January 19, 2006
Administration Lays Out Legal Case for Wiretapping Program
By ERIC LICHTBLAU
WASHINGTON, Jan. 19 - The Bush administration today offered its fullest
defense of the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping program,
saying that congressional authorization to defeat Al Qaeda after the Sept.
11 attacks "places the president at the zenith of his powers in authorizing
the N.S.A. activities."
In a 42-page white paper, the Justice Department expanded on its past
arguments in laying out the legal rationale for why the N.S.A. program does
not violate federal wiretap law and why the president is the nation's "sole
organ" for foreign affairs.
The defense comes at a critical time in the administration's effort to quell
the growing political uproar over the N.S.A. program. House Democrats will
be holding their first hearing Friday on the legality of the program, and
the Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled another hearing in two weeks. A
number of legal analysts, meanwhile, including those at the nonpartisan
Congressional Research Service, have questioned the legality of the program
in strong terms.
But the Bush administration appears undeterred by the criticism. In its
white paper, it turned time and again to the congressional authorization of
Sept. 14, 2001, even though the Congressional Research Service study was
particularly skeptical of this line of defense.
The white paper "is not a blank check that says the president can do
whatever he wants," said Steven G. Bradbury, an acting assistant attorney
general at the Justice Department. But at the same time, he said, the
president must use all the tools available to him to fight terrorism.
Vice President Dick Cheney defended the administration's approach today in a
speech before the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research in New York City.
"A spirited debate is now under way, and our message to the American people
is clear and straightforward," Mr. Cheney said. "These actions are within
the president's authority and responsibility under the Constitution and
laws, and these actions are vital to our security."
In his appearance before the institute, Mr. Cheney defended the program as
proper and legal in every respect. "The entire program undergoes a thorough
review within the executive branch every 45 days," Mr. Cheney said. "After
each review, the president determines once again whether or not to
reauthorize the program. He has done so more than 30 times since Sept. 11,
and he has indicated his intent to do so as long as our nation faces a
continuing threat from Al Qaeda and related organizations."
The president authorized the program after the Sept. 11 attacks, allowing
the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the
United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the
court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according
to government officials.
Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has
monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail
messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States
without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible
"dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they
said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.
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