President Bush has finally agreed to allow a secret court to oversee the NSA’s wiretapping program, which had been operating without warrants for years. The administration’s capitulation after 13 months of stubborn resistance might have something to do with pending congressional investigations and legal battles.
New York Times:
WASHINGTON—The Bush administration, in a surprise reversal, said on Wednesday that it had agreed to give a secret court jurisdiction over the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program and would end its practice of eavesdropping without warrants on Americans suspected of ties to terrorists.
The Justice Department said it had worked out an “innovative” arrangement with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that provided the “necessary speed and agility” to provide court approval to monitor international communications of people inside the United States without jeopardizing national security.
The decision capped 13 months of bruising national debate over the reach of the president’s wartime authorities and his claims of executive power, and it came as the administration faced legal and political hurdles in its effort to continue the surveillance program.
The new Democratic-led Congress has pledged several investigations. More immediately, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales is expected to face hostile questioning on Thursday from the Senate Judiciary Committee on the program. And an appellate court in Cincinnati is scheduled to hear arguments in two weeks on the government’s appeal of an earlier ruling declaring the program illegal and unconstitutional.
Some legal analysts said the administration’s pre-emptive move could effectively make the court review moot, but Democrats and civil rights advocates said they would press for the courts and Congress to continue their scrutiny of the program of wiretapping without warrants, which began shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.