President George W. Bush rejected charges his domestic eavesdropping program was illegal on Monday, while other administration officials said the war on terrorism has made the federal law on electronic surveillance outdated.
Bush appeared on stage at Kansas State University as part of a White House
public relations campaign to defend a National Security Agency spying
program that has raised an outcry among Democrats and Republicans who say
Bush may have overstepped his authority.
"You know, it's amazing that people say to me, 'Well, he was just breaking
the law.' If I wanted to break the law, why was I briefing Congress?" Bush
The NSA program, exposed last month by the New York Times, was authorized
by Bush to monitor the international telephone calls and e-mail messages of
U.S. citizens without first obtaining warrants as a means of aiding in the
hunt for al Qaeda suspects in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
Critics say the program violates both the U.S. Constitution and the 1978
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which makes it illegal to
spy on U.S. citizens in the United States without the approval of a special
Democrats have also criticized Bush for notifying only eight top lawmakers
in Congress about the surveillance program, rather than the full
intelligence oversight committees of the Senate and House of
Bush appeared in Kansas alongside Sen. Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman
of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who so far has resisted
Democratic calls to investigate the eavesdropping program.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on the program for
February 6 at which Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will testify.
While Bush made his comments in Kansas, other administration officials said
the surveillance program was necessary because the 28-year-old FISA law is
not as effective against terrorism.
"I don't think that anyone can make the claim that the FISA statute is
optimized to deal or prevent a 9/11 or deal with a lethal enemy who likely
already had combatants inside the United States," said Air Force Gen.
Michael Hayden, who was NSA director when Bush authorized the domestic
"(For) this particular aspect, this particular challenge -- detect and
prevent attacks -- what we're doing now is operationally more relevant,
operationally more effective."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that FISA was created
in "a different time period" and did not anticipate technological advances
that have occurred in telecommunications in recent decades.
Hayden, who is now principal deputy to U.S. intelligence chief John
Negroponte, also stressed that the program dealt strictly with
international communications, not those between people inside the United
States, and was directed at people he said were associated with al Qaeda.
"This isn't a drift-net out there where we're soaking up everyone's
communications," Hayden said.
"This is hot pursuit of communications entering or leaving America
involving someone we believe is associated with al Qaeda," he said in
remarks delivered at the National Press Club in Washington.
The White House's stepped-up effort to defend the program followed an audio
tape last week from Osama bin Laden in which the al Qaeda leader threatened
new attacks in the United States, a prospect that has heightened security
(Additional reporting by David Morgan in Washington)
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