28 January 2006

Bush Lawyers drafter bill in 2003 on surveillance Plan

I just saw this story and find if very disturbing, so I want to share it with everyone. It is from the Washington Post which is a very legitimate newspaper. Our lawmakers need to do something about this slap in the face to the Constitution of the United States. And as a registered American citizen, I plan on doing something in November by voting out any politician who condones the criminal acts of our current White House:

Bush lawyers drafted bill in 2003 on surveillance
Plan would have given legal backing to spying
- Dan Eggen, Washington Post
Saturday, January 28, 2006

Washington -- Legislation drafted by Justice Department lawyers in 2003 to strengthen the USA Patriot Act would have provided legal backing for several aspects of the Bush administration's warrantless eavesdropping program. But officials said Friday that was not the intent.

Most lawmakers and the public were not aware at the time that President Bush had already issued a secret order allowing the National Security Agency to intercept international calls involving U.S. citizens and legal residents.

Some critics of the surveillance program said the draft legislation raises questions about recent administration claims that Bush had clear legal authority to order warrantless domestic spying in late 2001 and had no need to go to Congress for explicit approval.

"It's rather damning to their current view that they didn't need legislation," said Timothy Edgar, a national security lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union. "Clearly, the lawyers at the Justice Department, or some of them, felt that legislation was needed to allow the government to do what it was doing."

The Justice Department said the measures were not drafted to help the National Security Agency program.

"These proposals were drafted by junior staffers and never formally presented to the attorney general or the White House," department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said. "They were not drafted with the NSA program in mind."

The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 -- dubbed "Patriot II" by critics -- was leaked to the media in February 2003 and soon abandoned by Justice Department officials, who characterized it at the time as an "early draft" written by staff lawyers. The proposal included several provisions that, in retrospect, would have affected the National Security Agency's program of monitoring telephone calls and e-mails, which was disclosed last month in press reports:

-- One provision would have made it clear that a president could order wiretapping without court supervision for 15 days after Congress approved the use of military force, as it did against al Qaeda. Current law allows such spying for 15 days without a judge's approval only when Congress issues a declaration of war.

Justice officials have argued more recently that the two types of declarations are legally equivalent.

-- Another section of the 2003 proposal would have made it easier for the National Security Agency to obtain lists of telephone calls placed or received by U.S. citizens and residents.

-- A third provision would have created a "statutory defense" for agents who conducted surveillance under "lawful authorization" from the president or attorney general, meaning they could not be prosecuted for violating federal law, according to the draft. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs domestic spying, provides such a defense only if the surveillance is approved by a secret intelligence court established by that law.

Some legal experts who question the president's authority to order warrantless eavesdropping said the latter proposal could be used to justify the legality of the entire National Security Agency program, because it refers to surveillance activity ordered by the president or attorney general and not overseen by either the foreign intelligence or criminal courts.

"It would have done it through the back door and in such a way that it would have been unlikely that Congress would have picked up on what was meant," said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, a civil liberties advocacy group in Washington.

Many legal scholars and lawmakers have said Bush's order may violate either the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or the Constitution.

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