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More on the Diana Phone Taps

Courtesy of Byron York:

But the Evening Standard reports that American intelligence agencies “were bugging Princess Diana’s telephone over her relationship with a U.S. billionaire” — identified as American businessman Theodore Forstmann. That report suggests the surveillance took place over a period of some time. If that is accurate, then the story could be quite different.

Forstmann is what is known in the intelligence/legal world as a “U.S. person.” If there were a conversation between him, in the United States, and Diana, outside the United States, it would resemble, at least in structure, the conversations between people in the United States and those in foreign countries that have been at the center of the controversy over what President Bush calls the terrorist-surveillance program and what Democrats call “domestic spying.” (The difference, of course, would be that the Bush administration says it has listened to conversations involving people with known connections to a foreign enemy, al Qaeda; neither Diana nor Forstmann, a public-minded financier who was quite active in Republican politics, appears to fit a comparable description.)

If the Clinton administration did engage in surveillance of Diana/Forstmann, it is not clear if it was done with or without a warrant. “To get a FISA warrant, they would have had to believe that either Forstmann or Diana was an agent of a foreign power,” says one former Justice Department official. That, the official adds, would be an unlikely scenario. “To get a criminal warrant, they would have had to had a proceeding going on in which they got a judge to give them a warrant” — another unlikely scenario. “Or perhaps,” the official concludes, “the NSA did it.”

The National Security Agency released a statement last night saying, “NSA did not target Princess Diana’s communications.” A spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency told the Washington Post that any suggestion the CIA wiretapped Diana was “rubbish.” Neither statement seems to be a definitive denial.

If the Clinton administration did engage in surveillance of Princess Diana and Theodore Forstmann, without a warrant, it would appear to run contrary to statements made by former administration officials during the Bush warrantless-wiretap controversy. After the existence of the Bush program was made public last December, some high-ranking veterans of the Clinton administration said they had not engaged in similar efforts to by-pass FISA. “Both before and after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was amended in 1995, the Clinton-Gore administration complied fully and completely with the terms of the law,” former Vice President Al Gore said.

The amendment to which Gore referred was an action by Congress that included physical break-ins under the FISA law, requiring the executive branch to seek a warrant before carrying out a break-in. Wiretaps were already covered by the law.

Maybe Bill was just trying to impress Eleanor Mondale.


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