It Depends On What the Meaning of “Court Approved Warrant” Is

Brian Zick

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Eric Lichtblau and David Johnston for the NY Times report The Bush administration, in a surprise reversal, said on Wednesday that it had agreed to give a secret court jurisdiction over the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program and would end its practice of eavesdropping without warrants on Americans suspected of ties to terrorists.But… But senior lawmakers said they were still uncertain Wednesday, even after the administration’s announcement, about how the court would go about approving warrants, how targets would be identified, and whether that process would differ from the court’s practices since 1978.The administration said it had briefed the full House and Senate Intelligence Committees in closed sessions on its decision.But Representative Heather A. Wilson, Republican of New Mexico, who serves on the Intelligence committee, disputed that, and some Congressional aides said staff members were briefed Friday without lawmakers present.Ms. Wilson, who has scrutinized the program for the last year, said she believed the new approach relied on a blanket, “programmatic” approval of the president’s surveillance program, rather than approval of individual warrants.Administration officials “have convinced a single judge in a secret session, in a nonadversarial session, to issue a court order to cover the president’s terrorism surveillance program,” Ms. Wilson said in a telephone interview. She said Congress needed to investigate further to determine how the program is run.Democrats have pledged to investigate the N.S.A. program and other counterterrorism programs they say may rely on excessive presidential authority. Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York said the announcement appeared to be intended in part to head off criticism Mr. Gonzales was likely to face at Thursday’s judiciary committee hearing.“I don’t think the timing is coincidental,” Mr. Schumer said in a telephone interview. “They knew they had a very real problem, and they’re trying to deflect it.”

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