[JURIST] US Vice President Dick Cheney [official website] on Thursday defended the Bush administration's authorization of domestic surveillance [JURIST news archive] in the weeks following Sept. 11, saying the program is a crucial tool in monitoring terrorist organizations. In a speech [transcript] at the Manhattan Institute, Cheney objected to the characterization of the program as "domestic", stressing that the National Security Agency [official website] only intercepts "international communications, one end of which we have reason to believe is related to al Qaeda or to terrorist networks affiliated with al Qaeda." Cheney called the program "fully consistent with the constitutional responsibilities and legal authority of the President" and further defended its legality and importance:
These actions are within the President's authority and responsibility under the Constitution and laws; and these actions are vital to our security. This is a wartime measure, limited in scope to surveillance associated with terrorists, and conducted in a way that safeguards the civil liberties of our people. It is important to note that leaders of Congress have been briefed more than a dozen times on the President's authorization, and on the activities conducted under it. I've personally presided over most of those briefings. In addition, the entire program undergoes a thorough review within the executive branch every 45 days. After each review, the President determines once again whether or not to reauthorize the program. He has done so more than 30 times since September 11th -- and he has indicated his intent to do so as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from al Qaeda and related organizations.Cheney's remarks came the same day as the US Justice Department released a white paper [PDF text; JURIST report] laying out a legal basis for the program. The Bush administration has also come under fire for its limited briefings on the program. Only certain members of Congress, rather than the full House and Senate Intelligence Committees, have been briefed, and a Congressional Research Service report [PDF text; JURIST report] released Thursday concluded that the limited briefings are "inconsistent with the law." AP has more.