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Gonzales: War powers authorized eavesdropping

Reuters | December 19 2005

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush's decision to eavesdrop on people within the United States was backed by the U.S. Congress' authorization of military force after the September 11, 2001, attacks, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said on Monday.

"There were many people, many lawyers, within the administration who advised the president that he had inherent authority as commander in chief under the Constitution to engage in this kind of signals intelligence of our enemy," Gonzales said in an interview with CNN.

"We also believe that the authorization to use force which was passed by the Congress in the days following the attacks of September 11th constituted additional authorization for the president to engage in this kind of" electronic surveillance, he said.

Gonzales' comments were the latest effort by the administration to defend a covert domestic spying program first reported by The New York Times on Friday. It was the first time the Bush administration has indicated what specific legal grounds it based its actions on.

Several Republican and Democratic lawmakers have backed a planned hearing on the issue by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican. Many lawmakers have questioned whether domestic spying violates the U.S. Constitution.

After initially refusing to comment on The New York Times report, Bush said on Saturday that after the September 11 attacks, he had authorized the National Security Agency "to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated Bush's statement that the wiretapping of telephone conversations and other communications was legal and did not violate the U.S. Constitution.

A 1978 law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, makes it illegal to spy on U.S. citizens in the United States without court approval.

Gonzales said Congress had granted an exception when it authorized the president to use "all necessary and appropriate force."

"The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provides that you must get a court order to engage in electronic surveillance of the type that the president talked about on Saturday, except as otherwise authorized by Congress," he told CNN.

"We believe that other authorization by Congress exists in the authorization of the use of military force that was passed by the Congress in the days after September 11," he added.

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