President Bush talked about the NSA no-warrant domestic wiretaps in his radio address this morning. Here’s a chunk:
In the weeks following the terrorist attacks on our nation, I authorized the National Security Agency, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al-Qaida and related terrorist organizations.
Before we intercept these communications, the government must have information that establishes a clear link to these terrorist networks. This is a highly classified program that is crucial to our national security. Its purpose is to detect and prevent terrorist attacks against the United States, our friends and allies.
Yesterday the existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports, after being improperly provided to news organizations. As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk. Revealing classified information is illegal, alerts our enemies, and endangers our country.
This is pretty scary, folks. Let’s start with his statement that his actions were “consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution.” The most generous possible interpretation of this is that it might be true — but only if you accept his argument that the almost-declaration of war approved by Congress right after 9/11 allows him to do just about anything he pleases.
Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a Republican, has already called Bush’s NSA actions “inappropriate.” Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, normally no friend of civil liberties and not especially partisan, said the obvious in pointing out that Bush may have broken the law.
Thus the president has taken the position that for the New York Times to have revealed the existence of a possibly illegal spying operation run out of the White House was in and of itself illegal.
We are on new territory today.