A redacted version of the report was released to the Times last week in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
The Times indicates that after 9/11 President George W. Bush "secretly told the N.S.A. that it could wiretap Americans’ international phone calls and collect bulk data about their phone calls and emails without obeying the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act".
explains how the Bush administration came to tell the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, Royce C. Lamberth, about the program’s existence in early 2002. James A. Baker, then the Justice Department’s top intelligence lawyer, had not been told about the program. But he came across “strange, unattributed” language in an application for an ordinary surveillance warrant and figured it out, then insisted on telling Judge Lamberth. Mr. Baker is now the general counsel to the F.B.I.
It also says that Mr. Baker developed procedures to make sure that warrant applications using information from Stellarwind went only to the judges who knew about the program: first Judge Lamberth and then his successor, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.
The White House would not let Judge Kollar-Kotelly keep a copy of a letter written by a Justice Department lawyer, John C. Yoo, explaining the claimed legal basis of the program, and it rejected a request by Attorney General John Ashcroft to tell his deputy, Larry Thompson, about the program.
The report said that the secrecy surrounding the program made it less useful. Very few working-level C.I.A. analysts were told about it. After the warrantless wiretapping part became public, Congress legalized it in 2007; the report said this should have happened earlier to remove “the substantial restrictions placed on F.B.I. agents’ and analysts’ access to and use of program-derived information due to the highly classified status” of Stellarwind.
In 2003, after Mr. Yoo left the government, other Justice Department officials read his secret memo approving the program — most of which has not been made public — and concluded that it was flawed.
Among other things, the report said, Mr. Yoo’s reasoning was premised on the assumption that the surveillance act, which requires warrants for national security wiretaps, did not expressly apply to wartime situations. His memo did not mention that a provision of that law explains how it applies in war: The warrant rule is suspended for the first 15 days of a war.
The report has new details about a dramatic episode in March 2004, when several Justice Department officials confronted Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel at the time, in the hospital room of Mr. Ashcroft over the legality of the program. The officials included Mr. Thompson’s successor as deputy attorney general, James B. Comey, who is now the F.B.I. director, and the new head of the office where Mr. Yoo had worked, Jack Goldsmith. The showdown prompted Mr. Bush to make two or three changes to Stellarwind, the report said.
But while the report gives a blow-by-blow account of the bureaucratic fight, it censors an explanation of the substance of the legal dispute and Mr. Bush’s changes. Last year, the Obama administration released a redacted version of a memo that Mr. Goldsmith later wrote about Stellarwind and similarly censored important details.
Nevertheless, it is public knowledge, because of documents leaked by the former intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden, that one part of the dispute concerned the legality of the component of Stellarwind that collected bulk records about Americans’ emails. Mr. Snowden’s disclosures included a working draft version of the N.S.A. inspector general’s contribution to this report, roughly 50 pages long. The final document — with many passages redacted as still classified — was part of Friday’s release. ...
The Justice Department created the new type of investigation, initially called a “threat assessment,” which could be opened with lower-grade tips. Agents now use them tens of thousands of times a year.
But little came of the Stellarwind tips. In 2004, the F.B.I. looked at a sampling of all the tips to see how many had made a “significant contribution” to identifying a terrorist, deporting a terrorism suspect, or developing a confidential informant about terrorists.
Just 1.2 percent of the tips from 2001 to 2004 had made such a contribution. Two years later, the F.B.I. reviewed all the leads from the warrantless wiretapping part of Stellarwind between August 2004 and January 2006. None had proved useful. Still, the report includes several redacted paragraphs describing “success” cases.