- The Washington Times - Friday, January 13, 2006

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales will testify next month before a Senate committee on the legal justifications behind a domestic eavesdropping program approved by President Bush.

Mr. Gonzales yesterday said he had talked with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, and agreed to testify, but not about operational aspects of the National Security Agency program to monitor calls linked to terrorists.

“The absolute worst thing that we could do is to talk about the operational aspects of a highly classified program that has been very successful in protecting America, and divulge all that information to the enemy,” Mr. Gonzales said.

“We believe the legal authorities are there, and that the president acted consistent with his legal authorities and in a manner that he felt was necessary and appropriate to protect this country against this new kind of threat,” he said.

Mr. Specter has said he wanted the Bush administration to explain its eavesdropping on U.S. telephone calls and e-mails, acknowledged in December by Mr. Bush as part of the war on terrorism. The admission came after the program had been leaked to the New York Times.

The White House said Mr. Bush authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept conversations involving suspected terrorists following the September 11 attacks in the U.S., by al Qaeda terrorists that killed nearly 3,000 people.

The president says his constitutional powers and a pre-Iraq war resolution gave him the legal authority, adding that there had been judicial and congressional oversight of the top-secret program. He also said the eavesdropping was part of a “limited program designed to prevent attacks on the United States of America.”

After a New Year’s Day visit with wounded troops at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Mr. Bush told reporters, “It seems logical to me that if we know there’s a phone number associated with al Qaeda or an al Qaeda affiliate, and they’re making phone calls, it makes sense to find out why.”

The president has said the program was reviewed constantly by Justice Department officials, and criticized the unidentified person who leaked it to the press. The Justice Department is investigating the source of the leak.

The NSA program bypassed the secret Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court established by Congress in 1978 to approve or reject secret surveillance or searches of foreigners and U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism or espionage.

Mr. Gonzales, who was White House counsel when the NSA program began, defended the program at a press conference last month, saying the NSA did not seek warrants from the FISA court because “we don’t have the speed and the agility that we need in all circumstances to deal with this new kind of enemy.”

Committee member Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, has asked that former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey also be called to testify about the NSA program, and warned the administration against evoking executive privilege in the matter.

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