Will the NSA Intercepts Show Anything? Were There Bolton Requests Hidden Among the Reported 400 Other NSA Intercept Requests? Important Questions for Foreign Relations Committee Staff to ASK


Newsweek‘s Mark Hosenball has a nice clip on what to look for in the upcoming NSA intercepts story this next week:

Bolton’s critics are also pressing for details of requests he made for National Security Agency electronic “intercepts” containing the names of U.S. officials. (NSA rules require it to delete names of Americans inadvertently caught by its worldwide eavesdropping network, but officials can request that the names be disclosed if they have a “need to know.”)
Bolton’s request for 10 intercepts with U.S. names has set off a D.C. guessing game: Did he want info to undermine bureaucratic rivals like Korea expert Jack Pritchard, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage or even Colin Powell? Was he trying to check up on U.S. representatives to nuclear talks between Iran and European governments?
Hoping to find out what two members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said to Iran’s U.N. ambassador? Wondering what the NSA had on an unnamed U.S. journalist? The NSA indicates it will this week deliver documentation on Bolton’s requests to the Senate intelligence committee, which then will have to figure out how to publicize contents without leaking sensitive intel. Bolton supporters say his requests will prove to be legit.

I have no direct knowledge of what is in the intercepts, but my best hunch at the moment given the voluminous amount of material, anecdotes, and interview transcripts I have digested on the life and times of John Bolton is that the intercepts will demonstrate a pattern of poor judgment and vanity. These are not capital crimes. But they are serious when one is playing with the nation’s most secret secrets.
I also have some fear that there may have been some obfuscation and hiding of smoking guns already in the NSA intercepts mess.
When Senator Chris Dodd first requested access to the 10 intercepts in which John Bolton asked for names of mentioned U.S. officials, he was rebuffed and told that it was not unusual for such requests to be placed and that there had been approximately 400 such requests from State Department analysts over the last four years.
Well, that is not true actually. It has since been confirmed by officials that it is highly unusual for political, non-career appointees to request such information from the National Security Agency. Bolton downplayed the number of his own requests during his confirmation testimony, mentioning that he may have made a couple of requests for the redacted U.S. officials’ names in NSA intercepts. Later, the number was found to be ten such cases during his four years.
TWN has learned, however, that analysts do not make such requests on their own behalf. All 400 of these requests must have been made for officals at the Assistant Secretary level or higher. This is fascinating — and raises a heretofore unasked question.
How many of these 400 reported requests for names of officials named in NSA intercepts came from John Bolton’s department
Is it not possible that some of these requests actually came from analysts within the International Security & Arms Control section of the State Department on behalf of John Bolton or his immediate staff?
How many requests in contrast came from other sections of the State Department?
These are questions that Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff should ask of the State Department this week.
While the news media and Senator Dodd have been focused on 10 intercepts, there may actually be a slew of others that are cloaked because they were requested by others. There may be nothing here — but yet again, there might be.
More later.
— Steve Clemons