WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 - Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.
Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.
The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval was a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad. As a result, some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches.
"This is really a sea change," said a former senior official who specializes in national security law. "It's almost a mainstay of this country that the N.S.A. only does foreign searches."
Nearly a dozen current and former officials, who were granted anonymity because of the classified nature of the program, discussed it with reporters for The New York Times because of their concerns about the operation's legality and oversight.
Before forming an iron-clad opinion on the matter, please read what Captain Ed and Michelle Malkin have to say on the matter. Essentially, the illegality and radical nature of this surveillance by the NSA and of the presidential order supporting it seems to be rather highly overblown. For those of you, dear (few) readers, who are particularly sensitive to issues of policy impinging on civil liberties, odds are this whole thing will appall you no matter what arguments are presented. For others, please consider carefully the whole situation before leaping to accuse Bush and his administration. Also, please consider that he (Bush) has consulted with both judges and members of Congress—both Republican and Democrat—over the four-year existence of this program. This is not some wild power-grab excursion on Bush's part.
Also, John over at Power Line raises an interesting point—essentially, if the "outing" of (supposedly) undercover agent Valerie Plame was a breach of national security worthy of legal action against the parties responsible, then those members of the intelligence community that leaked information about this surveillance program to the press should be equally deserving of said legal action. Somehow I don't think either the mainstream media or Patrick Fitzgerald will be jumping right onto this idea...