- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 18, 2005

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday said President Bush acted within the law when he authorized telephone eavesdropping, although she did not say which law covered such surveillance without court approval.

Miss Rice says the president used his constitutional power and legal authority so that “people could not communicate inside the United States about terrorist activity with people outside the United States, leaving us vulnerable to terrorist attack.”

In a live radio address Saturday, Mr. Bush said he authorized the National Security Agency “to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations.”

Mr. Bush said he has authorized the eavesdropping program 30 times since the September 11 terrorist attacks and said the program will continue “for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from al Qaeda and related groups.”

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday” and NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Miss Rice said that she was aware the National Security Agency was eavesdropping on phone conversations while she was the president’s national security adviser but declined to state the exact law used.

“The president has authorities under FISA, which we are using and using actively. He also has constitutional authorities that derive from his role as commander in chief and his need to protect the country. He has acted within his constitutional authority and within statutory authority,” Miss Rice told NBC, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

“Now I am not a lawyer, and I’m quite certain that the attorney general will address a lot of these questions, but the fact is that the president has an obligation — he took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. That means both to protect and defend Americans physically from the kind of attack that we experienced on September 11 and to protect their civil rights and civil liberties. And he is doing both,” Miss Rice said.

Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the president was wise to be candid about the program after it was exposed Friday by the New York Times, but says its legality “is a matter that has to be examined” and will be by his panel.

“Secretary Condoleezza Rice said … that there was statutory authority. I’d like to know specifically what the administration has in mind,” Mr. Specter said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

“They talk about constitutional authority. There are limits as to what the president can do under the Constitution, especially in a context where you have the foreign intelligence surveillance act, which makes it unlawful to have spies or surveillance or interceptions on citizens in the United States unless there is a court order,” Mr. Specter said.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act passed by Congress in 1978 requires court approval before spying on U.S. citizens.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and an author of FISA, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” the president’s actions were neither legal nor necessary.

“I just don’t get it. He already has the authority under the FISA court to go in and intercept anything he wants up to 72 hours,” Mr. Biden said.

In an interview yesterday with ABC News, Vice President Dick Cheney said of the surveillance, “It’s been briefed to the Congress over a dozen times, and, in fact, it is a program that is, by every effort we’ve been able to make, consistent with the statutes and with the law. It’s the kind of capability if we’d had before 9/11 might have led us to be able to prevent 9/11.”

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