President Bush: Continues Using Wiretaps - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

12/19/05-Washington, D.C.

President Bush: Continues Using Wiretaps

President Bush said Monday he intends to continue using secret wiretaps to monitor activities of people in the United States suspected of being connected to al Qaeda.

"To save American lives we must be able to act fast and to detect these conversations so we can prevent new attacks," Bush said during a year-end news conference at the White House.

"So, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, I authorized the interception of international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations."

"I've reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the September 11 attacks and I intend to do so for so long as the nation faces a continuing threat from an enemy that wants to kill American citizens," Bush said.

He also criticized the leak that resulted in the secret eavesdropping program coming to light.

"My personal opinion is, it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war," Bush said. "The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy."

The New York Times first reported on the National Security Agency eavesdrops last week, quoting unnamed government officials.

The NSA monitors billions of communications worldwide. Although the NSA is barred from domestic spying, it can get warrants issued with the permission of a special court called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court. The court is set up specifically to issue warrants allowing wiretapping on domestic soil.

"FISA is for long-term monitoring," Bush said. "What is needed in order to protect the American people is the ability to move quickly to detect."

Bush said "people are changing phone numbers and phone calls, and they're moving quick. And we've got to be able to detect and prevent."

Domestic vs. international

The president also pointed out the difference between monitoring calls from within the United States and from outside.

"These calls are not intercepted within the country, they are from outside the country to in the country or vice versa," Bush said. "So in other words, if you're calling from Houston to L.A., that call is not monitored. And if there was ever any need to monitor, there would be a process to do that."

Bush also said his administration has "consulted with members of the Congress over a dozen times" and that he was aware of concerns expressed by some lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

"I can fully understand why members of Congress are expressing concerns about civil liberties," Bush said. "I know that. And I share the same concerns."

The news conference, in the East Room of the executive mansion, followed a televised address to the nation Sunday night in which Bush acknowledged deep divisions and difficult progress in Iraq.

'Landmark day'

In Sunday's address, Bush said U.S. forces are making "steady gains" in the nearly 3-year-old Iraq war and urged Americans not to "give in to despair."

Bush called last Thursday's balloting for a permanent Iraqi government "a landmark day in the history of liberty." But he also warned: "There is more testing and sacrifice before us."

More than 2,100 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the invasion, which Bush and top aides argued was necessary to strip Iraq of chemical and biological weapons and efforts to develop a nuclear bomb. No such weapons were found once the government of Saddam Hussein collapsed in April 2003.

Bush said he disagrees with critics who have concluded the war, which the White House has said is costing about $6 billion per month, is "not worth another dime or another day."

The Sunday night address was the latest in a series of speeches meant to shore up declining public support for the war. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll last week found 59 percent disapproved of the president's handling of the conflict.

Also Sunday, Vice President Dick Cheney paid a surprise visit to Iraq, meeting with top Iraqi and U.S. officials under heavy security.

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