Secret Court to Monitor Surveillance Program

In a letter sent to the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court will have final approval over wiretaps placed on people with suspected terrorist ties.

The Bush administration launched a program to monitor phone calls and e-mails to or from the United States following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The program, aimed at intercepting information from al-Qaida or other terrorist groups, allowed the wiretaps without FISA review.

The FISA court was established in the late 1970s to review requests for warrants to conduct surveillance within the United States.

Gonzales’ letter said President Bush will not reauthorize the Terrorist Surveillance Program when the current authorization expires, because he is satisfied with new FISA guidelines that address administration concerns about national security.

“The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has put together its guidelines and its rules and those have met administration concerns about speed and agility when it comes to responding to bits of intelligence where we may be able to save American lives,” White House press secretary Tony Snow said, the Associated Press reported.

The National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program prompted heavy criticism from privacy advocates and many legal experts after news reports revealed the program in December 2005.

Gonzales wrote that in spring 2005 — before the press revelations — the administration had already begun exploring ways to have FISA court approval, but that it took time to work out a method of authorization that allowed the intelligence community to act quickly if necessary.

A federal judge in Detroit had declared the warrantless wiretapping program unconstitutional in August, saying it violated free speech and privacy and the separation of powers.

A three-judge panel of the Cincinnati-based appeals court ruled in October that the administration could continue the program while it appealed the Detroit decision.

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