The presiding judge of a secret court that oversees government surveillance in espionage and terrorism cases is arranging a classified briefing for her fellow judges to address their concerns about the legality of President Bush's domestic spying program, according to several intelligence and government sources.
Several members of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court said in interviews that they want to know why the administration believed secretly listening in on telephone calls and reading e-mails of U.S. citizens without court authorization was legal. Some of the judges said they are particularly concerned that information gleaned from the president's eavesdropping program may have been improperly used to gain authorized wiretaps from their court.
As it launched the dramatic change in domestic surveillance policy, the administration chose to secretly brief only the presiding FISA court judges about it. Officials first advised U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth, the head of FISA in the fall of 2001, and then Kollar-Kotelly, who replaced him in that position in May 2002. U.S. District Judge George Kazen of the Southern District of Texas said in an interview yesterday that his information about the program has been largely limited to press accounts over the past several days.
"Why didn't it go through FISA," Kazen asked. "I think those are valid questions. The president at first said he didn't want to talk about it. Now he says, 'You're darn right I did it, and it's completely legal.' I gather he's got lawyers telling him this is legal. I want to hear those arguments." Judge Michael J. Davis of Minnesota said he, too, wants to be sure the secret program did not produce unreliable or legally suspect information that was then used to obtain FISA warrants.
"I share the other judges' concerns," he said.
But Judge Malcolm Howard of eastern North Carolina said he tends to think the terrorist threat to the United States is so grave that the president should use every tool available and every ounce of executive power to combat it.
"I am not overly concerned" about the surveillance program, he said, but "I would welcome hearing more specifics."
Kazinski writes: If the Adminstration briefed the Presiding FISA Judge on the program then I think that is an awfully good indication that they thought it was legal. And that the Presiding Judge(s) thought so too.
At some point, it will no longer be responsive to say, when faced with wrongdoing by the president, that "Clinton did it." (whether Clinton did it or not.) Hopefully, that point will come in my lifetime (projected to be another 40-odd years).
Notwithstanding any other provision of this subchapter, when the Attorney General reasonably determines that—
(1) an emergency situation exists with respect to the employment of electronic surveillance to obtain foreign intelligence information before an order authorizing such surveillance can with due diligence be obtained; and
(2) the factual basis for issuance of an order under this subchapter to approve such surveillance exists;
he may authorize the emergency employment of electronic surveillance if a judge having jurisdiction under section 1803 of this title is informed by the Attorney General or his designee at the time of such authorization that the decision has been made to employ emergency electronic surveillance and if an application in accordance with this subchapter is made to that judge as soon as practicable, but not more than 72 hours after the Attorney General authorizes such surveillance.
(3) on the basis of the facts submitted by the applicant there is probable cause to believe that—
(A) the target of the electronic surveillance is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power: Provided, That no United States person may be considered a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States; and
(B) each of the facilities or places at which the electronic surveillance is directed is being used, or is about to be used, by a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power;
(4) the proposed minimization procedures meet the definition of minimization procedures under section 1804 (h) of this title; and
(5) the application which has been filed contains all statements and certifications required by section 1804 of this title and, if the target is a United States person, the certification or certifications are not clearly erroneous on the basis of the statement made under section 1804 (a)(7)(E) of this title and any other information furnished under section 1804 (d) of this title.