Report: Bush Authorized NSA to Spy in U.S.
WASHINGTON (AP) - High-level administration figures, reacting to a report that the National Security Agency eavesdropped without warrants on people inside the United States, asserted Friday that President Bush has respected the Constitution while striving to protect the American people.
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said Bush has ``acted lawfully in every step that he has taken.'' His top spokesman, Scott McClellan, said that Bush ``is going to remain fully committed to upholding our Constitution and protect the civil liberties of the American people. And he has done both.''
But neither Rice nor McClellan would confirm or deny a New York Times report saying the super-secret NSA had spied on as many as 500 people inside the United States at any given time since 2002.
That year, following the Sept. 11 attacks, 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 report surfaced in an untimely fashion 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.
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.
Asked about this Friday morning on NBC's ``Today'' show, Rice said, ``I'm not going to comment on intelligence matters.''
McClellan, too, declined to comment directly on the report, saying only that the administration upholds and respects the civil liberties of all Americans.
Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the group's initial reaction to the NSA 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.''
Earlier this week, the Pentagon said it was reviewing its use of a classified database of information about suspicious people and activity inside the United States after a report by NBC News said the database listed activities of anti-war groups that were not a security threat to Pentagon property or personnel.
Pentagon spokesmen declined to discuss the matter on the record but issued a written statement Wednesday evening that implied - but did not explicitly acknowledge - that some information had been handled improperly.
The administration had briefed congressional leaders about the NSA 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.
RICHARD NIXON HAS COME BACK FROM THE GRAVE. GW is the reincarnation of Tricky Dick