Courts should stop warrantless spying
Senate hearings will begin next week on the use of surveillance on Americans.
PRESIDENT Bush has tenaciously defended the National Security Agency's warrantless domestic surveillance program since it was revealed last month. A confrontation with Congress over the issue is scheduled next week, but a court ruling is needed to put an end to the illegal snooping on Americans.
The New York Times reported in December that the agency had ignored the Constitution's prohibition against eavesdropping in the United States without a court-approved warrant. Since then, Bush has maintained that intelligence agencies have the authority to conduct such surveillance because of his constitutional war powers and the congressional authorization following 9/11 to use military force against terrorists.
Those arguments utterly fail to satisfy legal requirements. Bush instead is relying on political spin to gain public support of the administration's infringement on civil liberties. In Tuesday's State of the Union address, he referred to it as "the terrorist surveillance program."
Intelligence and military officials fell into step later this week, warning that the threat of terror attacks against American interests has grown. Disclosure of once-classified activity such as the warrantless surveillance program, they claimed, had undermined their work.
Those explanations don't address the fact that a secretive court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act exists to grant such warrants for eavesdropping inside the United States. If urgency is needed, the intelligence agency can proceed with the surveillance and obtain the warrant up to 72 hours later.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., asserts that the warrantless surveillance program "violates FISA -- there's no doubt about that." His committee should grill Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales at a hearing scheduled for Monday and should solicit testimony from former Justice Department officials who resigned because of the department's disregard for the law.
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