President Bush and the nation’s deputy national intelligence chief today defended the legality of a controversial domestic spying program, describing it as a vital tool in the war against terrorists and denying that it violates the civil liberties of Americans. Calling the effort a “terrorist surveillance program,” Bush said in a speech at Kansas State University that he authorized the eavesdropping program after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in an effort to detect any continuing plots involving members of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network overseas and persons operating inside the United States. “If they’re making phone calls into the United States, we need to know why — to protect you,” Bush said. The comments, made during a wide-ranging speech and question and-answer session that lasted about two hours, came after Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the deputy director of national intelligence, told the National Press Club in Washington that the program is “targeted and focused” on al Qaeda and does not cast a “drift net” over Americans’ telephone and e-mail communications. Bush said of the intercepted communications, “These are not phone calls within the United States. This is a phone call of an al Qaeda — known al Qaeda suspect — making a phone call into the United States.” He said, “I’m mindful of your civil liberties, and so I had all kinds of lawyers review the process. We briefed members of the United States Congress . . . about this program. “You know, it’s amazing that people say to me, ‘Well, he was just breaking the law.’ If I wanted to break the law, why was I briefing Congress?” Bush said with a chuckle. Bush said he has “authority under the Constitution to conduct foreign intelligence surveillance against our enemies,” and that a 2001 congressional authorization for the use of force gave him “additional authority” in waging war against al Qaeda. “Congress gave me the authority to use necessary force to protect the American people, but it didn’t prescribe the tactics,” he said. “It said, Mr. President, you’ve got the power to protect us, but we’re not going to tell you how.”
This is the first of a series of speeches planned for the week defending the program.
The debate is growing tiresome, only leaving us to repeat the same talking points on both sides, when the facts are still unknown, and we may never know the full details. The program is supposed to be secret anyway.
Andrew McCarthy sums it up well today, so I’ll just quote him.
We are either at war or we are not. If we are, the president of the United States, whom the Constitution makes the commander-in-chief of our military forces, is empowered to conduct the war — meaning he has unreviewable authority to employ all of the essential incidents of war fighting. Not some of them. All of them. Including eavesdropping on potential enemy communications. That eavesdropping — whether you wish to refer to it by the loaded “spying” or go more high-tech with “electronic surveillance” or “signals intelligence” — is as much an incident of warfare as choosing which targets to bomb, which hills to capture, and which enemies to detain. It was critical in the Civil War, when, by definition, it was done domestically — and without the slightest suggestion that federal courts should be involved. It was critical in World War II, when concerns about enemy infiltration were very real. And it is perhaps more critical today than during any war in our nation’s history. Al Qaeda is an international terrorist network. We cannot defeat it by conquering territory. It has none. We cannot round up its citizens. Its allegiance is to an ideology that makes nationality irrelevant. To defeat it and defend ourselves, we can only acquire intelligence — intercept its communications and thwart its plans. Nothing else will do. Al Qaeda seeks above all else to strike the United States — yet again — domestically. Nothing — nothing — could be worse for our nation and for the civil liberties of all Americans than the terrorists’ success in that regard. For those obvious reasons, no communications are more important to capture than those which cross our borders. Al Qaeda cannot accomplish its ne plus ultra, massive attacks against our domestic population centers, unless it communicates with people here. If someone from al Qaeda is using a phone to order a pizza, we want to know that — probable cause or not.
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