Monday, February 06, 2006

America Expects Surveillance

Monitoring the enemy is necessary and appropriate.

Monday, February 6, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST

In the days following Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush charted a course of action to respond to the worst attack on our homeland in history. He promised to use every tool available to defeat al Qaeda and pledged to take the fight to the enemy abroad as he worked to prevent another attack. As he said in the State of the Union address, "Our country must remain on the offensive against terrorism here at home." The president has the constitutional responsibility--and authority--to lead this response.
After Sept. 11, Congress immediately confirmed the president's constitutional authority to "use all necessary and appropriate force" against those "those nations, organizations, or persons he determines" responsible for the attacks. The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) gave the president the latitude to use a full complement of tools and tactics against our enemy. A majority of Supreme Court justices have concluded that the AUMF authorizes the president to use "fundamental and accepted" incidents of military force in our armed conflict with al Qaeda. The use of signals intelligence--intercepting enemy communications--is a fundamental incident of waging war.

With the recent leak of the NSA's terrorist surveillance program, some have questioned whether this congressional authorization can be read to encompass signals intelligence. In this case, our military is engaged in signals intelligence when they have reason to believe that at least one person is a member or agent of al Qaeda or a related terrorist organization communicating into or out of the U.S. The purpose is to learn the locations, plans and capabilities of our enemy. Consider the facts from both a legal and a commonsense perspective.
The president, as commander in chief, has asserted his authority to use sophisticated military drones to search for Osama bin Laden, to deploy our armed forces in combat zones, and to kill or capture al Qaeda operatives around the world. No one would dispute that the AUMF supports the president in each of these actions.
It is, therefore, inconceivable that the AUMF does not also support the president's efforts to intercept the communications of our enemies. Any future al Qaeda attacks on the homeland are likely to be carried out, like Sept. 11, by operatives hiding among us. The NSA terrorist surveillance program is a military operation designed to detect them quickly. Efforts to identify the terrorists and their plans expeditiously while ensuring faithful adherence to the Constitution and our existing laws is precisely what America expects from the president.
History is clear that signals intelligence is, to use the language of the Supreme Court, "a fundamental incident of waging war." President Wilson authorized the military to intercept all telegraph, telephone and cable communications into and out of the U.S. during World War I. The day after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt authorized the interception of all communications traffic into and out of the U.S. These sweeping measures were seen as necessary and lawful during critical moments of past armed conflicts. So, too, are the more focused intercepts of al Qaeda during our current armed conflict, especially given the nature of the enemy we face.
The AUMF is broad in scope, and understandably so; Congress could not have catalogued every possible aspect of military force it was endorsing. That's why the Supreme Court ruled in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld that the detention of enemy combatants--a fundamental incident of war-- was lawful, even though detention is not mentioned in the AUMF. The same argument holds true for the terrorist surveillance program. Nor was the president's authorization of the terrorist surveillance program in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA bars persons from intentionally "engag[ing] . . . in electronic surveillance under color of law except as authorized by statute." The AUMF provides this statutory authorization for the terrorist surveillance program as an exception to FISA.
Lastly, the terrorist surveillance program fully complies with the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Like sobriety checkpoints or border searches, this program involves "special needs" beyond routine law enforcement, an exception to the warrant requirement upheld by the Supreme Court as consistent with the Fourth Amendment.

The AUMF is not a blank check for the president to cash at the expense of the rights of citizens. The NSA's terrorist surveillance program is narrowly focused on the international communications of persons believed to be members or agents of al Qaeda or affiliated terrorist organizations. The terrorist surveillance program protects both the security of the nation and the rights and liberties we cherish. As the president said in his State of the Union speech, "the terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America." When I testify before Congress today, I will tell them not only that the president had the authority to use this effective antiterror tool, but that it would have been irresponsible for him not to employ this weapon to prevent another attack on our country.

Mr. Gonzales is the U.S. attorney general.

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