[ant1 at rael.org: [rael-science] Bush Approved Eavesdropping, Official Says]

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Sat Dec 17 08:19:53 PST 2005

Source: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20051217/ap_on_go_pr_wh/bush_nsa

Bush Approved Eavesdropping, Official Says

President Bush has personally authorized a
secretive eavesdropping program in the United
States more than three dozen times since October
2001, a senior intelligence official said Friday night.

The disclosure follows angry demands by lawmakers
earlier in the day for congressional inquiries
into whether the monitoring by the highly
secretive National Security Agency violated civil liberties.

"There is no doubt that this is inappropriate,"
declared Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (news,
bio, voting record) of Pennsylvania, chairman of
the Senate Judiciary Committee. He promised hearings early next year.

Bush on Friday refused to discuss whether he had
authorized such domestic spying without obtaining
warrants from a court, saying that to comment
would tie his hands in fighting terrorists.

In a broad defense of the program put forward
hours later, however, a senior intelligence
official told The Associated Press that the
eavesdropping was narrowly designed to go after
possible terrorist threats in the United States.

The official said that, since October 2001, the
program has been renewed more than three dozen
times. Each time, the White House counsel and the
attorney general certified the lawfulness of the
program, the official said. Bush then signed the authorizations.

During the reviews, government officials have
also provided a fresh assessment of the terrorist
threat, showing that there is a catastrophic risk
to the country or government, the official said.

"Only if those conditions apply do we even begin
to think about this," he said. The official spoke
on condition of anonymity because of the
classified nature of the intelligence operation.

"The president has authorized NSA to fully use
its resources ? let me underscore this now ?
consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution to
defend the United States and its citizens," the
official said, adding that congressional leaders
have also been briefed more than a dozen times.

Senior administration officials asserted the
president would do everything in his power to
protect the American people while safeguarding civil liberties.

"I will make this point," Bush said in an
interview with "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer."
"That whatever I do to protect the American
people ? and I have an obligation to do so ? that
we will uphold the law, and decisions made are
made understanding we have an obligation to
protect the civil liberties of the American people."

The surveillance, disclosed in Friday's New York
Times, is said to allow the agency to monitor
international calls and e-mail messages of people
inside the United States. But the paper said the
agency would still seek warrants to snoop on
purely domestic communications ? for example,
Americans' calls between New York and California.

"I want to know precisely what they did," Specter
said. "How NSA utilized their technical
equipment, whose conversations they overheard,
how many conversations they overheard, what they
did with the material, what purported justification there was."

Sen. Russ Feingold (news, bio, voting record),
D-Wis., a member of the Judiciary Committee,
said, "This shocking revelation ought to send a
chill down the spine of every American."

Vice President Dick Cheney and Bush chief of
staff Andrew Card went to the Capitol Friday to
meet with congressional leaders and the top
members of the intelligence committees, who are
often briefed on spy agencies' most classified
programs. Members and their aides would not
discuss the subject of the closed sessions.

The intelligence official would not provide
details on the operations or examples of success
stories. He said senior national security
officials are trying to fix problems raised by
the Sept. 11 commission, which found that two of
the suicide hijackers were communicating from San
Diego with al-Qaida operatives overseas.

"We didn't know who they were until it was too late," the official said.

Some intelligence experts who believe in broad
presidential power argued that Bush would have
the authority to order these searches without warrants under the

In a case unrelated to the NSA's domestic
eavesdropping, the administration has argued that
the president has vast authority to order
intelligence surveillance without warrants "of
foreign powers or their agents."

"Congress cannot by statute extinguish that
constitutional authority," the Justice Department
said in a 2002 legal filing with the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review.

Other intelligence veterans found difficulty with
the program in light of the 1978 Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act, passed after the
intelligence community came under fire for spying
on Americans. That law gives government ? with
approval from a secretive U.S. court ? the
authority to conduct covert wiretaps and
surveillance of suspected terrorists and spies.

In a written statement, NSA spokesman Don Weber
said the agency would not provide any information
on the reported surveillance program. "We do not
discuss actual or alleged operational issues," he said.

Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, former NSA general
counsel, said it was troubling that such a change
would have been made by executive order, even if
it turns out to be within the law.

Parker, who has no direct knowledge of the
program, said the effect could be corrosive.
"There are programs that do push the edge, and
would be appropriate, but will be thrown out," she said.

Prior to 9/11, the NSA typically limited its
domestic surveillance activities to foreign
embassies and missions ? and obtained court
orders for such investigations. Much of its work
was overseas, where thousands of people with
suspected terrorist ties or other valuable intelligence may be monitored.

The report surfaced as the administration and its
GOP allies on Capitol Hill were fighting to save
provisions of the expiring USA Patriot Act that
they believe are key tools in the fight against
terrorism. An attempt to rescue the approach
favored by the White House and Republicans failed on a procedural vote.

----- End forwarded message -----
Eugen* Leitl <a href="http://leitl.org">leitl</a> http://leitl.org
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