POLITICS

Sen. Jay Rockefeller Speculated NSA Was Wiretapping Him

05/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Earlier this year, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) speculated that the National Security Agency may have wiretapped him. His statement came at the very end of an interview in January with MSNBCs Chris Matthews and received little attention.

Matthews asked Rockefeller about allegations that the NSA spied on journalists as part of its anti-terror surveillance. "I'm quite prepared to believe it. I think they went after anybody they could get, including me," he said.

Matthews was skeptical. "They didn't eavesdrop on you, did they, senator?" he asked.

"They sent me no letters," replied Rockefeller, meaning that he had no confirmation from the NSA that they had spied on him.

His speculation takes on much more significance in light of a New York Times report that the NSA attempted to spy on a congressman.

A Huffington Post reader directed us to the Rockefeller remark. It was one among dozens of tips that HuffPost readers sent in after sifting through congressional records and searching for old news reports on Thursday. Reader research is resulting in a fairly comprehensive list, which we continue to update, of members of Congress who match the New York Times description of the congressman that the National Security Agency attempted to wiretap.

The Times reported that it couldn't identify the member but that he -- the paper used the term "congressman" -- had traveled on a congressional delegation to the Middle East in 2005 and 2006.

The Times' Eric Lichtblau, lead reporter on the story with James Risen, tells the Huffington Post he's pulling for our readers.

"Citizen journalism: If your readers can figure it out before us, that'd be great," Lichtblau says.

Though the Times reported that one member was targeted, it's possible that others may have been as well. Using a bit of common sense, it's easy to tighten the circle of likely suspects.

As one reader put it: "I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that the congressman is a Democrat."

We'll join him on that limb. The Times reported that the NSA official asserted that the member of Congress in question had "contact...with an extremist who had possible terrorist ties." Presuming a Middle East connection, Democrats are more likely to have been in touch with such people because of contacts with Palestinian and Lebanese activists, which Republicans tend to avoid. Serious Palestinian activists are highly likely to have been in contact with officials from Hamas, the elected Palestinian leadership that was declared a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. Likewise, Lebanon's Hezbollah controls much of the southern region and holds a substantial number of seats in the Lebanese parliament. Contact with Hezbollah officials could raise the hackles of the NSA.

A number of readers suggested Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), for this reason as well as his fervent opposition to the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, was a likely suspect. He traveled twice to the Middle East in 2005 and 2006, meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as well as activists in Lebanon, much to the chagrin of the White House at the time.

Other readers suggested former Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) as a likely target. She lost her reelection bid in 2006 and have been a vocal supporter of the Palestinian people, even attempting to break through an Israeli blockade in 2008 to reach Gaza with a group of activists. McKinney, however, doesn't fit the Times' gender-specific description.

A reader notes that Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) traveled to Syria and Lebanon in 2006 and met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which infuriated the Bush administration.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) was cited a number of times as a likely candidate. His position as chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee during the Bush years certainly didn't endear him to the administration, but targeting a powerful committee chairman carries with it great risks. If you're the NSA, it's a good way to get your entire project shut down. For the same reason, it's also less likely Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), a committee chairman and close ally of Pelosi, would have been targeted.

A number have readers have speculated that Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the lone Muslim in Congress, is the most likely to have been the NSA target. He didn't enter Congress until 2007. However, Carter Nelsen, a Minnesota reader, notes that he "went with a fact-finding cong. delegation to the Middle East (Qatar & a number of other countries) in April 2007. He was first elected in 2006, so he wasn't available for any 05-06 trips, but still -- he is the first Muslim member of Congress, & I can't imagine a more likely target for some right-wing hack at the NSA."

Reader Maggie Masar notes that then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) went on a codel to the Middle East in 2006. Is this the kind of terrorist tie they're looking for?

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