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Conflict Over Spying Led White House to Brink

David Addington, the vice president's lawyer, kept in his office controlling documents that gave strategic direction to the nation's largest spy agency.
David Addington, the vice president's lawyer, kept in his office controlling documents that gave strategic direction to the nation's largest spy agency. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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"This is none of your business!" Addington exploded.

He was massive in his swivel chair, taut and still, potential energy amping up the menace. Addington's pugnacity was not an act. Nothing mattered more, as the vice president and his lawyer saw the world, than these new surveillance tools. Bush had made a decision. Debate could only blow the secret, slow down vital work, or call the president's constitutional prerogatives into question.

The NSA lawyers returned to their car empty-handed.

* * *

The command center of "the president's program," as Addington usually called it, was not in the White House. Its controlling documents, which gave strategic direction to the nation's largest spy agency, lived in a vault across an alley from the West Wing [7] -- in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, on the east side of the second floor, where the vice president headquartered his staff.

The vault was in EEOB 268, Addington's office. Cheney's lawyer held the documents, physical and electronic, because he was the one who wrote them. New forms of domestic espionage were created and developed over time in presidential authorizations that Addington typed on a Tempest-shielded computer across from his desk [8].

It is unlikely that the history of U.S. intelligence includes another operation conceived and supervised by the office of the vice president. White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. had "no idea," he said, that the presidential orders were held in a vice presidential safe. An authoritative source said the staff secretariat, which kept a comprehensive inventory of presidential papers, classified and unclassified, possessed no record of these.

In an interview, Card said the Executive Office of the President, a formal term that encompassed Bush's staff but not Cheney's, followed strict procedures for handling and securing presidential papers.

"If there were exceptions to that, I'm not aware of them," he said. "If these documents weren't stored the right way or put in the right places or maintained by the right people, I'm not aware of it."

Asked why Addington would write presidential directives, Card said, "David Addington is a very competent lawyer." After a moment he added, "I would consider him a drafter, not the drafter [9]. I'm sure there were a lot of smart people who were involved in helping to look at the language and the law."

Not many, it turned out. Though the president had the formal say over who was "read in" to the domestic surveillance program, Addington controlled the list in practice, according to three officials with personal knowledge. White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales was aware of the program, but was not a careful student of the complex legal questions it raised. In its first 18 months, the only other lawyer who reviewed the program was John Yoo.

By the time the NSA auditors came calling, a new man, Jack L. Goldsmith, was chief of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Soon after he arrived on Oct. 6, 2003, the vice president's lawyer invited him to EEOB 268. Addington pulled out a folder with classification markings that Goldsmith had never seen [10].


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