Sure enough, the first reporter during the press briefing grabs right at the throat of the beast and gets the usual spin and rhetorical obfuscation from Scotty. I would suggest, the W, Rove and Co. are rife with less than useful tools that and are exercising frivolity with the law that warrants a slap in the face with a cream pie, and at a minimum, some one suing their pants of for presidential malpractice. Here's how Scotty defended his employer on the first point - you be the judge:
Q Scott, this NSA intercept program, was it effective and did it lead to any kind of progress in the war on terror? Or has it been, as some people have suggested, a program that has flooded the zone so much with intelligence, a lot of which is useless, that --
MR. McCLELLAN: Who has suggested that?
Q It was suggested in some reporting today.
MR. McCLELLAN: Who is it? Anonymous sources, okay. Let's make that clear.
Q Anonymous sources have suggested, according to several reports --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you're referring to a report --
Q Can I finish my question before you start your answer?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
MR. McCLELLAN: But I just want to clarify that up front.
Q Did it flood the zone with so much useless information that it resulted in a waste of resources, time and talent?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you're referring to a report that draws an incomplete picture based on anonymous sources. And I think it's clear in that report that some of those sources have no direct knowledge of the authorization or the program. The authorization is a vital tool in the war on terrorism. The second-highest ranking intelligence officer in the government and the former head of the National Security Agency spoke to reporters about this just a few weeks ago, and he made it very clear that this authorization has been successful to prevent attacks from happening.
It is absolutely a vital tool in the war on terrorism. The American people expect the President to do everything within his lawful power to prevent attacks from happening. We saw what happened on September 11th. We know that the enemy, the terrorists continue to want to inflict harm on the American people, and inflict even greater damage than they did on September 11th. That's why this President is fully committed to doing everything within his lawful power to save lives and prevent attacks from happening. And we're going to continue using every tool at our disposal to meet that important objective.
Q Any idea what percentage of wheat to chaff would be in a program like this?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Any idea what the percentage of wheat to chaff would be in a program like this?
MR. McCLELLAN: I've never thought about it in those terms. This program --
Q I mean, obviously, you're going to collect an awful lot of intelligence. Any idea how much is useful?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what the head of -- the former head of the National Security Agency said, General Hayden, in a briefing with reporters -- and remember this was an on-the-record briefing by our second-highest ranking intelligence official for --
Q Yes, I was here for that.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- for reporters. And you're talking about a report that, again, is based on anonymous sources, some of which clearly appear to have no direct knowledge of the authorization, and it clearly is an incomplete picture. The second-highest --
Q No, I'm just asking --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- ranking intelligence official made it very clear that there is information that we have gained in this program that we would not otherwise have had. And what we've got to do, John -- what the 9/11 Commission pointed out was that there was a failure to connect the dots before the attacks of September 11th. What we've got to do is connect the dots to prevent attacks from happening. And that's exactly what we're doing.
We're doing that through the Patriot Act. We're doing it through this authorization. And we're doing it through other means by working cooperatively with international partners around the globe to gather intelligence. In the war on terrorism, gathering intelligence is critical. And the intelligence we're talking about under this authorization is very limited and targeted at international communications involving known al Qaeda members or members of an affiliated terrorist organization.
Q But let me go back to the question I asked you before your response, and that is, do you have any idea -- just as matter of process and practice -- how much is substantive information versus how much is just sort of noise coming --
MR. McCLELLAN: What I'm not going to do is get into discussing operational activities from this podium. General Hayden made it very clear that the existence of this program is harmful to our national security -- and that it harms our national security simply by talking about it. It was disclosed, an unauthorized disclosure, and it has caused harm to our nation's security. But what I would do is point back to what General Hayden said, the person who was overseeing the implementation of this authorization, and he talked about how this has been successful in helping to prevent attacks. And that's what's important to look at. If it helps prevent one attack, it's a useful tool.
Q So despite how much information might come over the transom, if you can prevent one attack through this program, the whole thing is worth it? MR.
McCLELLAN: I'm not saying that that's -- he said it has been successful in preventing attacks -- the plural is what General Hayden used. And I think you ought to look back at exactly what he said.
Q Scott, what does a "link" mean? The President said essentially what you just said, too: this program has targeted those with known links to al Qaeda. Could that include journalists, scholars? You know, these lawsuits today from journalists and scholars who believe they, too, might be swept up in that --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, that are based on no evidence whatsoever.
Q No evidence whatsoever. So explain what a "link" is? I mean --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me back up.
Q -- is it somebody trying to find a link?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that the frivolous lawsuits that you reference do nothing to help enhance civil liberties or protect the American people. And that's what those are. In terms of this authorization, again, it is a vital tool and it is limited and it is aimed at what you just referred to: communications -- international communications involving known al Qaeda members or people affiliated with al Qaeda -- or people that are affiliated with al Qaeda-related organizations.
Q But what's "affiliated"? Can you give us a general idea?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I would leave it to what General Hayden and the Attorney General have already said, that for matters of talking further about --
Q Are they training in a camp --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Are they in touch with them or are they training in a camp?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's the way I described it. It's exactly what I mean when I say it.
Q And why do you think these lawsuits are so frivolous?
MR. McCLELLAN: There are terrorists -- and remember, this is a global war on terrorism that we're engaged in. People after September 11th -- the President spoke to the American people after September 11th and said that as time goes on, people are going to -- some people may tend to forget. He will not forget what happened on September 11th, when some 3,000 lives were lost here. We know that al Qaeda and other terrorists want to inflict even greater harm on the American people, and that's why we must continue acting on all fronts and doing everything we can to connect the dots, to gather the intelligence to connect the dots. If you're not talking to a known al Qaeda member or a member of an affiliated organization, you don't have to worry about this.
The head of the NSA, or former head of the NSA talked about that in a briefing to reporters, about how limited this is and what it is aimed at. And that is the authorization that the President made after the attacks of September 11th.
Q So if journalists or scholars are speaking to someone who may have some link, trying to gather information for stories, should they worry about --
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, we're talking about people that are members of al Qaeda or an affiliated organization, and that's what this is aimed at.
Q So if journalists are, they should worry about --
MR. McCLELLAN: Martha, I don't know. If you've got something specific to bring to my attention, please do so. I don't have anything more on that.