Friday, December 16, 2005

Bush eased domestic spy limits after 9/11- NY Times

Bush eased domestic spy limits after 9/11- NY Times

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After the September 11, 2001, attacks, President George W. Bush authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on people inside the United States without the court approval usually required for domestic spying, The New York Times reported on Thursday.

For several years after the presidential order was signed in 2002, the super-secret intelligence agency monitored the international telephone calls and e-mails of hundreds of people inside the country to search for evidence of terrorist activity, the Times said in an article on its Web site.

The Times said the previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval represented a major shift in U.S. intelligence gathering. The NSA, based at Fort Meade, Maryland, is authorized to monitor communications on foreign soil.

A White House spokesman had no immediate comment.

The newspaper said nearly a dozen current and former officials agreed to discuss the program, on condition of anonymity, because of their concerns about the operation's legality and oversight.

The newspaper cited the officials as saying that some of the questions about the agency's new powers led the administration to suspend the operation last year and impose more restrictions.

The New York Times said it was asked by the White House not to publish an article about the program, arguing it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists they were under scrutiny.

The newspaper said it delayed publication for a year and omitted some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists.

While many details about the program remain secret, officials familiar with it said the NSA eavesdropped without warrants on up to 500 people in the United States at any given time, the newspaper reported.

According to the Times, the Bush administration believed it needed the operation so the NSA could move more quickly to monitor communications that might reveal security threats.

The Times reported that only a small group of people knew of the program, including congressional leaders, several Cabinet members and officials at the NSA, the CIA and the Justice Department.

Americans have been wary of domestic monitoring by intelligence agencies since the Vietnam era when it was learned in the 1970s that the Pentagon spied on anti-war and civil rights groups. That lead to legislation imposing strict limits on intelligence gathering inside the United States.