Bush Approved Eavesdropping, Official Says

By KATHERINE SHRADER
Associated Press Writer
http://tinyurl.com/8zajm

WASHINGTON (AP) -- 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 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 White House is denying President Bush broke any laws in what he
authorized U-S spy agencies to do.

"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, 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 Constitution.

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.

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