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Domestic Spying Program Is Legal, Vital to Security, Rice Says
By Ralph Dannheisser
Washington File


December 20, 2005

President Bush has acted in accordance with the Constitution and U.S. law in ordering the National Security Agency to eavesdrop within the United States on people with suspected terrorist links, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says.

And, Rice said on two television interview programs December 18, the approach is vital at a time when any delay in gathering intelligence could make it possible for terrorists to mount another operation like the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"The president is determined that he will have the ability to make certain that the communications between people, a limited number of people, with al-Qaeda links here and conversations with terrorist activities outside will be understood so that we can detect and thereby prevent terrorist attacks," she said on NBC's Meet the Press with Tim Russert.




Bush acknowledged in his weekly radio address on December 17 that he had ordered the policy change, saying the operation was "critical to saving American lives" and "consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution."

The domestic spying operation was first disclosed publicly the previous day in The New York Times. The revelation of such a program, run without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, has raised questions in Congress and elsewhere.

Rice said "the president is acting under his constitutional authority, under statutory authority" and "has gone to great lengths to make certain that he is both living under his obligations to protect Americans from another attack but also to protect their civil liberties."

"And that's why this program is very carefully controlled," the secretary continued. "It has to be reauthorized every 45 days. People are specially trained to participate in it and it has been briefed to the leadership of the Congress and including the leadership of the intelligence committees."


At the White House December 19, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told reporters that the program authorized by President Bush involves electronic surveillance of telephone communications in which one of the callers is outside the United States.

The telephone monitoring is done only when authorities have a "reasonable basis" to conclude that one of the callers is a member of the transnational terrorist group al-Qaida or working to support the group in terrorist-related activities, the attorney general said.

"We view these authorities as authorities to confront the enemy in which the United States is at war with -- and that is al-Qaida and those who are supporting or affiliated with al-Qaida," Gonzales said.

He said the president believes that when the U.S. Congress authorized him to use all force necessary to pursue terrorists after September 11, 2001, that constituted his authority to carry out this type of intelligence gathering.


Rice said the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires a court order before domestic wiretapping can be undertaken, is no longer adequate to meet today's threats.

That law was passed in 1978 at a time when the main concern was "the activities of people on behalf of foreign governments, a rather stable target," Rice said. That situation was "very different from the kind of urgency of detection and thereby protection of the country that is needed today. And so the president has drawn on additional authorities that he has under the Constitution and under other statutes," she added.

In similar comments on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, Rice declared, "We simply can't be in a situation in which the president is not responding to this different kind of war on terrorism."


Responding to a question on the president's push for full renewal of the Patriot Act, passed in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Rice said Bush remains opposed to the proposal by some members of Congress to extend the law for three months while negotiations continue on some controversial provisions.

"I think the president feels very strongly that we need to do this now and we need to confront this issue now," she said.


In both interviews, Rice expressed pleasure at the broad turnout in the December 15 parliamentary elections in Iraq.

"The good news is that the Sunnis [many of whom boycotted previous elections] have now demonstrated that they are determined to be a part of the political process," she said.

Rice said she sees a conciliatory attitude among many Sunnis, Shia and Kurds. "I expect that they're going to try to come to a government that is broadly representative and that can send a strong message to the insurgents that the road ahead for Iraq is a political one, not one of violence," she said.

Appearing on another interview program, CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad was similarly optimistic.

Khalilzad, who spoke from Baghdad, stressed the far heavier Sunni turnout in the most recent election, as compared with the one this past January.


The ambassador said he believes that "if a good government is formed, if Sunnis feel that their concerns are dealt with, I think violence will decrease over time significantly, and terrorists and Saddamists will be increasingly isolated."

Khalilzad defined that good government as one that "has good people in it, technocrats, people who have the confidence of Iraqis broadly."

While speed in forming the emerging Iraqi government is desirable, he said, the nature of that government also is important. Thus, he said, "We will emphasize both factors: a good, moderate cross- sectarian, cross-ethnic government but as soon as possible."


With respect to the prospects for a withdrawal of U.S. and coalition military forces, he said, "I think it is true that Iraqis would like forces to leave. No one likes to have a foreign force in the numbers that we have here on their territory.

"We understand that, and we would like to leave as soon as possible when Iraqis can stand on their own feet," he said.

Khalilzad said he did not know the answer to Blitzer's specific question as to when the U.S. troop presence might fall to below 100,000 from the present 158,000-160,000 level. But, he said, "We see a set of circumstances developing that in the near future will allow for a recalibration and downsizing of the force significantly."


On the Web:

Transcripts of Rice's interviews:

Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace (State Department Web site)

NBC's Meet the Press with Tim Russert (State Department Web site)

Khalilzad's interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer (CNN's Web site)

Transcript of the Gonzalez briefing (White House Web site)

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