House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi says President Bush abuses his power by ordering the National Security Agency to spy on Americans and his abuses must be curbed.
“I would not want any president _ Democrat or
Republican _ to have the expanded power the administration is claiming
in this case,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said in an interview with The
Pelosi did not say the NSA’s surveillance
program was illegal. But she said the administration should follow the
procedures in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which
allows government lawyers to ask a secretive court for warrants for
surveillance in the United States during national security
“If you say … this is for a narrow universe of
calls, there is absolutely no issue with getting a FISA warrant for
that,” said Pelosi, who was the top Democrat on the House Intelligence
Committee and has been involved for the past 13 years in overseeing
U.S. intelligence agencies.
“It is when you go beyond that, that
it becomes a challenge,” she said in the interview Friday. “The
president says he is not going beyond that, so why can’t he obey the
Pelosi declined to offer specifics about warrants granted,
but she said the administration already has “the mother of all FISAs
which enables them to do a lot.”
Shortly after the attacks of
Sept. 11, 2001, Bush approved a program that allows warrantless
monitoring by the NSA of the international communications of people on
U.S. soil who may be linked to al-Qaida.
Pelosi has spoken
publicly about the need for congressional oversight on this program.
While she has been briefed several times by the administration, Pelosi
has said that does not mean she approved of the surveillance.
wants Congress and the president to have the best intelligence
available, yet broadly questions the legality of the domestic
The Justice Department, in the administration’s
most recent defense of the NSA program, issued on Friday a six-point
“Myth vs. Reality” rebuttal of criticism leveled against Bush’s action.
It claims that Bush has legal authority through his position as
commander in chief as well as through a congressional resolution passed
shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The administration also
resists descriptions of the program as domestic spying, arguing that
the communications under surveillance involve an overseas party. And it
contends that the program is consistent with FISA, which the
administration suggests moves too slowly for some monitoring.
her first extensive comments on the NSA program, Pelosi offered
additional details during the interview about her concerns, including
her belief that the administration is making weak arguments to justify
Pelosi said if new technology is making it
difficult for U.S. authorities to monitor communications, then Bush
should ask for updates in the law to keep up with the advances.
the FISA court process is too laborious, “get more lawyers, add more
people to it,” Pelosi said. “We are only talking about the Constitution
of the United States.”
Pelosi said she told administration
officials that several criteria must be met “to even consider” such a
program. She said the information must be “so rich and so valuable”
that it cannot be obtained any other way and there is “absolutely no
time” to get a warrant.
The monitoring is not as simple as Bush,
his aides and administration officials have explained, Pelosi said. She
said Congress must have a full set of facts in hearings to determine
“how far down the road” the administration went.
For example, Pelosi did not know if a reporter covering the war in Iraq would be caught in the surveillance net.
Congress’s intelligence and judiciary committees fail to investigate
thoroughly, she said, “it will be in dereliction of its duties.”
Senate hearing on the program is set for Feb. 6. The chairman of the
Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has written
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the former White House counsel,
about subjects he wants to see addressed:
- Why did the White House not ask Congress for changes to a 1978 foreign surveillance law?
- Why didn’t the administration go to an established intelligence court to get approval for the monitoring?
- Will the White House consider doing that now?
Gonzales has agreed to answer questions about the legal basis of the program, but not its operations.
Pelosi tried to walk carefully between making a case for national security and protecting civil liberties.
rejected recent comments by Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican
Party, that Pelosi and Democratic Party leader Howard Dean would want
the NSA to hang up when terrorists dial their sleeper cells.
is a disservice to a very serious debate about security and liberty for
him to resort to that kind of a statement,” Pelosi said.