The Bush administration will stop conducting warrantless surveillance on Americans with suspected ties to terrorism, and will give the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court jurisdiction over the so-called terrorist surveillance program run by the National Security Agency since shortly after 9/11 and first disclosed in December 2005.
Senior Justice Department officials said Wednesday that the department had been working with the secret court since before the program was disclosed to find a way to bring the program under the court’s review, but would not explain how the court orders worked or whether the orders applied to individuals or gave blanket authorization to conduct surveillance.
An official did say that a judge on the court issued more than one order, and that each order is valid for 90 days.
“As a result of these orders,” Mr. Gonzales told leaders of Congressional Intelligence and Judiciary Committees in a letter dated Wednesday, “any electronic surveillance that was occurring as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program will now be conducted subject to the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.”
Justice Department officials said that the FISA court orders, which were not made public, were not a broad approval of the surveillance program as a whole, an idea that was proposed last year in Congressional debate over the program. They strongly suggested that the orders secured from the court were for individual targets, but they refused to provide details of the process used to identify targets — or how court approval had been expedited — because they said it remained classified. The senior Justice Department official said that discussing “the mechanics of the orders” could compromise intelligence activities. — New York Times
“The orders we’re talking about here are not some cookie cutter order,” one official said. “People have been working very hard on this for almost two years actually, and it has just now been approved a week ago by the judge of the FISA court.”
Congressional Democrats and privacy activists are not convinced that the program doesn’t still need oversight. “I intend to move forward with the committee’s review of all aspects of this program’s legality and effectiveness,” said Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.V.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“The administration’s claims that it was simply too cumbersome to comply with FISA held absolutely no water,” said Mark Moller, senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute.
The announcement comes a day before Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the Justice Department’s activities.