Bush: Terrorist Surveillance Plan Necessary, Lawful
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 2006 President Bush yesterday called his terrorist surveillance plan a lawful, necessary step in the war against terrorism.
Speaking at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., Bush said he made the move to allow the National Security Agency to listen in on calls to terrorists as a means of protecting the American people.
Bush stressed that he acted to protect Americans. The authorization he gave was for the National Security Agency to intercept communications emanating between individuals inside the United States and outside the United States, when one of the numbers is "reasonably suspected to be an al Qaeda link or affiliate."
Bush said this does not constitute domestic spying. He said he was concerned about civil liberties and asked lawyers to review the decision. He also briefed members of Congress, he said.
Bush told the Kansans that Federal courts have consistently ruled that a president has Constitutional authority to conduct foreign intelligence surveillance. "Predecessors of mine have used that same constitutional authority," he said.
Another top official put the issue into perspective. "Had this program been in effect prior to 9/11, it is my professional judgment that we would have detected some of the 9/11 al Qaeda operatives in the United States, and we would have identified them as such," Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, principal deputy director of national intelligence, said at the National Press Club yesterday.
Hayden, formerly head of the NSA, stressed that the authorization had taken account of individual rights. "That authorization was based on an intelligence community assessment of a serious and continuing threat to the homeland," he said. "The lawfulness of the actual authorization was reviewed by lawyers at the Department of Justice and the White House and was approved by the attorney general."
Bush said a recent Supreme Court case also allows this type of surveillance as part of the Congressional authorization to use force against al Qaeda. "The Supreme Court ruled it gave the president additional authority to use what it called the fundamental incidents of waging war against al Qaeda," he said. "It means Congress gave me the authority to use necessary force to protect the American people, but it didn't prescribe the tactics. It said: 'Mr. President, you got the power to protect us, but we're not going to tell you how.'"
One of the ways to protect the American people is to understand the enemy's intentions, Bush said. "I told you it's a different kind of war with a different kind of enemy," he said. "If they're making phone calls into the United States, we need to know why, to protect you."
Hayden said no communications are more important to the safety of the United States than those affiliated with al Qaeda and "with one end in the United States."
"The president's authorization allows us to track this kind of call more comprehensively and more efficiently," he said.