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Justice Department responds to House questions on NSA wiretapping program

John Byrne
Published: Friday March 24, 2006

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The US Justice Department has responded to questions from Republican and Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee on President Bush's warantless wiretapping of international calls, releasing their responses quietly on a Friday afternoon.

The Justice Department's responses were provided to RAW STORY late Friday by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee. They were approved by Assistant Attorney General William Moschella under the aegis of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

At their core, the responses echo previous assessments by the Bush Justice Department which maintain that the eavesdropping program was legal and met the demands of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

"The FISA court of review discussed the President's inherent authority to conduct warrantless electronic surveillance in 2002, twenty-four years after FISA was enacted," the authors write.

The responses provide little new information about the program. The Attorney General refused to disclose how many Americans were spied upon, and declined to provide specifics on how "terrorists" are defined. Critics of the program say it is ripe for abuse and violates federal law.

The Bush Administration enacted the program shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and said they were intended as a tool in detecting terrorist activity by intercepting calls between alleged terrorists and American citizens. The program, operated by the National Security Agency, was revealed last December by the New York Times who sat on the scoop for over a year.

The Washington Post later revealed that thousands of Americans were caught in the surveillance net and that few of the taps produced viable leads (link).

Democrats say the responses are "vague" and "evasive" and don't provide meaningful answers to questions about the legality and specifics of the program.

"The Department of Justice continues to thumb its nose at the American people and their elected representatives," ranking Judiciary Democrat John Conyers said in a statement. "The evasiveness of the Department prevents Congress from exercising its constitutionally mandated oversight role and obstructs Congress's ability to draft meaningful legislation to provide guidelines for this activity."

Conyers calls attention to the Justice Department's answer to question 45 of the Democrats' questions. In it, the Department says it cannot rule out the possibility that the program would tap calls between individuals and their doctors or attorneys.

"In one of the few revealing answers," Conyers adds, "the Department suggests that communications between attorneys and clients or doctors and patients may be captured through warrantless wiretaps. Moreover, some of the Department's responses leave open the possibility that other surveillance programs exist with a scope far beyond this program."

The responses can be read in the PDFS below.

Reponse to GOP questions

Response to Democratic questions