dismiss the EFF lawsuit against AT&T. (Sources: EFF; Glenn Greenwald)

July 29, 2006

August 2006

August 11, 2006

August 17, 2006

  • In the case ACLU v. NSA, District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor finds that the President does not have the power to authorize the NSA warrantless wiretapping program under either the Iraq War resolution or the Constitution.
"It was never the intent of the Framers to give the President such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights."
The suit against the NSA will be dismissed on appeal in July 2007. (Sources: Memo opinion; WaPo 8/17/2006; CNN 8/17/2005; Glenn Greenwald)

September 2006

September 6, 2006

  • President George W. Bush issues an authorization concerning warrantless electronic surveillance. The date is in line with the regular 45-day reauthorization cycle. (Source: OVP letter, 8/20/2007)

September 29, 2006

  • The Washington Post reports that the Belgian government had found that SWIFT had broken European law when it gave date on international interbank financial transactions to U.S. investigators. (Source: Belgium Rules Sifting of Bank Data Illegal, by John Ward Anderson, Washington Post, Sept. 29, 2006)

October 2006

October 4, 2006

  • A three judge panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Appeals Court rules that the warrantless surveillance program may continue while the case is being appealed. Earlier this year, District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor had ruled that the program was unconstitutional.

October 24, 2006

  • President George W. Bush issues an authorization concerning warrantless electronic surveillance. The date is in line with the regular 45-day reauthorization cycle. (Source: OVP letter, 8/20/2007)

November 2006

November 27, 2006

  • Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said his investigators would focus on the Justice Department's role in carrying out the domestic spying program run by the NSA. Fine said that President Bush had reconsidered his decision to deny granting the necessary security clearances, see entry for July 17, 2006. (Source: AP: Justice IG to Probe Use of NSA Data - TPMmuckraker)

December 2006

December 8, 2006

  • President George W. Bush issues an authorization concerning warrantless electronic surveillance. The date is in line with the regular 45-day reauthorization cycle. (Source: OVP letter, 8/20/2007)


January 2007

January 10, 2007

  • A judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issues an order "authorizing the Government to target for collection international conversations into or out of the United States where there is probable cause to believe that one of the communicants is a member or agent of al Qaeda or an associated terrorist organization." "[A]ny electronic surveillance that was occurring as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program will now be conducted subject to the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. any electronic surveillance that was occurring as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program will now be conducted subject to the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court," and the President decided not to continue with self-authorization of TSP. (DOJ letter)
An anonymous official characterizes the change as "programmatic," rather than based on warrants targeting specific cases." The judge isssuing the order is not U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the FISA panel's chief judge, but rather one of that court's rotating members who was assigned to hear cases that week. (Source: Court Will Oversee Wiretap Program, by Dan Eggen, Washington Post, January 17, 2007)

January 14, 2007

  • The New York Times reports that both the U.S. military and the CIA have been using National Security Letters to gather information on US citizens. They have been using “noncompulsory” versions of the letters, because Congress has rejected several requests by the two agencies for authority to issue mandatory letters. (Source: "Military Expands Domestic Surveillance", by Eric Lichtblau and Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, Jan. 14, 2007.)

January 17, 2007

February 2007

February 1, 2007

  • The final presidential authorization for the TSP part of the program expires.

March 2007

March 7, 2007

  • Two FBI agents claim that the Bureau has violated FISA by illegally wiretapping high-level government officials. (Source:Two FBI Whistleblowers Confirm Illegal Wiretapping of Government Officials and Misuse of FISA - National Security Whistleblowers Coalition)

March 9, 2007

Unknown March

  • In a secret ruling, a judge challenges the government's ability to collect data without warrant on communications passing through the U.S. (WaPo, 8/11/2007)

May 2007

May 2, 2007

May 25, 2007

  • The Director of National Intelligence granted the Department of Homeland Security access to U.S. spy satellites for domestic reconnaissance. (WSJ: DHS to Get Access to Spy Satellite Intel, TPMmuckraker.com, August 15, 2007)

Unknown May

  • In a secret ruling, a FISC judge requires warrants, apparently of all U.S.-based taps when a fixed wire is involved. (WaPo)

May 31, 2007

  • A FISC stay allowing warrantless wiretapping expires. (Source: Michael McConnell interview, El Paso Times, August 22, 2007)

June 2007

June 13, 2007

  • A federal district judge in Chicago has ruled that a lawsuit may proceed against SWIFT for violating the Fourth Amendment and Right to Financial Privacy Act. (Source: DailyKos diary.) (Also see the entry for June 22, 2006.)

June 24, 2007

  • Federal judge Royce Lambeth criticizes President Bush's program of warrantless wiretaps for U.S. citizens, saying "We have to understand you can fight the war (on terrorism) and lose everything if you have no civil liberties left when you get through fighting the war." Lambeth was the chief justice of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court from 1995 to 2002. (AP, June 24, 2007)

June 27, 2007

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenas documents relating to the ongoing and illegal program of warrantless eavesdropping against U.S. citizens. (Source: Official Senate press release).

July 2007

July 7, 2007

  • The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals dismisses a lawsuit alleging warrantless wiretapping because the plaintiffs could not prove that they were actually targeted by the government. (See the entry for August 17, 2006.) (Sources: Catch-22: How Can "Unacknowledged" Targets Have Standing to Challenge Secret Programs?, and Yesterday's ruling on NSA warrantless eavesdropping, by Glenn Greenwald, July 7, 2007)
  • The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rules that federal agents do not need a search warrant to monitor a suspect's computer use and determine the e-mail addresses they contact, or the web page IP addresses that they view. (Source: US Court Says Warrentless Web Use Monitoring OK)

August 2007

August 1, 2007

  • FBI agents execute a search warrant on the home of whistleblower Thomas Tamm. (Source: Newsweek)

August 4, 2007

  • The House and Senate pass the Protect America Act of 2007, which amends the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to allow the President sole discretion on whether to wiretap U.S. citizens. It completely removes the role of the special FISA court to approve warrants for "surveillance directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States." (Sources: Glenn Greenwald, Marty Lederman; Steve Benen at TPM; How the Bush administration played politics with FISA from Salon.com, Dec. 4, 2007)

August 15, 2007

  • The Ninth Circuit Appeals Court begins hearing two cases challenging the legality of NSA wiretapping, one is filed the by the EFF, and the other by an Islamic charity. Regarding government arguments that evidence against them was secret and therefore inadmissible, one judge says "I feel like I'm in Alice in Wonderland". (Sources: Wired blog; WaPo, 8/15/2007).

August 17, 2007

  • Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the FISC orders the government to respond to an ACLU motion seeking release of classified court documents about the program. "This is an unprecedented request that requires further briefing." (Sources: FISC order, August 16, 2007; WaPo, 8/18/2007)

August 22, 2007

  • The El Paso Times publishes an interview with National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell, partially revealing details of the spring FISC decisions and the fall debate in Congress.

September 2007

September 5, 2007

  • "A federal judge scolds the Bush administration for responding with sometimes blanket secrecy to a request for documents on its warrantless wiretapping program." - AP, September 5, 2007.

September 10, 2007

  • DNI J. Michael McConnell tells a Senate committee that the Protect America Act of 2007 had helped to thwart a terrorist attack in Germany; however, it turns out that the German arrests had been the result of information gathered last year under the previous FISA law. (Source: McConnell Baselessly Claims New Expansive FISA Law Responsible For Preventing Terror Attack, ThinkProgress.org, Sept. 11, 2007)

September 18, 2007

  • DNI J. Michael McConnel tells the House Judiciary Committee that the NSA had not tapped any U.S. citizen's phone without a warrant since he took office in February. (Source: "Warrantless Wiretaps Not Used, Official Says", by James Risen, New York Times, Sept, 18, 2007.) At the same hearing, he says that recent FISC rulings required warrants in order to listen to phone calls of Iraqi insurgents; however, he refuses to release those rulings to the committee in open session. (Source: FISA Court Required Warrants For Spying on Iraqi Insurgents?, ThinkProgress.org, Sept. 18, 2007)

September 26, 2007

  • U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken rules that parts of the Patriot Act are unconstitutional because they allow searches and wiretapping without showing probable cause to a court. The ruling is in the case of Oregon attorney Brandon Mayfield, who was wrongly arrested on suspicion that he had participated in the Madrid subway bombing. (Sources: Must Read Language from the Patriot Act Decision, UPDATED: Federal Court in Oregon Rules Portions of Patriot Act Unconstitutional).

September 28, 2007

  • Although DNI McConnell told Congress that FISA court rulings had delayed surveillance on Iraqis who kidnapped US troops, a new timeline shows that internal bureaucratic debates were responsible for the delays. (Source: DNI's Timeline Confirms Bureaucratic Wrangling Delayed Surveillance of Iraqi Kidnappers, by Spencer Ackerman, TPMMuckraker, Sept, 28, 2007.)

November 2007

November 14, 2007

November 23, 2007

December 2007

December 16, 2007

  • The New York Times reveals that the NSA has been operating several data collection efforts involving telcos since the 1990s. These programs have monitored traffic between the U.S. and Latin America, and have possibly given the NSA direct access to network control centers. (Source: "Wider Spying Fuels Aid Plan for Telecom Industry", by Eric Lichtblau, James Risen, and Scott Shane, New York Times, Dec. 16, 2007.)

December 17, 2007

  • Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), almost singlehandedly prevented the passage of the FISA Amendments Act of 2007, which would have granted retroactive immunity to telecom companies for their spying on U.S. citizens. (Source: Anatomy and significance of Monday's FISA victory, by Glenn Greenwald, Salon.com, Dec. 18, 2007).


January 2008

January 8, 2008

January 10, 2008

January 20, 2008

Barack Obama is inaugurated as president.

January 24, 2008

  • The White House has agreed to give House members access to secret documents about its warrantless wiretapping program, including the president's authorization of warrantless wiretapping. (Source: Bush Opens Wiretap Documents to House, by Pamela Hess, AP, Jan. 24, 2008)

March 2008

March 7, 2008

  • Security consultant Babak Pasdar reveals that a major wireless telephony carrier has granted direct access to its systems to a federal office in Quantico Virginia. (Source: "Dude, That's What They Want.", by Paul Kiel, TPMMuckraker, March 7, 2008).
  • In an interview with CQ Politics, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, says that he neither knew nor cared whether the information his department disseminates was collected legally: "... we get information from the intelligence community. It can be collected from a variety of sources. I don’t know which program it comes under. I don’t know whether it’s got a warrant or doesn’t have a warrant." (Source: Mike Chertoff Takes See-No-Evil Stance on NSA Wiretaps, by Jeff Stein, CQ Politcs, Marc 7, 2008).

March 10, 2008

  • The Wall Street Journal reveals that the NSA has resurrected the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness program, which Congress cancelled five years ago because of concerns that it would violate the 4th Amendment. This data mining program is based on transactional records from telecom companies, and it also includes airline passenger data from the Dept. of Homeland Security, as well as financial information from the Treasury Dept. (Source: "NSA's Domestic Spying Grows As Agency Sweeps Up Data", by Siobhan Gorman, Wall Street Journal, March 10, 2008).

April 2008

April 3, 2008

  • In Jewel v. NSA, the government moves to dismiss the case under a state secrets privilege.

May 2008

May 19, 2008

  • Radar magazine reports that the administration has compiled a database, called Main Core, of 8 million U.S. citizens who may be arrested in the event of a national emergency. This database may have been the topic of dispute between the Justice Dept. and the rest of the administration in May of 2004. (Sources: The Last Roudup, by Christopher Ketchum for Radar magazine, May/June 2008, Digby, May 19, 2008).

June 2008

June 3, 2008

  • In Hepting v. AT&T, Judge Walker dismisses dozens of lawsuits against telecommunication companies for their role in illegal domestic surveillance. Walker rules that the companies had immunity under the FISA Amendments Act. (Source: Order)

July 2008

July 9, 2008

  • The Senate approves H.R. 6304, which grants retroactive immunity to the Bush administration and the telecom companies for their illegal spying on U.S. citizens. It also grants the President broad powers for gathering domestic intelligence without any judicial oversight. (Sources: Final FISA Fight: The Votes, Glenn Greenwald, July 9, 2008).

October 2008

October 9, 2008

  • Two NSA employees reveal that the private phone calls of hundreds of Americans were recorded and transcribed. (Sources: Exclusive: Inside Account of U.S. Eavesdropping on American, ABC News, Oct. 9, 2008, Major shock: Eavesdropping powers abused without oversight, by Glenn Greenwald on Salon.com, Oct. 9, 2008.)

October 23, 2008

  • The NSA submitted an interim report on warrantless domestic eavesdropping to the Congress, but the report was classified secret, so it could not be released to the public. (Source: Why Did the NSA Classify 'Public' Report on Wiretapping?, by Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, October 23, 2008)

November 2008

November 1, 2008

  • Federal Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. has ordered the Justice Department to produce White House memos that provide the legal basis for the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program. (Source: Judge orders Justice to produce wiretap memos, Salon.com, Nov. 1, 2008)


January 2009

January 7, 2009

  • Federal Judge Vaughn Walker rules that a Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation can proceed. The foundation, which was a Saudi-backed charity operating out of Portland, OR, claims that the U.S Government used illegal survaillance methods to eavesdrop on conversations between the groups members. (Source: Al-Haramain Spying Case to Proceed, DailyKos, Jan. 7, 2009)
  • Glenn Greenwald reports that Thomas M. Tann, a lawyer for the Department of Justice who blew the whistle on the NSA illegal warantless eavesdropping program, has been harassed by the FBI. (Sources: The DOJ pursues the "real criminal" in the NSA spying scandal, by Glenn Greenwald, Salon.com, and The Fed Who Blew the Whistle, by Michael Isikoff, Newsweek, Dec. 22, 2008)

January 15, 2009

January 21, 2009

  • Former NSA analyst Russell Tice gives an interview with Keith Olbermann, and he says that the NSA had the capability to collect phone calls, faxes, emails, and basically every type of electronic communications conducted by ordinary Americans. Furthermore, this capability has been specifically deployed against the news media on a 24/7 basis. (Source: Investigations, Anyone? Maybe a Prosecution or Two?, DailyKos.com)


June 2013

June 5, 2013

  • Glenn Greenwald at the Guardian releases a top secret order of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The order says Verizon must provide all call records for any call “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls” and any call made “between the United States and abroad.”

Related Articles


Electronic Surveillance and the Fourth Amendment, FindLaw. Caselaw summary.

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), Center for National Security Studies. Legislative history.

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Orders 1979-2004, Electronic Privacy Information Center (April 2005). A table of year-by-year statistics about the orders.

Inside America’s Secret Court: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Patrick S. Poole (1999/2000).

The National Security Agency: Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service (January 16, 2001).

The Nature and Scope of Governmental Electronic Surveillance Activity, Center for Democracy and Technology (June 2004).

NSA Intercepts for Bolton Masked as 'Training Missions', Wayne Madsen, Online Journal (April 25, 2005).

Spying: Giving Out U.S. Names, Mark Hosenball, Newsweek (May 2, 2005). "Unmasking" of U.S. names in NSA intercepts.

NSA Gave Other U.S. Agencies Information From Surveillance, Walter Pincus, Washington Post (January 1, 2006).

NSA Spy Program Hinges on State-of-the-Art Technology, Shane Harris, GovExec.com (January 20, 2006).

Domestic Spying: Bush Appointees Revolt, By Daniel Klaidman, Stuart Taylor Jr. and Evan Thomas, Newsweek, Feb. 6, 2006.

On NSA Spying: A Letter to Congress, New York Review of Books (February 9, 2006).

Bush is not above the law, by James Bamford, New York Times, January 31, 2007.

Inside DCSNet: the FBI's Nationwide Eavesdropping Network, Wired.com, August 29, 2007.

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