Report: Bush Permitted NSA to Spy in U.S. (Yahoo! News via The New York Times)
President Bush pauses during a meeting with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2005 in Washington. The White House has agreed to McCain's proposal to ban cruel treatment of prisoners. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Report: Bush Permitted NSA to Spy in U.S.
21 minutes ago
NEW YORK - The National Security Agency has eavesdropped, without warrants, on as many 500 people inside the United States at any given time since 2002, The New York Times reported Friday.
That year, following the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush authorized the NSA to monitor the international phone calls and international e-mails of hundreds — perhaps thousands — of people inside the United States, the Times reported.
Before the program began, the NSA typically limited its domestic surveillance to foreign embassies and missions and obtained court orders for such investigations. Overseas, 5,000 to 7,000 people suspected of terrorist ties are monitored at one time.
The Times said reporters interviewed nearly a dozen current and former administration officials about the program and granted them anonymity because of the classified nature of the program.
Government officials credited the new program with uncovering several terrorist plots, including one by Iyman Faris, an Ohio trucker who pleaded guilty in 2003 to supporting al-Qaida by planning to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge, the report said.
But some NSA officials were so concerned about the legality of the program that they refused to participate, the Times said. Questions about the legality of the program led the administration to temporarily suspend it last year and impose new restrictions.
Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the group's initial reaction to the disclosure was "shock that the administration has gone so far in violating American civil liberties to the extent where it seems to be a violation of federal law."
Asked about the administration's contention that the eavesdropping has disrupted terrorist attacks, Fredrickson said the ACLU couldn't comment until it sees some evidence. "They've veiled these powers in secrecy so there's no way for Congress or any independent organizations to exercise any oversight."
The Bush administration had briefed congressional leaders about the program and notified the judge in charge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret Washington court that handles national security issues.
Aides to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte and West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, declined to comment Thursday night.
The Times said it delayed publication of the report for a year because the White House said it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny. The Times said it omitted information from the story that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists.
Earlier this week, NBC News reported it had obtained a document generated by an obscure Pentagon agency that analyzes intelligence reports on suspicious domestic activity. The 400-page document included at least 20 references to U.S. citizens, plus information on anti-war meetings and protests.
The Pentagon said Wednesday that Stephen Cambone, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, had ordered a full review of the system for handling such information to ensure that it complies with Pentagon policies and federal law.
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Bush Approved Eavesdropping, Official Says
By KATHERINE SHRADER, Associated Press Writer 20 minutes ago
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 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 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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SOURCE - http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20051217/ap_on_go_pr_wh/bush_nsa
Senate Rejects Extension of Patriot Act
By DAVID ESPO, AP Special Correspondent 2 hours, 7 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - In a stinging defeat for President Bush, Senate Democrats blocked passage Friday of a new Patriot Act to combat terrorism at home, depicting the measure as a threat to the constitutional liberties of innocent Americans.
Republicans spurned calls for a short-term measure to prevent the year-end expiration of law enforcement powers first enacted in the anxious days after Sept. 11, 2001. "The president will not sign such an extension," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and lawmakers on each side of the issue blamed the other for congressional gridlock on the issue.
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 55 Republicans.
"We can come together to give the government the tools it needs to fight terrorism and protect the rights and freedoms of innocent citizens," said Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., arguing that provisions permitting government access to confidential personal data lacked safeguards to protect the innocent.
"We need to be more vigilant," agreed Sen. John Sununu (news, bio, voting record), a Republican from New Hampshire, where the state motto is "Live Free or Die." He quoted Benjamin Franklin: "Those that would give up essential liberty in pursuit of a little temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security."
But Frist likened the bill's opponents to those who "have called for a retreat and defeat strategy in Iraq. That's the wrong strategy in Iraq. It is the wrong strategy here at home."
Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., said, "If 90-plus percent of the Democrats vote against cloture, and 90-plus percent of the Republicans vote for cloture, it is hard to argue it is not partisan." Cloture is a Senate term that refers to ending a filibuster.
In a statement, Bush said terrorists "want to attack America again and kill the innocent and inflict even greater damage" than four years ago. "Congress has a responsibility not to take away this vital tool that law enforcement and intelligence have used."
Congressional officials pointed to a provision in the existing law that said even if it expired, law enforcement agencies could continue to wield Patriot Act powers in existing investigations of all known groups such as al-Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and the Zarqawi group in Iraq.
Justice Department officials said no existing wiretap would have to be turned off. But they said expiration of the law would create confusion about whether information gleaned after Jan. 1 could be shared, even if it stemmed from an ongoing investigation.
Much of the controversy involved powers granted to law enforcement agencies to gain access to a wealth of personal data, including library and medical records, in secret, as part of investigations into suspected terrorist activity.
The bill also includes a four-year extension of the government's ability to conduct roving wiretaps — which may involve multiple phones — and continues the authority to wiretap "lone wolf" terrorists who may operate on their own, without control from a foreign agent or power.
Yet another provision, which applies to all criminal cases, gives the government 30 days to provide notice that it has carried out a search warrant. Current law requires the government to disclose search warrants in a reasonable period of time.
During debate, several Democrats pointed to a New York Times report that Bush had secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on individuals inside the United States without first securing permission from the courts.
"Today's revelation makes it crystal clear that we have to be very careful, very careful," said Sen. Charles Schumer (news, bio, voting record), D-N.Y.
No Republican defended the reported practice, and the bill's chief Republican supporter joined in the criticism. "There is no doubt that this is inappropriate," said Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record), R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He pledged hearings in 2006.
Under the measure the Senate was considering, law enforcement officials could continue to obtain secret access to a variety of personal records from businesses, hospitals and other organizations, including libraries.
Access is obtained by order of a secret court established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Specter told the bill's critics that before such permission is granted, a judge would have to "make a determination on a factual showing that there is a terrorism investigation that does involve foreigners."
On a second issue covered under the bill, a so-called National Security Letter, government investigators could continue to gain access to a more limited range of personal records without a court order of any kind.
Specter said the legislation permitted the recipient of a letter to appeal in court. "The essence of the protection of civil rights ... has been that you interpose an impartial magistrate between the policeman and the citizens. That protection is given," he said.
The recipient of such an order is barred from disclosing it, and Sununu said that in order to overturn the gag order, "you have to show...bad faith on the part of the federal government, and no individual or business will ever be able to show that."
On the Senate vote, two Democrats supported the GOP-led effort to advance the bill to a final vote, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Sununu and GOP Sens. Larry Craig of Idaho, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted to block the measure. Frist initially voted to advance the bill, then switched to opposition purely as a parliamentary move that enables him to call for a second vote at some point in the future.
On a separate issue, the House called for the Bush administration to give Congress details of secret detention facilities overseas. The vote was 228-187.
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Bush Raps Senators Over Patriot Act
By JENNIFER LOVEN, Associated Press Writer 53 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - President Bush said Saturday that senators who are blocking renewal of the terrorism-fighting Patriot Act are acting irresponsibly and standing in the way of protecting the country from attack.
"In the war on terror, we cannot afford to be without this law for a single moment," the president said in a live broadcast from the White House of his weekly radio address.
Senate Democrats, with the aid of a handful of Republicans, succeeded Friday in stalling the bill already approved by the House. The vote to advance the measure, 52-47, fell eight votes shy of the 60 votes required to end debate.
"That decision is irresponsible and it endangers the lives of our citizens. The senators who are filibustering must stop their delaying tactics and the Senate must reauthorize the Patriot Act," Bush said.
Opponents of renewing the law, most of whom are Democrats, argue that it threatens constitutional liberties at home.
Most Republicans and other supporters say the act is essential for protecting the country against terrorists. The law was enacted in the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Of the 55 Republicans in the Senate, four helped to block its passage while two of the 45 Democrats pushed to pass it.
Some of the most contentious elements of the Patriot Act include powers granted to law enforcement agencies to gain access in secret to library and medical records and other personal data during investigations of suspected terrorist activity.
The law allows the government to conduct roving wiretaps involving multiple phones and to wiretap "lone wolf" terrorists who may operate on their own, without control from a foreign agent or power.
If the law is not renewed, its 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.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (news, bio, voting record), D-Vt., and a chief supporter of the original Patriot Act, said in a statement after Bush's radio address that the administration and GOP congressional leaders rewrote the reauthorization in ways that fell short of protecting basic civil liberties and then attempted to force it through Congress.
Leahy urged Bush and GOP leaders to support a brief extension of the law so that changes could be made in the reauthorization.
"Fear mongering and false choices do little to advance either the security or liberty of Americans," Leahy said. "Instead of playing partisan politics and setting up false attack ads, they should join in trying to improve the law."
The debate over the Patriot Act was fueled anew by a New York Times report that Bush had secretly authorized eavesdropping on individuals in the United States without first gaining permission from the courts.
In his radio address, Bush defended his decision to authorize the National Security Agency to conduct the secret probes much as he defended the Patriot Act, saying both had saved lives and prevented more attacks.
Noting that key provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire in two weeks, the president said: "The terrorist treat to our country will not expire in two weeks. The terrorists want to attack America again, and inflict even greater damage than they did on September the 11th."
Bush added, "Congress has a responsibility to ensure that law enforcement and intelligence officials have the tools they need to protect the American people."
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Bush Acknowledges Approving Eavesdropping
By JENNIFER LOVEN, Associated Press Writer 45 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - President Bush said Saturday he has no intention of stopping his personal authorizations of a post-Sept. 11 secret eavesdropping program in the U.S., lashing out at those involved in revealing it while defending it as crucial to preventing future attacks.
"This is a highly classified program that is crucial to our national security," he said in a radio address delivered live from the White House's Roosevelt Room.
"This authorization is a vital tool in our war against the terrorists. It is critical to saving American lives. The American people expect me to do everything in my power, under our laws and Constitution, to protect them and their civil liberties and that is exactly what I will continue to do as long as I am president of the United States," Bush said.
Angry members of Congress have demanded an explanation of the program, first revealed in Friday's New York Times and whether the monitoring by the National Security Agency without obtaining warrants from a court violates civil liberties. One Democrat said in response to Bush's remarks on the radio that Bush was acting more like a king than the elected president of a democracy.
Bush said the program was narrowly designed and used "consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution." He said it is used only to intercept the international communications of people inside the United States who have been determined to have "a clear link" to al-Qaida or related terrorist organizations.
The program is reviewed every 45 days, using fresh threat assessments, legal reviews by the Justice Department, White House counsel and others, and information from previous activities under the program, the president said.
Without identifying specific lawmakers, Bush said congressional leaders have been briefed more than a dozen times on the program's activities.
The president also said the intelligence officials involved in the monitoring receive extensive training to make sure civil liberties are not violated.
Appearing angry at points during his eight-minute address, Bush said he had reauthorized the program more than 30 times since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and plans to continue doing so.
"I intend to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from al-Qaida and related groups," he said.
The president contended the program has helped "detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the U.S. and abroad," but did not provide specific examples.
He said it is designed in part 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.
"The activities I have authorized make it more likely that killers like these 9-11 hijackers will be identified and located in time," he said.
In an effort by the administration that appeared coordinated to stem criticism, Bush's remarks echoed — in many cases word-for-word — those issued Friday night by a senior intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The president's highly unusual discussion of classified activities showed the sensitive nature of the program, whose existence was revealed as Congress was trying to renew the terrorism-fighting Patriot Act and complicated that effort, a top priority of Bush's.
Senate Democrats joined with a handful of Republicans on Friday to stall the bill. Those opposing the renewal of key provisions of the act that are expiring say they threaten constitutional liberties.
Reacting to Bush's defense of the NSA program, Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., said the president's remarks were "breathtaking in how extreme they were."
Feingold said it was "absurd" that Bush said he relied on his inherent power as president to authorize the wiretaps.
"If that's true, he doesn't need the Patriot Act because he can just make it up as he goes along. I tell you, he's President George Bush, not King George Bush. This is not the system of government we have and that we fought for," Feingold told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
The president had harsh words for those who talked about the program to the media, saying their actions were illegal and improper.
"As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have," he said. "The unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk."
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