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REASON: What would you like to see Congress do?
Tice: Pass some laws with some teeth. Congress is real quick to say "oh, this is intelligence and we don't want to compromise their methods." Well, fine. But they have the mechanism in [Equal Employment Opportunity] to discuss things. My case could very easily be, and was easily, discussed in an unclassified manner, as to their reasons for firing me. It's disingenuous on their part to throw out that national security nonsense because they don't want to give up their power to screw people over; it's a means of intimidation.
REASON: What action would you have them take about the programs that concern you?
Tice: I'd like for there to be some internal... First of all, I don't want this stuff to leak out. I'm not going to tell you or anyone in the press anything that's classified, especially about these programs. Because for the most part they're extremely beneficial to the security of our citizens, programs that are worth their salt. The problem is that you can have abuses within that system, and there's no oversight. So ultimately what we need is some adult supervision of these programs, maybe some bipartisan group of senior intelligence elders who've retired from their normal intelligence jobs. These senior officials could be on a senior advisory review board to deal with these sort of things in an unbiased, non-partisan manner in a very tightly-held way, but nonetheless look at these cases and act as some sort of judge as to how things need to be addressed.
REASON: Are you at all sympathetic to claims that the New York Times' reporting on NSA surveillance may have harmed national security?
Tice: In my case, there's no way the programs I want to talk to Congress about should be public ever, unless maybe in 200 years they want to declassify them. You should never learn about it; no one at the Times should ever learn about these things. But that same mechanism that allows you to have a program like this at an extremely high, sensitive classification level could also be used to mask illegality, like spying on Americans. And spying on Americans is illegal unless you go to a FISA court. It's the job of the FBI to conduct operations against Americans with the proper court warrants—not that I have a very high opinion of the FBI.
With [James Risen's] book, someone has come across, and basically reported, a crime. It just so happens that somebody put some super-duper clearances on it to mask the fact that a crime was being committed. Now we're claiming after the fact, to do some damage control, that "oh no, now the terrorists know." Come on, let's be rational about this. Do we think that the terrorists are just plain stupid? Do we think that, especially after 9/11, the terrorists aren't smart enough to think that maybe the United Statesmight be interested in the communications they conduct and how they conduct them? Even if you believe there's some negativity in that information coming out, which I think is a totally disingenuous claim, but even if you think there's some merit to that, when you weight it against the fact that you're breaking the constitutional rights of American citizens, the scale on the right side incredibly outweighs any claim on the other side.
REASON: How scrupulous is the general culture of the NSA about avoiding spying on Americans?
Tice: As a signals intelligence officer, kids who go right out of college and work for the NSA, this is drilled into you, especially when you're young: You will not do this. This is number one of the NSA's Ten Commandments: You will not spy on Americans. Even after you've had all those introductory briefings when you're a new employee, for the rest of your career, at least twice a year they call you in for a briefing, and this is always covered. "You will not do this," they shake their fingers at you. "If you do this you can be thrown in jail." And all of a sudden you find out the people who've been shaking their fingers are doing what they're telling you is against the law and coming out with some cockeyed nonsense excuses for why everything's OK. It's sort of like having your parents drill it into you not to smoke cigarettes or do drugs or whatever, and then after you're a good little boy coming home from school at 15 and finding your parents out on the balcony doing all that.
Fear rules the day right now. For the most part, people know, NSA employees know, that this is wrong, that this is illegal. In many cases they feel betrayed by their own leadership, by [former NSA Director Gen. Michael] Hayden, [NSA Director Lt. Gen. Keith] Alexander, and by [Deputy Director] Bill Black.
And the president—I'm a Republican, I voted for this guy. I've always given him the benefit of the doubt. I didn't like the PATRIOT Act; I don't like a lot of what I've seen. But I've always felt that this president, in his heart, felt he was doing his best to protect the American people. I thought PATRIOT, and throwing the key away on Jose Padilla, were unconstitutional, but I've always given him the benefit of the doubt. I'm certainly hoping that he's been misled, and that if a broad-brush approach was used that the president wasn't aware of it or didn't understand the ramifications, that hundreds of thousands if not millions of Americans could have their rights violated. But if that happened and the president knew totally the extent of it, and everything we're hearing now is just damage control from the White House... Well, some time ago, we impeached a president for cheating on his wife, which as far as I'm concerned should've been between his family, his wife, and if he believes in one his God upstairs. When it comes to high crimes and misdemeanors, knowingly and willingly doing this and then being arrogant about it and saying we're going to continue doing it—I would certainly think falls into that category of high crimes.
REASON: Some polls suggest that most citizens aren't terribly concerned about these programs.
Tice: People think it's not going to affect them. They think it's against the bad people, it's to protect our national security. Maybe it's against the law, but it's just the bad people, just to keep the terrorist from blowing up my neighborhood dam. But if those people find out it was hundreds of thousands or millions, and they were swept up into it and the government was listening to their conversation with their doctor.... Now all of a sudden it affects them personally. Right now I don't think people see how it affects them. Though even if it were just these few thousand people that have been talked about, nonetheless it's wrong. There's no reason the two thousand warrants could not have been done through the FISA court. The question is: Why wasn't it done?