NSA Wiretapping: Illegal No Matter How You Splice It

Ken AshfordWiretapping & SurveillanceLeave a Comment

The White House has defended its warrantless-search program with essentially two silly arguments: (1) Congress’ 9/11 resolution ("Authorization to Use Military Force") empowered Bush to do this, and (2) Congress was briefed so oversight requirements had been met.

Two weeks ago, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service rejected the administration’s first argument. Yesterday, the CRS rejected the second:

The Bush administration appears to have violated the National Security Act by limiting its briefings about a warrantless domestic eavesdropping program to congressional leaders, according to a memo from Congress’s research arm released yesterday.

The Congressional Research Service opinion said that the amended 1947 law requires President Bush to keep all members of the House and Senate intelligence committees "fully and currently informed" of such intelligence activities as the domestic surveillance effort. […]

The only exception in the law applies to covert actions, Cumming found, and those programs must be reported to the "Gang of Eight," which includes House and Senate leaders in addition to heads of the intelligence panels. The administration can also withhold some operational details in rare circumstances, but that does not apply to the existence of entire programs, he wrote.

Unless the White House contends the program is a covert action, the memo said, "limiting congressional notification of the NSA program to the Gang of Eight . . . would appear to be inconsistent with the law."