January 26, 2006

Bush resists changing law on spying

By Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush on Thursday
insisted his decision to allow spying on Americans'
international telephone calls was legal and said he would
resist changing laws governing such action if it meant
revealing secrets to an enemy.

Democrats and some Republicans question the legality of
Bush's decision, taken after the September 11 attacks, to
authorize eavesdropping without court approval if one of the
parties on the call was suspected of links to terrorism.

Former Vice President Al Gore, the Democrat who lost the
2000 presidential election to Bush, has called for a special
counsel to investigate whether the president broke the law, and
Congress is to hold hearings on the issue.

The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act makes it
illegal to spy on U.S. citizens inside the United States
without approval from the special FISA court.

Bush said he acted to allow the National Security Agency to
move more quickly in monitoring suspect communications to head
off possible further attacks.

He said a measure passed by Congress after the September 11
attacks gave him authority to use whatever force was necessary
against the enemy in his declared "war against terrorism."

Bush dismissed critics who say he should have worked with
Congress to change the 1978 law, passed to halt intrusive
domestic spying under President Richard Nixon.

"My concern has always been that, in an attempt to try to
pass a law on something that's already legal, we'll show the
enemy what we're doing," Bush said at a press conference.

He said the spying program was "so sensitive and so
important" that if information was revealed about how it
operated, it would help the enemy.


"And so, of course, we'll listen to ideas. But I want to
make sure that people understand that if the attempt to write
law makes this program -- is likely to expose the nature of the
program, I'll resist it," Bush said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said: "I have
been deeply troubled by the fact that the administration, if it
believed it needed additional authorities related to domestic
electronic surveillance, did not seek legislation granting them
that authority."

The White House has been on a public campaign to reassure
Americans that this is a limited program and the government is
not engaged in a mass spying operation.

In that effort, the White House says the program should not
be referred to as "domestic spying" because one end of the link
being monitored is overseas. The White House is calling it "the
terrorist surveillance program."

Bush said Gen. Michael Hayden, the former director of the
National Security Agency, came forward with the program as a
tool for fighting terrorism after the September 11 attack.

"It wasn't designed in the White House. It was designed
where you expect it to be designed, in the NSA," Bush said.

Government lawyers looked at the program before it was
implemented and there were safeguards to make sure it focused
on calls in which someone suspected of links to al Qaeda was
involved, Bush said.

"And so, as I stand here right now, I can tell the American
people the program's legal, it's designed to protect civil
liberties and it's necessary," he said.

Bush, who visited the NSA on Wednesday, said he takes the
threats from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden seriously. In an
audiotape aired last week bin Laden said al Qaeda was preparing
attacks inside the United States.