As you can see, we now have the first hint of what was at the center of the Ashcroft hospital room showdown. According to the New York Times
, what the White House calls the 'terrorist surveillance [i.e., warrantless wiretap] program' originally included some sort of largescale data mining
I don't doubt that this is true as far as it goes. But this must only scratch the surface because, frankly, at least as presented, this just doesn't account for the depth of the controversy or the fact that so many law-and-order DOJ types were willing to resign over what was happening. Something's missing.
Of course, 'data mining' can mean virtually anything. What kind of data and whose you're looking at makes all the difference in the world. Suggestively, the Times
article includes this cryptic passage: "Some of the officials said the 2004 dispute involved other issues in addition to the data mining, but would not provide details. They would not say whether the differences were over how the databases were searched or how the resulting information was used."
To put this into perspective, remember that the White House has been willing to go to the public and make a positive argument for certain surveillance procedures (notably evasion of the FISA Court strictures) which appear to be illegal on their face. This must be much more serious and apparently something all but the most ravenous Bush authoritarians would never accept. It is supposedly no longer even happening and hasn't been for a few years. So disclosing it could not jeopardize a program. The only reason that suggests itself is that the political and legal consequences of disclosure are too grave to allow. Late Update
: The Post
has a follow story
on the data mining issue. It covers most of the same ground but hints a little more directly about possible interception of emails and phone calls. The article suggests that examination of "metadata" was the issue here. But, again, it doesn't fit. The intensity of the covering up doesn't match the alleged secret.