White House lawyers argued for warrantless searches after 9/11

Published: Friday March 17, 2006

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According to a news magazine, White House lawyers argued for the right to conduct warrantless searches of terrorism suspects on U.S. soil after the 9/11 attacks based on the "same legal authority" as President Bush's controversial wiretapping program, RAW STORY has learned.

The U.S. News & World Report article reveals that FBI Director Robert Mueller bitterly opposed warrantless physical searches "not only because of the blowback issue but also because of the legal and constitutional questions raised."

Excerpts from the article written by Chitra Ragavan:


In the dark days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a small group of lawyers from the White House and the Justice Department began meeting to debate a number of novel legal strategies to help prevent another attack. Soon after, President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to begin conducting electronic eavesdropping on terrorism suspects in the United States, including American citizens, without court approval.

Meeting in the FBI's state-of-the-art command center in the J. Edgar Hoover Building, the lawyers talked with senior FBI officials about using the same legal authority to conduct physical searches of homes and businesses of terrorism suspects--also without court approval, one current and one former government official tell U.S. News. "There was a fair amount of discussion at Justice on the warrantless physical search issue," says a former senior FBI official. "Discussions about--if [the searches] happened--where would the information go, and would it taint cases."


At least one defense attorney representing a subject of a terrorism investigation believes he was the target of warrantless clandestine searches. On Sept. 23, 2005--nearly three months before the Times broke the NSA story--Thomas Nelson wrote to U.S. Attorney Karin Immergut in Oregon that in the previous nine months, "I and others have seen strong indications that my office and my home have been the target of clandestine searches."


In October, Immergut wrote to Nelson reassuring him that the FBI would not target terrorism suspects' lawyers without warrants and, even then, only "under the most exceptional circumstances," because the government takes attorney-client relationships "extremely seriously." Nelson nevertheless filed requests, under the Freedom of Information Act, with the NSA. The agency's director of policy, Louis Giles, wrote back, saying, "The fact of the existence or nonexistence of responsive records is a currently and properly classified matter."


The rest of the article can be read at the U.S. News & World Report Website at this link.

(Updated to reflect published story instead of press release)