WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice released a report Thursday saying the president has the legal authority to order the National Security Agency to wiretap U.S. telephone calls and e-mail exchanges without obtaining a warrant.
The issue has been controversial since The New York Times revealed that President Bush secretly authorized the wiretaps beginning in 2002.
The 42-page report provides legal analysis for Bush's order and answers some questions raised by journalists,American citizens and members of Congress.
The report says the president has the power to conduct these wiretaps because Congress passed a law called the “authorization for the use of military force,” or AUMF.
The legislation authorizes the president to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations,organizations,or persons he determines planned,authorized,committed,or aided the terrorist attacks” of Sept. 11 to prevent “any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.”
Therefore,the report concludes,the president did not break the law in ordering NSA to conduct wiretap investigations against suspected terrorists.
During a telephone briefing for reporters,Steven G. Bradbury,acting assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel,said this type of intelligence gathering has been performed almost every time the U.S. has been in an armed conflict.
“It is not a blank check that says the president can do anything he wants,” he said.
Reporters asked why the administration did not seek warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court,which was created to handle requests for wiretaps in secret. Bradbury said Bush didn't need to use FISA because he was acting under AUMF.
Bradbury emphasized that the NSA wiretaps were aimed at suspected terrorists and at least one party to the calls or e-mail exchanges was outside the United States.
The report says “leaders in Congress from both parties have been briefed more than a dozen times on the NSA activities.”
But the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service released a memo Wednesday saying that Bush might have violated the National Security Act by not properly briefing congressional leaders.
A spokesman for Rep. Jane Harman,D-Calif.,the senior Democrat on the House Select Committee on Intelligence,said she hadn't seen the report yet but that she “has been focused on the issue of the administration properly briefing the entire intelligence committee on the NSA program.”