February 9, 2006

US Secret Court Judges Warned About NSA Data: Report

WASHINGTON -- A Justice Department lawyer warned the judge of a secret U.S. court twice in the past four years that information from President George W. Bush's domestic spying program may have been used to obtain wiretap warrants from the court, The Washington Post reported on Thursday.

The presiding judges of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court knew about the National Security Agency's secret surveillance program, but had insisted that information obtained through it not form the basis for obtaining a warrant from the court, the Post reported, citing U.S. officials.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, and her predecessor as presiding judge, Royce Lamberth, had expressed serious doubts about whether the warrantless monitoring of telephone phone calls and e-mails ordered by Bush was legal.

The new report reveals the depth of their doubts and their efforts to protect the court from what they considered potentially tainted evidence, the newspaper said.

James Baker, a top lawyer in the Justice Department's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, alerted Kollar-Kotelly in 2004 that the government's failure to share information about the domestic spying program had rendered useless a screening system that the judges had insisted upon to shield the court from tainted information, the Post said.

Kollar-Kotelly complained to Justice, prompting a temporary suspension of the NSA spying program, the newspaper said, citing sources.

In 2005, Baker learned that at least one government application for a FISA warrant probably contained NSA information and that was not made clear to the judges, the newspaper said.

The secret NSA program, exposed in December by The New York Times, monitors telephone and e-mail exchanges between people in the United States and abroad when one party is suspected of links to al Qaeda.

Neither judge commented for the article and a Justice Department spokesman declined comment, the Post said.