Sunday, December 18, 2005

Bush defends spying in U.S. + Links


Bush defends spying in U.S. + Related Links

By James KuhnhennKnight Ridder

WASHINGTON - President Bush acknowledged Saturday that he ordered the National Security Agency to spy on Americans and he defiantly vowed to continue such domestic electronic eavesdropping ``for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from Al-Qaida and related groups.''

In an unusual step, Bush delivered a live weekly radio address from the White House in which he defended his action as ``fully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities.''
Bush's statement came a day before he was scheduled to make a rare Oval Office address to the nation, at 6 p.m. PST today, celebrating the Iraqi elections and describing what his press secretary Saturday called the ``path forward.''

White House aides said Bush appears ready to at least hint at reductions in U.S. troop levels in Iraq.

Bush said the eavesdropping program has been reviewed regularly by the nation's top legal authorities and targets only those people with ``a clear link to these terrorist networks.'' Noting the failures to detect hijackers already in the country before the strikes on New York and Washington, Bush said the NSA's domestic spying since then has helped thwart other attacks.

``The activities I have authorized make it more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time,'' Bush said. ``And the activities conducted under this authorization have helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad.''
The president said congressional leaders had been briefed on the operation more than a dozen times. Classified programs are typically disclosed to the chairs and ranking minority members of the House and Senate intelligence committees.

Pelosi's questions

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said she had been told on several occasions that Bush had authorized unspecified activities by the National Security Agency, the nation's largest spy agency. She said she had expressed strong concerns at the time, and that Bush's statement Saturday ``raises serious questions as to what the activities were and whether the activities were lawful.''

Bush's unusually frank admission came amid a bipartisan uproar in Congress after the New York Times revealed the secret NSA program Friday. Bush said the article relied on unauthorized disclosure of classified information that ``damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk.''

Disclosure of the program helped generate opposition in the Senate on Friday to a renewal of the Patriot Act, which gave the FBI greater surveillance power after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and which expires Dec. 31.

The law, passed October 2001, made it easier for the FBI and CIA to share intelligence and gave federal authorities more power to conduct secret searches, tap phone calls, monitor e-mail and seize personal records ranging from financial documents to library lending lists.

In his radio address, the president rebuked Senate Democrats for blocking renewal of the Patriot Act.

“The terrorist threat to our country will not expire in two weeks,'' said Bush, calling a filibuster by Democratic senators opposed to the Patriot Act “irresponsible.”
Senators blocked a vote on final passage after complaints that the new legislation did not go far enough to protect civil liberties.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Democrats have offered to extend the current law for three months to give House and Senate negotiators more time to work out changes that could be locked in for four years. Bush and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., repeatedly have said they will not accept a short-term extension.

Bush's address Saturday represented a turnaround for a White House that initially refused to discuss the highly classified NSA effort even after it was revealed in news accounts. Advisers said Bush decided to confirm the program's existence -- and combine that with a demand for reauthorization of the Patriot Act -- to put critics on the defensive by framing it as a matter of national security, not civil liberties.

The New York Times report said the NSA secretly monitored -- without court approval -- international phone calls and e-mail messages that originated in the United States. The article said the NSA eavesdropped on hundreds and perhaps thousands of U.S. citizens and other U.S. residents or tourists.

Officials have privately credited the eavesdropping with the apprehension of Iyman Faris, a truck driver who pleaded guilty in 2003 to planning to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. Bush said other plots have been disrupted as well.

A high-ranking intelligence official said Saturday that the presidential directive was first issued in October 2001, not in 2002, as other sources have told the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Went around court

The president ordered the NSA to act without approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, a special federal tribunal created in 1978 to authorize domestic counterterrorism operations.

“I don't understand why that wasn't used,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. “Congress has clearly provided for what was going on. It seems to be that that procedure should have been followed.”
In a Democratic response, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., called Bush's address a “shocking admission”and demanded that he halt the program immediately.

“The president believes that he has the power to override the laws that Congress has passed,” Feingold said. “This is not how our democratic system of government works. The president does not get to pick and choose which laws he wants to follow.
He is a president, not a king.”

Bush supporters fell in line behind the president.
“This is war, not a tea party,” Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., said on the House floor Saturday. “The president is doing the right thing, and we need to support him.”
The Associated Press, the New York Times and the Washington Post contributed to this report.

Bush OKd spy program within U.S. ~ December 18, 2005


WASHINGTON -- 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 followed 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,'' said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), 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 hours later, however, a senior intelligence official said the eavesdropping was narrowly designed to go after possible terrorist threats in the United States.

Renewed 3 dozen times

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.

Dems back filibuster

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.

Several Senate Democrats cited the report during debate Friday before blocking passage of a new Patriot Act to combat terrorism at home, depicting the measure as a threat to the constitutional liberties of innocent Americans. The Senate voted 52-47 to advance a House-passed bill to a final vote, eight short of the 60 needed to overcome the filibuster backed by nearly all Senate Democrats and a handful of the 45 Republicans. However, exemptions in the Patriot Act would keep its powers alive for many investigations, including all continuing terrorist probes, even if Congress allows 16 provisions to expire Dec. 31.

As Congress struggled over whether and for how long to extend the act and with what new safeguards for civil liberties, attention turned to the anti-terrorism law's actual sunset provisions, which are sharply limited. Even if the law expires, the act provides that all of its powers continue in effect ''with respect to any particular foreign intelligence investigation that began before Dec. 31, 2005, or with respect to any particular offense or potential offense that began or occurred before Dec. 31, 2005."

In effect, Patriot Act powers would expire Dec. 31 only for new investigations of people whose criminal activity began after Dec. 31 and who were not associated with anyone who was under investigation before Dec. 31.

Congress pushes back, hard, against Bush: December 19, 2005 edition
Blindsided by news of domestic spying, it is holding up a key bill.

By Gail Russell Chaddock | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

WASHINGTON – From a standoff over the Patriot Act to pushback from Capitol Hill on the treatment of detainees, secret prisons abroad, and government eavesdropping at home, tensions between the Bush White House and the Republican-controlled Congress have never been more exposed.

Much of the rift is over the exercise of executive power. Some lawmakers oppose the president on the values involved in harsh interrogation of terror suspects. Others are riled that they were left out of the intelligence loop.

Even Republicans who favor renewing the Patriot Act were blindsided by news Friday, later confirmed, that President Bush had authorized secret eavesdropping on international communications from people in the US with ties to terrorists.

"It's inexcusable ... clearly and categorically wrong," says Sen. Arlen Specter (R) of Pennsylvania, who was not among the congressional leaders Mr. Bush says had been briefed on the program. Senator Specter promises that the Judiciary Committee he chairs will hold hearings on domestic spying by the National Security Agency in the new year.

"We'll look at what they did, whose conversations they listened to, what they did with the material, and what purported justification there was for it," he adds.

At press time, the White House and Senate GOP leaders were still short of the votes to renew provisions of the Patriot Act set to expire on Dec. 31.

On Friday, four Republicans and all but two Democrats opposed a move to end a filibuster and vote on reauthorizing the 2001 law. Instead, they are urging a three-month extension to reopen negotiations to boost protections for civil liberties.

Several senators cited disclosures of a secret US eavesdropping program in that morning's New York Times as the basis for their "no" vote. Democrats say as many as eight votes were swayed by the report. "We had 12 'possible leaners' going into the vote," says Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip.

Citing conversations with senators who voted against the bill, Sen. Jon Kyl (R) of Arizona attributed the loss to fears of the abuse of government power. "There's a feeling out there and it's hard to go against that feeling," he says. Senator Kyl and other Republicans say they will keep pressing the need for the Patriot Act, which they say is widely misunderstood.

Scrapping his taped radio address hailing this week's Iraq elections, President Bush on Saturday instead lashed out at media, and at congressional critics of his decision to approve eavesdropping - without a warrant. Revealing such information in the press, he said, "is illegal, alerts our enemies, and endangers our country." He also said the Senate filibuster on the Patriot Act is "irresponsible, and it endangers of lives of our citizens."

In an interview with "Fox News Sunday," Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid acknowledged that he had been briefed on the eavesdropping program "a couple of months ago." But he added that "the president can't pass the buck on this one. It's his program." House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said she, too, had been briefed, and had raised "strong concerns" at the time, according to the Associated Press.

The dustup over domestic spying and the Patriot Act follows a series of congressional assaults on executive power, especially over the conduct of the war against terrorism.

Facing a revolt on Capitol Hill, Bush reversed his stand opposing a ban on "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment of detainees.

The ban, proposed by Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, who survived years of torture in a North Vietnamese prison camp, won 90 votes in the Senate. In the House, 107 Republicans joined virtually all Democrats in passing the resolution.

"We have sent a message to the world that the United States is not like the terrorists," said Senator McCain at a White House news conference with the president on Thursday.

Congress is also ramping up for investigations of overseas detention centers, another story first disclosed in press reports, as well as Phase 2 of an investigation on whether the Bush administration exaggerated the prewar intelligence on Iraq. Democrats, who last month called the Senate into an unusual secret session to draw attention to this issue, say the investigation is now "moving along."

Rifts between Republicans and the White House also opened wide on immigration policy. In the House, many conservatives strongly opposed moves to include the president's guest worker fix in a bill to improve border security.

"In time of war the president gets a certain period when he has a freer hand, but inevitably that period ends. Congress eventually reasserts itself," says John Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. "Legislative-executive tensions are now overriding party unity."

Related Websources~

Bush Defends U.S. Wiretaps, Urges Patriot Act Renewal (Update4)

Read analysis from the Electronic Freedom Foundation. This site also tracks new developments with the Patriot Act at:

Question: The Patriot Act: What does the Patriot Act mean to me?

You can read the Patriot Act online at this site:

The US Department of Justice provides the argument in favor of the Patriot Act at a site that also gives the history of the act and updates to it. Click here:
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