President Bush of the United States authorized NSA surveillance of citizens, bypassing court warrants

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Friday, December 16, 2005

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In 2002, as a part of ongoing anti-terrorist operations, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on Americans and others in the United States making contact with persons in other nations. According to a The New York Times report, the NSA monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of "hundreds, and perhaps thousands of people" inside the United States over the past three years without warrants.

Specifically, the NSA performed wiretaps on international communications that included a U.S. participant. The authorization was kept secret until December 2005, when it was reported in The New York Times, engendering serious controversy over both the legality of the blended international/domestic wiretaps and the revelation of this highly-classified program in a time of war.

According to The New York Times, John Yoo, the former deputy in the Office of Legal Counsel, justified the domestic spying in a classified Justice Department legal opinion, arguing that these activities were covered by congressional approval of the war on terrorism. That legal argument was similar to another 2002 memo authored primarily by Yoo, which outlined an extremely narrow definition of torture. That opinion, which was signed by another Justice official, was formally disavowed after it was disclosed by The Washington Post.

President Bush insisted that he has not compromised civil liberties. "Revealing classified information is illegal," he said during an unusual live, on-camera version of his weekly radio address, about this secret program that was revealed in media reports yesterday. Senior members of congress from both parties called for an explanation. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter, stated that "there is no doubt that this is inappropriate". Senator Trent Lott defended the NSA directive saying "I don't agree with the libertarians. I want my security first. I'll deal with all the details after that."

Traditionally the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducts most domestic eavesdropping after obtaining warrants for it. The domestic mandate of the NSA has been traditionally limited to the surveillance of foreign nationals and embassies. The NSA has reportedly obtained court orders to undertake missions in Washington, New York and other cities.

Several national security officials say the jurisdiction granted the NSA goes far beyond the USA PATRIOT Act. Under the act, it's necessary to seek a F.I.S.A. (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) warrant every time law enforcement eavesdrops within the U.S. Some officials say they consider warrantless eavesdropping inside the United States to be unlawful and possibly unconstitutional.

One government official involved in the operation said he privately complained to a Congressional official about his doubts about the program's legality. But nothing happened. "People just looked the other way because they didn't want to know what was going on," he said.

The New York Times, the newspaper that broke the news, stated that it delayed publication of this story for a year after the White House said it could jeopardize investigations and alert would-be terrorists under surveillance.