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An NSA Whistleblower Speaks Out

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  • Robert Sterling
    Please send as far and wide as possible. Thanks, Robert Sterling Editor, The Konformist http://www.konformist.com An NSA Whistleblower Speaks Out By Amy
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 15, 2006
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      Please send as far and wide as possible.

      Robert Sterling
      Editor, The Konformist

      An NSA Whistleblower Speaks Out
      By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!
      Posted on January 7, 2006

      Editor's Note: Bush's decision to order the National Security Agency
      to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens was first revealed in the New York
      Times in mid-December. The Times published the expose after holding
      the story for more than a year under pressure from the White House.

      Since the story broke, calls for Congressional hearings and the
      possible impeachment of the president have intensified. Now Congress
      is considering a new round of hearings on Bush's domestic spying
      program, with a bipartisan group of Senators issuing their public

      Former NSA intelligence officer Russel Tice recently announced that
      he wants to testify before Congress. He was fired in May 2005 after
      he spoke out as a whistleblower.

      The following is an edited transcript of an interview between Amy
      Goodman of Democracy Now! and former NSA intelligence agent Russell

      Amy Goodman: This is President Bush speaking on Sunday:

      President George W. Bush: I can say that if somebody from al-Qaeda
      is calling you, we'd like to know why. In the meantime, this program
      is conscious of people's civil liberties, as am I. This is a limited
      program designed to prevent attacks on the United States of America.
      And I repeat: limited. And it's limited to calls from outside the
      United States to calls within the United States. But, they are of
      known numbers of known al Qaeda members or affiliates. And I think
      most Americans understand the need to find out what the enemy is
      thinking. And that's what we are doing. We're at war with a bunch of
      cold-blooded killers who will kill on a moment's notice. And I have
      a responsibility, obviously, to act within the law, which I am
      doing. It's a program has been reviewed constantly by Justice
      Department officials, a program to which the Congress has been
      briefed, and a program that is in my judgment necessary to win this
      war and to protect the American people.

      Amy Goodman: Two weeks ago, a former N.S.A. intelligence officer
      publicly announced he wants to testify before Congress. His name is
      Russell Tice. For the past two decades he has worked in the
      intelligence field, both inside and outside of government, most
      recently with the National Security Agency and the Defense
      Intelligence Agency. He was fired in May 2005, after he spoke out as
      a whistleblower.

      In his letter, Tice wrote, quote, "It's with my oath as a U.S.
      intelligence officer weighing heavy on my mind that I wish to report
      to Congress acts I believe are unlawful and unconstitutional. The
      freedom of the American people cannot be protected when our
      constitutional liberties are ignored and our nation has decayed into
      a police state." Russell Tice joins us now in our Washington studio.
      Welcome to Democracy Now!

      Russell Tice: Good morning.

      Amy Goodman: What made you decide to come forward? You worked for
      the top-secret agency of this government, one that is far larger and
      even more secret than the C.I.A.

      Russell Tice: Well, the main reason is that I'm involved with some
      certain aspects of the intelligence community, which are very
      closely held, and I believe I have seen some things that are
      illegal. Ultimately it's Congress's responsibility to conduct
      oversight in these things. I don't see it happening. Another reason
      is there was a certain roadblock that was sort of lifted that
      allowed me to do this, and I can't explain, but I will to Congress
      if allowed to.

      Amy Goodman: Can you talk about the letter you have written to
      Congress, your request to testify?

      Russell Tice: Well, it's just a simple request under the
      Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, which is a
      legal means to contact Congress and tell them that you believe that
      something has gone wrong in the intelligence community.

      Amy Goodman: Can you start off by talking overall? Since most
      people -- until this latest story of President Bush engaging in
      these wiretaps of American citizens, as well as foreign nationals in
      this country -- perhaps hadn't even heard of the N.S.A., can you
      just describe for us what is the National Security Agency? How does
      it monitor these communications?

      Russell Tice: The National Security Agency is an agency that deals
      with monitoring communications for the defense of the country. The
      charter basically says that the N.S.A. will deal with communications
      of -- overseas. We're not allowed to go after Americans, and I think
      ultimately that's what the big fuss is now. But as far as the
      details of how N.S.A. does that, unfortunately, I'm not at liberty
      to say that. I don't want to walk out of here and end up in an
      F.B.I. interrogation room.

      Amy Goodman: Can you talk about your response to the revelations
      that the Times, knowing the story well before the election, revealed
      a few weeks ago about the wiretapping of American citizens?

      Russell Tice: Well, as far as an intelligence officer, especially a
      SIGINT officer at N.S.A., we're taught from very early on in our
      careers that you just do not do this. This is probably the number
      one commandment of the SIGINT Ten Commandments -- you will not spy
      on Americans.

      It is drilled into our head over and over and over again in security
      briefings, at least twice a year, where you ultimately have to sign
      a paper that says you have gotten the briefing. Everyone at N.S.A.
      who's a SIGINT officer knows that you do not do this. Ultimately, so
      do the leaders of N.S.A., and apparently the leaders of N.S.A. have
      decided that they were just going to go against the tenets of
      something that's a gospel to a SIGINT officer.

      Amy Goodman: We talk to Russell Tice, former intelligence agent with
      the National Security Agency, who worked with the N.S.A. until May
      2005. Russell Tice, what happened in May 2005?

      Russell Tice: Well, basically I was given my walking papers and told
      I was no longer a federal employee. So --

      Amy Goodman: Why?

      Russell Tice: Some time ago I had some concerns about a co-worker at
      D.I.A. who exhibited the classic signs of being involved in
      espionage, and I reported that and basically got blown off by the
      counterintelligence office at D.I.A. I kind of pushed the issue,
      because I continued to see a pattern of there being a problem. And
      once I got back to N.S.A., I pretty much dropped the issue, but
      there was a report that came across my desk in April of 2003 about
      two F.B.I. agents that were possibly passing secret
      counterintelligence information to a Chinese double agent, Katrina
      Leung, and I sent a secure message back to the D.I.A.
      counterintelligence officer, and I said I think the F.B.I. is
      incompetent, and the retaliation came down on me like a ton of

      Amy Goodman: What would you say to those who say you are speaking
      out now simply because you are disgruntled?

      Russell Tice: I guess that's a valid argument. You know, I was
      fired. But I've kind of held my tongue for a long time now, and
      basically, you know, I have known these things have been going on
      for a while. The classification level of the stuff I deal with,
      basically what we call black world programs and operations, are
      very, very closely held. And whether you think this is retaliation
      or not, I have something important to tell Congress, and I think
      they need to hear it. I'd like to think my motives aren't
      retaliation, but, you know, after what I have been through, I can
      understand someone's argument to think I have been jaded.

      Amy Goodman: What about the risks you take as a whistleblower? I
      wanted to play a clip of F.B.I. whistleblower, Sibel Edmonds. She
      was working for the F.B.I. after 9/11 as a translator, translating
      intercepts, and ultimately she lost her job. And I asked her if she
      was afraid of speaking out:

      Sibel Edmonds: There are times that I am afraid, but then again, I
      have to remind myself that this is my civic duty and this is for the
      country, because what they are doing by pushing this stuff under
      this blanket of secrecy, what they are hiding is against the
      public's welfare and interest. And reminding that to myself just
      helps me, to a certain degree, overcome that fear.

      Amy Goodman: That was Sibel Edmonds. Russell Tice, you are a member
      of her group, the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition.

      Russell Tice: That, I am. National Security Whistleblower Coalition
      is basically put together of people who are in sort of the same boat
      that I am in, that have brought whistleblower concerns to the public
      or to their perspective chain of supervisors and have been
      retaliated against. And the intelligence community, all of the
      whistleblower protection laws are -- pretty much exempt the
      intelligence community. So the intelligence community can put forth
      their lip service about, 'Oh, yeah, we want you to put report waste
      fraud abuse,' or 'You shall report suspicions of espionage,' but
      when they retaliate you for doing so, you pretty much have no
      recourse. I think a lot of people don't realize that.

      And Sibel has basically started this organization to bring these
      sort of concerns out into the public and ultimately to get Congress
      to start passing some laws to protect folks that are going to be in
      a position to let the public or just, you know, to let Congress know
      that crimes are being committed. And that's what we're talking
      about. We're talking about a crime here. So, you know, all of this
      running around and looking for someone who dropped the dime on a
      crime is a whole lot different than something like the Valerie Plame

      Amy Goodman: What do you think of the Justice Department launching
      an investigation into the leak, who leaked the fact that President
      Bush was spying on American citizens?

      Russell Tice: Well, I think this is an attempt to make sure that no
      intelligence officer ever considers doing this. What was done to me
      was basically an attempt to tell other intelligence officers, 'Hey,
      if you do something like this, if you do something to tick us off,
      we're going to take your job from you, we're gonna do some
      unpleasant things to you.'

      So, right now, the atmosphere at N.S.A. and D.I.A., for that matter,
      is fear. The security services basically rule over the employees
      with fear, and people are afraid to come forward. People know if
      they come forward even in the legal means, like coming to Congress
      with a concern, your career is over. And that's just the best
      scenario. There's all sorts of other unfortunate things like,
      perhaps, if someone gets thrown in jail for either a witch-hunt or
      something trumping up charges or, you know, this guy who is
      basically reporting a crime.

      Amy Goodman: And what do you think of the news that the National
      Security Agency spying on American citizens without a court order
      and foreign nationals is now sharing this information with other
      agencies like, well, the other agency you worked for, the Defense
      Intelligence Agency?

      Russell Tice: Intelligence officers work with one another all the
      time. As an analyst, you might have a problem. Everybody gets
      together. It's just common sense to find out what everybody knows,
      you know, come to a consensus as to what the answer is. It's sort of
      like a puzzle, you know, chunks of the puzzle. And maybe you have a
      few chunks as a SIGINT officer, and the C.I.A. has a few chunks in
      their arena and D.I.A. has a few elements of it, and everybody gets
      together and does a little mind meld to try to figure out what's
      going on. So it's not unusual for the intelligence community to
      share information. But when we're talking about information on the
      American public, which is a violation of the FISA law, then I think
      it's even something more to be concerned about.

      Amy Goodman: Were you ever asked to engage in this?

      Russell Tice: No, no, and if I did so, I did so unwittingly, which I
      have a feeling would be the case for many of the people involved in
      this. More than likely this was very closely held at the upper
      echelons at N.S.A., and mainly because these people knew -- General
      Hayden, Bill Black, and probably the new one, Keith Alexander, they
      all knew this was illegal. So, you know, they kept it from the
      populace of N.S.A., because every N.S.A. officer certainly knows
      this is illegal.

      Amy Goodman: What do you mean if you did so, you did so unwittingly?

      Russell Tice: Well, there are certain elements of the aspects of
      what is done where there are functionaries or technicians or
      analysts that are given information, and you just process that
      information. You don't necessarily know the nitty gritty as to where
      the information came from or the -- it's called
      compartmentalization. It's ironic, but you could be working on
      programs, and the very person sitting next to you is not cleared for
      the programs you're working on, and they're working on their own
      programs, and each person knows to keep their nose out of the other
      person's business, because everything's compartmentalized, and
      you're only allowed to work on what you have a need to know to work

      Amy Goodman: What about the telecoms, the telecommunications
      corporations working with the Bush administration to open up a back
      door to eavesdropping, to wiretapping?

      Russell Tice: If that was done and, you know, I use a big "if" here,
      and, remember, I can't tell you what I know of how N.S.A. does its
      business, but I can use the wiggle words like "if" and scenarios
      that don't incorporate specifics, but nonetheless, if U.S. gateways
      and junction points in the United States were used to siphon off
      information, I would think that the corporate executives of these
      companies need to be held accountable, as well, because they would
      certainly also know that what they're doing is wrong and illegal.
      And if they have some sort of court order or some sort of paper or
      something signed from some government official, Congress needs to
      look at those papers and look at the bottom line and see whose
      signature is there. And these corporations know that this is
      illegal, as well. So everyone needs to be held accountable in this

      Amy Goodman: When you come on board at these intelligence agencies,
      as at the National Security Agency, what are you told? I mean, were
      you aware of the Church hearings in the 1970s that went into the
      illegal spying on monitoring, of surveilling, of wiretapping of
      American citizens?

      Russell Tice: Well, that's something that's really not drummed in
      your head. That's more of a history lesson, I think. And the
      reasoning, ultimately, for the FISA laws and for what's called USSID
      18, which is sort of the SIGINTer's bible of how they conduct their
      business, but the law itself is drilled into your head, as well as
      the tenets of USSID 18, of which the number one commandment is 'Thou
      shalt not spy on Americans.'

      Amy Goodman: We're talking to Russell Tice, former intelligence
      agent with the National Security Agency, worked at the N.S.A. up
      until May of 2005. What is data mining?

      Russell Tice: Data mining is a means by which you -- you have
      information, and you go searching for all associated elements of
      that information in whatever sort of data banks or databases that
      you put together with information. So if you have a phone number and
      you want to associate it with, say, a terrorist or something, and
      you want to associate it with, you know, 'Who is this terrorist
      talking to?' you start doing data on what sort of information or
      what sort of numbers does that person call or the frequency of time,
      that sort of thing. And you start basically putting together a
      bubble chart of, you know, where everybody is.

      Lord help you if you've got a wrong phone call from one of these
      guys, a terrorist overseas or something, and you're American. You're
      liable to have the F.B.I. camping out your doorstep, apparently,
      from everything that's going on. But it's basically a way of
      searching all of the data that exists, and that's things like credit
      card records and driver's license, anything that you can get your
      hands on and try to associate it with some activity. I think if we
      were doing that overseas with known information, it would be a good
      thing if we're pinning them down. But ultimately, when we're using
      that on -- if we're using that with U.S. databases, then ultimately,
      once again, the American people are -- their civil rights are being

      Amy Goodman: Do you expect you are being monitored, surveilled,
      wiretapped right now?

      Russell Tice: Yes, I do. As a matter of fact, in - you know,
      sometimes you just don't know. And being, you know -- what they've
      basically accused me of, I can't just walk around thinking that
      everybody is looking at my heels and are following me around. But in
      one scenario I turned the tables on someone I thought was following
      me, and he ducked into a convenience store, and I just walked down
      there -- and I saw him out of my peripheral vision -- and I
      basically walked down to where he ducked into and in the store, I
      walked up behind him. He was buying a cup of coffee, and he had a
      Glock on his hip and his F.B.I. badge. I don't think it takes a
      rocket scientist to figure out what was going on there.

      Amy Goodman: The National Security Agency, or I should say the
      United Nations Security Council, there was a scandal a year or two
      ago about the monitoring of the diplomats there. It was in the lead
      up to the invasion, the U.S. wanting to know and put pressure on
      these Security Council ambassadors to know what they were saying
      before any kind of vote. What is the difference between that kind of
      monitoring and the monitoring of American citizens?

      Russell Tice: Well, if the monitoring was done against foreigners
      and the monitoring was done overseas, as far as I know, that's
      perfectly legal. It's just a matter of who you are monitoring and
      where you're doing the monitoring. If it's done at home and they're
      Americans, then you have a different scenario.

      And we're all trained that, you know, hands off. If you
      inadvertently run across something like that in the conduct of what
      you're doing, you immediately let someone know; if it's involved in
      something being recorded, it's immediately erased. So, you know,
      it's something that we all know you just don't do. Overseas, okay;
      here at home, not so okay.

      Amy Goodman: I wanted to play for you the clip that we ran of
      President Bush earlier and get your response. This is President Bush
      on Sunday [replays the clip.]

      Amy Goodman: Russell Tice, you were with the National Security
      Agency until May 2005. If al-Qaeda's calling, the U.S. government
      wants to know. Your response?

      Russell Tice: Well, that's probably a good thing to know. But that's
      why we have a FISA court and FISA laws. The FISA court - it's not
      very difficult to get something through a FISA court. I kinda liken
      the FISA court to a monkey with a rubber stamp. The monkey sees a
      name, the monkey sees a word justification with a block of
      information. It can't read the block, but it just stamps "affirmed"
      on the block, and a banana chip rolls out, and then the next paper
      rolls in front of the monkey. When you have like 20,000 requests and
      only, I think, four were turned down, you can't look at the FISA
      court as anything different.

      So, you have to ask yourself the question: Why would someone want to
      go around the FISA court in something like this? I would think the
      answer could be that this thing is a lot bigger than even the
      President has been told it is, and that ultimately a vacuum cleaner
      approach may have been used, in which case you don't get names, and
      that's ultimately why you wouldn't go to the FISA court. And I think
      that's something Congress needs to address. They need to find out
      exactly how this system was operated and ultimately determine
      whether this was indeed a very focused effort or whether this was a
      vacuum cleaner-type scenario.

      Amy Goodman: Did you support the President, Russell Tice? Did you
      vote for President Bush?

      Russell Tice: I am a Republican. I voted for President Bush both in
      the last election and the first election where he was up for
      president. I've contributed to his campaign. I get a Christmas card
      from the White House every year, I guess because of my nominal
      contributions. But I think you're going to find a lot of folks that
      are in the Department of Defense and the intelligence community are
      apt to be on the conservative side of the fence. But nonetheless,
      we're all taught that you don't do something like this. And I'm
      certainly hoping that the President has been misled in what's going
      on here and that the true crux of this problem is in the leadership
      of the intelligence community.

      Amy Goodman: You're saying in the leadership of your own agency, the
      National Security Agency?

      Russell Tice: That's correct, yeah, because certainly General
      Alexander and General Hayden and Bill Black knew that this was

      Amy Goodman: But they clearly had to have authorization from above,
      and Bush is not contending that he did not know.

      Russell Tice: Well, that's true. But the question has to be asked:
      What did the President know? What was the President told about this?
      It's just -- there's just too many variables out there that we don't
      know yet. And, ultimately, I think Congress needs to find out those
      answers. If the President was fed a bill of goods in this matter,
      then that's something that has to be addressed. Or if the President
      himself knew every aspect of what's going on, if this was some sort
      of vacuum cleaner deal, then it is ultimately, I would think, the
      President himself that needs to be held responsible for what's going
      on here.

      Amy Goodman: And what do you think should happen to him?

      Russell Tice: Well, it's certainly not up to me, but I've heard all
      of the talk about impeachment and that sort of thing. You know, I
      saw our last president get impeached for what personally I thought
      should have been something between his wife and his family, and the
      big guy upstairs. It's not up to me, but if the President knew, if
      this was a vacuum cleaner job and the President knew exactly what
      was going on -- and ultimately what we're hearing now is nothing but
      a cover-up and a whitewash -- and we find that to be the case, then
      I think it should cause some dire consequences for even the
      President of the United States, if he indeed did know exactly what
      was going on and if it was a very large-scale, you know, suck-up-
      everything kind of operation.

      Amy Goodman: This investigation that the Justice Department has
      launched - it's interesting that Alberto Gonzales is now Attorney
      General of the United States - the latest story of the New York
      Times: Gonzales, when he was White House Counsel, when Andrew Card,
      chief of staff, went to Ashcroft at his hospital bedside to get
      authorization for this. Can he be a disinterested party in
      investigating this now, as Attorney General himself?

      Russell Tice: Yeah, I think that for anyone to say that the Attorney
      General is going to be totally unbiased about something like this, I
      think that's silly. Of course, the answer is "No." He can't be
      unbiased in this. I think that a special prosecutor or something
      like that may have to be involved in something like this, otherwise
      we're just liable to have a whitewash.

      Amy Goodman: What do you think of the term "police state"?

      Russell Tice: Well, anytime where you have a situation where U.S.
      citizens are being arrested and thrown in jail with the key being
      thrown away, you know, potentially being sent overseas to be
      tortured, U.S. citizens being spied on, you know, and it doesn't
      even go to the court that deals with these secret things, you know,
      I mean, think about it, you could have potentially somebody getting
      the wrong phone call from a terrorist and having him spirited away
      to some back-alley country to get the rubber hose treatment and who
      knows what else. I think that would kind of qualify as a police
      state, in my judgment.

      I certainly hope that Congress or somebody sort of does something
      about this, because, you know, for Americans just to say, 'Oh, well,
      we have to do this because, you know, because of terrorism,' you
      know, it's the same argument that we used with communism years ago:
      take away your civil liberties, but use some threat that's, you
      know, been out there for a long time.

      Terrorism has been there for -- certainly before 9/11 we had
      terrorism problems, and I have a feeling it's going to be around for
      quite some time after whatever we deem is a victory in what we're
      doing now in the Middle East. But, you know, it's just something
      that has to be addressed. We just can't continue to see our civil
      liberties degraded. Ultimately, as Ben Franklin, I think, had said,
      you know, those who would give up their essential liberties for a
      little freedom deserve neither liberty or freedom, and I tend to
      agree with Ben Franklin.

      Amy Goodman: And your colleagues at the N.S.A. right now, their
      feelings, the National Security Agency?

      Russell Tice: Boy, I think most folks at N.S.A. right now are just
      running scared. They have the security office hanging over their
      head, which has always been a bunch of vicious folks, and now
      they've got, you know, this potential witch hunt going on with the
      Attorney General. People in the intelligence community are afraid.
      They know that you can't come forward. You have no protections as a
      whistleblower. These things need to be addressed.

      Amy Goodman: What do you mean you have no protection?

      Russell Tice: Well, like I said before, as a whistleblower, you're
      not protected by the whistleblower laws that are out there. The
      intelligence community is exempt from the whistleblower protection

      Amy Goodman: So why are you doing it?

      Russell Tice: Well, ultimately, I don't have to be afraid of losing
      my job, because I have already lost my job, so that's one reason.
      The other reason is because I made an oath when I became an
      intelligence officer that I would protect the United States
      Constitution; not a president, not some classification, you know,
      for whatever, that ultimately I'm responsible to protect the
      Constitution of the United States. And I think that's the same oath
      the President takes, for the most part.

      So, imagine if something -- if we were like, I don't know, taking
      Americans and assassinating them for suspicions of suspicions of
      terrorism, and then we just put some classification on it and
      said, 'Well, this is super top secret, so no one can say anything
      about that.' Well, at what point do you draw the line and say enough
      is enough? We have to say something here.

      Amy Goodman: What was your classification? How high up was your

      Russell Tice: Well, clearances go up to the top secret level. But
      once you get to the top secret level, there are many caveats and
      many programs and things that can happen beyond that point. I
      specialized in what's known as black world operations and programs
      that are very closely held, things that happen in operations and
      programs in the intelligence community that are closely held, and
      for the most part these programs are very beneficial to ultimately
      getting information and protecting the American people. But in some
      cases, I think, classification levels at these -- we call them
      special access programs, SAPs -- could be used to mask, basically,
      criminal wrongdoing. So I think that's something ultimately Congress
      needs to address, as well, because from what I can see, there is not
      a whole lot of oversight when it comes to some of these deep black

      Amy Goodman: Russell Tice, did you know anyone within the N.S.A. who
      refused to spy on Americans, who refused to follow orders?

      Russell Tice: No. No, I do not. As far as -- of course, I'm not
      witting of anyone that was told they will spy on an American. So,
      ultimately, when this was going on, I have a feeling it was closely
      held at some of the upper echelon levels. And you've got to
      understand, I was a worker bee. I was a guy that wrote the reports
      and did the analysis work and -- you know, the detail guy. At some
      point, your reports have to get sent up up the line and then, you
      know, the management takes action at some point or another, but at
      my level, no, I was not involved in this.

      Amy Goodman: Has Congress responded to your letter offering to
      testify as a former employee of the National Security Agency?

      Russell Tice: Not yet. Of course, the holidays - you know, we just
      had the holidays here, so everybody is out of town. I can't condemn
      Congress too much yet, because I faxed it out on, I do believe, the
      18th of December, and we're just getting into the new year.

      Amy Goodman: And who did you send it to?

      Russell Tice: I sent it to the chairs of the Senate Intelligence
      Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, the SSCI and the

      Amy Goodman: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us.
      Is there anything else that you would like to add?

      Russell Tice: Well, I can't think of a whole lot, except ultimately
      I think the American people need to be concerned about allegations
      that the intelligence community is spying on Americans. One of my
      fears is that this would cause, just going into the N.S.A. and just
      tearing the place up and making the good work that's being done at
      the N.S.A. ineffective, because the N.S.A. is very important to this
      country's security. And I certainly hope that some bad apples, even
      if these bad apples were at the top of N.S.A., don't ultimately
      destroy the capabilities of N.S.A.'s ability to do a good job
      protecting the American people.

      Amy Goodman: Russell Tice, former intelligence agent with the
      National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency, worked
      for the N.S.A. up until May of last year. Thanks for joining us.

      Russell Tice: Thank you.
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