The Bush administration formally defended its domestic spying program in a letter to Congress late Thursday, saying the nation’s security outweighs privacy concerns of individuals who are monitored.
In a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees, the Justice Department said President Bush authorized electronic surveillance without obtaining a warrant in an effort to thwart terrorist acts against the United States.
“There is undeniably an important and legitimate privacy interest at stake with respect to the activities described by the president,” wrote Assistant Atty. Gen. William E. Moschella. “That must be balanced, however, against the government’s compelling interest in the security of the nation.”
Bush has acknowledged he authorized such surveillance and repeatedly has defended it in recent days.
Moschella’s letter, which the committees had requested, was the administration’s first public notice to Congress about the program in which electronic surveillance was conducted without the approval of a secret court created to examine requests for wiretaps and searches in the most sensitive terrorism and espionage cases.
Moschella maintained that Bush acted legally when he authorized the National Security Agency to go around the court to conduct electronic surveillance of international communications into and out of the United States by suspects tied to Al Qaeda or its affiliates.
Moschella relied on a Sept. 18, 2001, congressional resolution, known as the Authorization to Use Military Force, as primary legal justification for Bush’s creation of a domestic spying program.
He said Bush’s powers as commander in chief gave the president “the responsibility to protect the nation.”