According to a Senate source who requested anonymity, Admiral Mike McConnell was "inaccurate" in his account last week of a FISA Court ruling necessitating a delay in spying on Iraqi insurgents who kidnapped U.S. troops.
Last week, we reported that a different government source disputed
McConnell's account. McConnell told the House intelligence committee that a probable-cause determination for the insurgents under an emergency FISA warrant -- in which surveillance is allowed to occur for 72 hours before judicial review -- resulted in a 12-hour lag before the spying took place. McConnell placed the blame for the delay on the shoulders of a still-secret FISA Court ruling this spring. But the earlier government source told us that the delay was more accurately attributed to overly bureaucratic procedures put in place by the Justice Department for getting the emergency warrants.
The Senate source goes farther than the government source did. The Senate source would not specify McConnell's inaccuracy, citing classification restrictions, but according to the source, both Democrats and Republicans are frustrated over McConnell's abridged citation of the insurgent-kidnapping episode. Democrats believe McConnell isn't being truthful, and Republicans want to air the matter further in order to help make the Protect America Act amending FISA permanent. "Both sides are not able to be articulate on this subject," the source says, adding only that the actual event at issue is "complicated."
In that case, advantage McConnell. Tomorrow morning, he goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and it'll be interesting to see whether he repeats the claim. It probably helps him that former Justice Department FISA official James Baker won't testify on the same panel as he does. (Baker will testify on a second panel
, as administration officials don't speak on the same Judiciary panels as non-officials.) Last week, before the House intelligence committee, Baker said it would take only one phone call to secure an emergency FISA warrant of the sort that McConnell said took 12 hours in the case of the insurgent kidnapping. Were Baker and McConnell appearing side by side, it might be easier to get to the bottom of the kidnapping episode -- even in open session.