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Russell Tice, Sliced and Diced

I got a phone call last night from a friend wondering why this story from ABC News wasn't getting more play. It reads in part:
President Bush has admitted that he gave orders that allowed the NSA to eavesdrop on a small number of Americans without the usual requisite warrants.

But [longtime National Security Agency insider Russell] Tice disagrees. He says the number of Americans subject to eavesdropping by the NSA could be in the millions if the full range of secret NSA programs is used.

"That would mean for most Americans that if they conducted, or you know, placed an overseas communication, more than likely they were sucked into that vacuum," Tice said.

The same day The New York Times broke the story of the NSA eavesdropping without warrants, Tice surfaced as a whistleblower in the agency. He told ABC News that he was a source for the Times' reporters.

Tice was let go from the NSA last year. ABC News writes that he "is prepared to tell Congress all he knows about the alleged wrongdoing in these programs run by the Defense Department and the NSA in the post-9/11 efforts to go after terrorists."

Parts of this story has been around for a little while – On Jan. 5, The Washington Times noted that Tice wanted to testify before Congress, based on letters written by Tice from Dec. 16th, the same day the New York Times broke the spy story. But questions about Russell Tice's credibility are now taking center stage, as is so often the case in these kinds of stories.

When Tice was fired last May, Rebecca Carr of Cox News service tried to connect the dots. "The National Security Agency fired a high level intelligence official just days after he publicly urged Congress to pass stronger protections for federal whistleblowers facing retaliation," she wrote. It wasn't a clear cut case of whistleblower retaliation, however, as "Tice has been at the odds with the agency since he reported suspicions that a female co-worker at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), was a spy for the People's Republic of China."

(I guess so: "In June, 2003, the agency suspended his security clearances and ordered him to maintain the agency's vehicles by pumping gas and cleaning them. Last month, they ordered him to unload furniture at its warehouses.")

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This is where it gets weird – or weirder, anyway: The NSA ordered Tice to undergo an unscheduled psychological evaluation. There, a "Defense Department psychologist concluded that Tice suffered from psychotic paranoia." Tice later wrote that he "did this even though he admitted that I did not show any of the normal indications of someone suffering from paranoia." (There have been documented cases where government whistleblowers or troublemakers have been intimidated or persecuted through forced psychological testing.)

James Risen, the Times reporter who broke the spy story, has been making the media rounds lauding his sources – including, it follows, Tice. He told Katie Couric:

Well, you know, I think this was the most classic whistleblower case I've ever seen where people--you know, in--in a lot of stories people have mixed motives for why they talk to reporters. Some--some people--in some stories there's a turf battle, and they're losing out in the turf battle, or whatever. In this case--I've been a reporter for about 25 years, this was the purest case of a whistle--of--of whistleblowers coming forward, people who truly believed that there was something wrong going on in the government, and they were motivated, I believe, by the purest of reasons.
In light of all this, conservative bloggers are taking shots at Tice and Risen's story. Noting that "Russ Tice is a former NSA employee who was dismissed when a psychiatric evaluation found him to be mentally unbalanced," Stephen Spruiell of National Review Online excerpts an earlier post in which he wrote, "If Tice turns out to be one of the NY Times' anonymous sources for its NSA stories, didn't the Times readers deserve to know that its information came from a potentially unbalanced ex-employee with an ax to grind?"

Last night, ABC led its evening newscast with an interview with Tice from Brian Ross. "Three times ABC championed the man as a "whistleblower," never once suggesting less pure motives, and Ross didn't raise any questions about damage the leak may have caused," wrote Brent Baker at Newsbusters.

Expect Tice's credibility to become an issue in the coming months – even Kos writes "I don't know if the guy is credible, but Congress needs to give the guy a listen." Risen had a number of sources for his piece beyond Tice, but it's likely that those who disagree with his conclusions and the criticisms of the government stemming from the Times story will go hard after him. Here's a possible preview of what to expect, from Blackfive: "Russell Tice is a disloyal swine who should have kept quiet and remembered that the New York Times is not a government agency and certainly not the place to report your concerns about a classified program helping us avoid more terrorist attacks in the US."

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