Gore to Speak About Domestic Spy Program

With end of semester craziness, the holidays, and the transition to this new website, I wasn’t able to blog about the revelations that the President authorized the NSA to engage in domestic surveillance without proper warrants. [See Bruce Schneier’s excellent analysis and collection of links if you’re searching for more commentary on the topic.] But I thought I’d pass along this announcement I received from EPIC today:

Gore to Speak About Domestic Spy Program at Constitution Hall

Former Vice President Al Gore will give a speech addressing the constitutional crisis caused by the National Security Agency’s domestic eavesdropping program and its implications for the rule of law, the separation of powers, and Americans’ constitutional rights at Constitution Hall, on Monday, January 16. The event is sponsored by The Liberty Coalition and the American Constitution Society. Mr. Gore will be introduced by former U.S. Representative Bob Barr (R-GA), chairman of Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances.

The former Vice President’s speech comes amid growing concern about the legal basis put forward for President’s Bush’s domestic surveillance program. A December 22, 2005 letter from the Department of Justice to members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees offered a “brief summary of the legal authority supporting the NSA activities described by the President.” The letter contends that the President has the authority to “order foreign intelligence surveillance within the United States . . . .” The Justice Department further said, “The President’s constitutional authority to direct the NSA to conduct the activities he described is supplemented by statutory authority under the AUMF [Authorized Use of Military Force resolution, passed by Congress, September 18, 2001].” And the Justice Department stated that the “The President’s authorization of targeted electronic surveillance by the NSA is also consistent with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (‘FISA’).”

However, an extensive analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service questioned the Department of Justice assessment. The CRS report concluded that the Congress expressly intended for the government to seek warrants from a special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before engaging in such surveillance when it passed legislation creating the court in 1978. The report also concluded that Bush’s assertion that Congress authorized such eavesdropping to detect and fight terrorists does not appear to be supported by the special resolution that Congress approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which focused on authorizing the president to use military force. “It appears unlikely that a court would hold that Congress has expressly or impliedly authorized the NSA electronic surveillance operations here,” the authors of the CRS report wrote. The administration’s legal justification “does not seem to be…well-grounded,” the CRS report said.

A letter from legal scholars and former government officials reached a similar conclusion. The letter states: “Although the program’s secrecy prevents us from being privy to all of its details, the Justice Department’s defense of what it concedes was secret and warrantless electronic surveillance of persons within the United States fails to identify any plausible legal authority for such surveillance. Accordingly the program appears on its face to violate existing law.”

Vice President Gore’s speech will begin at 12 noon on Monday, January 16. Register for the event here.

EPIC also provides a number of links to other important analyses of this vital issue:

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