Thursday, May 03, 2007

Bush Propopses to Expand Domestic Spying Powers

By James Risen
Wednesday, May 2, 2007

WASHINGTON: Senior U.S. administration officials have told the U.S. Congress that they could not promise that the Bush administration would fulfill its January pledge to continue to seek warrants from a secret court for a domestic wiretapping program.

Rather, they argued that the president had the constitutional authority to decide for himself whether to conduct surveillance without warrants.

As a result of the agreement in January, the administration said that the domestic spying program of the National Security Agency had been brought under the legal structure laid out in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which required court-approved warrants for the wiretapping of U.S. citizens and others within the United States.

But the senior officials, including Michael McConnell, the new director of national intelligence, said Tuesday that they believed the president still had the authority under Article II of the U.S. Constitution to once again order the NSA to conduct surveillance inside the country without warrants.

During a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, McConnell was asked by Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat of Wisconsin, whether he could promise that the administration no longer would sidestep the court when seeking warrants.

"Sir, the president's authority under Article II is in the Constitution," McConnell said. "So if the president chose to exercise Article II authority, that would be the president's call."

The administration earlier had argued that both the president's inherent executive powers under Article II of the Constitution, as well as the September 2001 congressional authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda, provided him with the power to conduct surveillance without warrants.

McConnell said that all domestic electronic surveillance was being conducted with court-approved warrants and that there were no plans "that we are formulating or thinking about currently" to resume it without warrants.

The administration seeks new legislation to update the surveillance act to expand government surveillance powers, in part to deal with changes in communications technology since 1978, when the measure was enacted.