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Bush defends NSA domestic spying program

[JURIST] During a press conference Monday morning, US President George W. Bush [official profile] defended his authorization [JURIST report] of the National Security Agency's eavesdropping on US residents [JURIST report], saying he has the constitutional responsibility and constitutional authority as commander-in-chief to protect Americans from the ongoing terror threat. Bush also referred to a 2001 Congressional resolution authorizing the use of military force against al Qaeda, a resolution cited by US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [official profile] earlier Monday as providing the legal basis for the NSA program [Washington Post report]. Gonzales said that domestic eavesdropping is generally prohibited under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [text; FAS backgrounder], but said that FISA contains an exception when eavesdropping is "otherwise authorized" by statute and that the 2001 resolution provides the necessary authorization. Bush also said Monday that the NSA domestic surveillance program, which monitors international communications of people in the US with known links to al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations, has been effective in disrupting the enemy while protecting civil liberties and that he intends to reauthorize the program so long as the nation faces a terror threat. AP has more.

12:56 PM ET - The White House has now released a transcript of the press conference. In defending his administration's authorization of domestic spying, Bush said:

As President and Commander-in-Chief, I have the constitutional responsibility and the constitutional authority to protect our country. Article II of the Constitution gives me that responsibility and the authority necessary to fulfill it. And after September the 11th, the United States Congress also granted me additional authority to use military force against al Qaeda.

After September the 11th, one question my administration had to answer was how, using the authorities I have, how do we effectively detect enemies hiding in our midst and prevent them from striking us again? We know that a two-minute phone conversation between somebody linked to al Qaeda here and an operative overseas could lead directly to the loss of thousands of lives. To save American lives, we must be able to act fast and to detect these conversations so we can prevent new attacks.

So, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, I authorized the interception of international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. This program is carefully reviewed approximately every 45 days to ensure it is being used properly. Leaders in the United States Congress have been briefed more than a dozen times on this program. And it has been effective in disrupting the enemy, while safeguarding our civil liberties.

This program has targeted those with known links to al Qaeda. I've reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the September the 11th attacks, and I intend to do so for so long as our nation is -- for so long as the nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill American citizens.
Recorded video of Bush's remarks is also available.

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