Latest White House report says spy power confirmed by 9-11
Richard B. Schmitt / LA Times | January 20 2006
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WASHINGTON — The Bush administration offered its most detailed defense of its domestic-surveillance program Thursday, saying the power of the president to gather such intelligence during wartime was well-established.
In a new legal analysis, the Justice Department said the inherent power of the president to order warrantless surveillance was confirmed and enhanced by Congress after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The analysis said a 1978 law regulating intelligence gathering in the United States did not close the door on surveillance that had not been approved by a special court created by that law, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
The 42-page "white paper" marked a stepped-up effort by the administration to mollify critics as furor over the program, disclosed last month, refuses to die. The Justice Department analysis mostly expounds on arguments that Bush and other officials have made about the program, although the timing of its release indicates the White House is sensitive to the issue becoming a political liability.
The disclosure that Bush had, after the Sept. 11 attacks, secretly authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to monitor telephone calls and other communications involving possibly hundreds of people in the United States has triggered a fight with civil-liberties groups and provoked legal and political concerns that cross party lines.
The legal rationale for the program has been questioned by the bipartisan Congressional Research Service. The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has announced hearings on the program early next month, with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales agreeing to appear. House Democrats are hearing testimony on the issue today. There have even been calls for a special prosecutor to investigate what some people view as illegal activity.
Vice President Dick Cheney also stepped up his defense of the program Thursday, saying it was within the president's constitutional authority to defend the country against its enemies. He also restated the administration's contention that the program had helped identify and prevent terrorist attacks in the United States.
"This is a wartime measure, limited in scope to surveillance associated with terrorists and conducted in a way that safeguards the civil liberties of our people," Cheney said in a speech to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative think tank in New York.
The administration has said the surveillance program was aimed at monitoring communications in which one party was believed to have ties to al-Qaida or related terrorist networks.
Officials have acknowledged that some innocent people were inadvertently monitored, although the effectiveness of the program has been hard to judge because it remains classified.
The Justice Department analysis reflects an expanded view of executive power, one that Bush and the Justice Department have claimed since the attacks on Washington and New York.
It asserts that Bush has "the chief responsibility under the Constitution to protect America from attack" and that Congress "confirmed and supplemented" that authority when, days after Sept. 11, it enacted a resolution empowering him to use "all necessary and appropriate force" to protect the nation.