I’m not quite sure what to make of the recent news that the Bush administration (with the advise and consent of members of Congress, the Department of Justice, and the FISA court) authorized warrantless wiretapping of phone and email conversations between persons in the United States and known terrorists. Such information is obviously useful in the defense of the nation, but why were warrants not needed or acquirable? The FISA court that authorizes secret warrants for such intelligence activities almost always grants those requests. Why didn’t the president just secure warrants instead of creating a program to do such intelligence gathering without them? There is a large piece of this story missing, and I don’t think anyone can formulate a fully rational opinion either way until all the information is in. At this point it looks like POTUS has done something illegal for entirely justifiable reasons, but the jury is still out on this one. [12/19/05]
UPDATE: It has become more clear exactly what President Bush’s secret wiretapping program that bypassed FISA was doing. Apparently the NSA was monitoring phone conversations to and from certain al Qaeda telephone numbers and persons (some citizens) in the United States. The reason no warrants were acquired (or acquirable) is that there was not a specific known person in the country that was being wiretapped. They were getting information on calls relayed from international numbers to any number of people domestically. So it was more like fishing than deer hunting.
In this case, I have zero problem with this program whether it is determined to be legal or not. Whine all you want, utopians. The president is doing his job.