Report: Wiretaps preceded Bush order

Newly declassified documents show the US National Security Agency expanded its domestic anti-terror wiretapping before George Bush, the US president, ordered it.

    Cheney has strongly defended the US spying programme

    One month after the 11 September 2001 terror attacks, Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader and California Democrat, wrote to Lieutenant-General Michael Hayden, then head of the NSA, to express her concerns.

    The letter suggested that the security agency moved immediately after the attacks to identify terror suspects at home by loosening restrictions on domestic eavesdropping, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.

     

    The letter was declassified at Pelosi's request.

     

    Similar objections were expressed by John Rockefeller, Democratic senator from West Virginia, in a secret letter to Dick Cheney, the US vice president, nearly two years later.

     

    In 2002, Bush signed an executive order authorising the security agency to eavesdrop without warrants on the international communications inside the US who the agency believed were connected to al-Qaida.

    The disclosure of the spying programme last month provoked an outcry in Washington, and Congressional hearings are planned.

     

    A Washington Post article on Wednesday, citing interviews with congressional and intelligence officials, reported that the secret domestic surveillance programme may have been operational even before the White House had received proper authorisation for it.

     

    Staunch defence

     

    Cheney on Wednesday staunchly defended as "vital" the spying programme, saying that the domestic eavesdropping efforts have prevented acts of terrorism on US soil.

     

    "The activities conducted under this authorisation have helped to detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks against the American people," he said.

     

    "If we had been able to do this before 9/11, we might have been able to pick up on two of the hijackers who flew a jet into the Pentagon"

    Dick Cheney,
    US Vice President 

    "As such, this programme is critical to the national security of the United States," he said, according to a transcript released ahead of a planned speech in Washington.

    He said the existence of such a programme earlier could have prevented the September 11 terror attacks.

     

    "There are no communications more important to the safety of the United States than those related to al-Qaida that have one end in the United States," the vice president said in his remarks to be delivered at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank.

     

    Hijackers

    "If we had been able to do this before 9/11, we might have been able to pick up on two of the hijackers who flew a jet into the Pentagon," said Cheney.

     

    "They were in the United States, communicating with al-Qaida associates overseas. But we didn't know they were here plotting until it was too late."

     

    The revelation last month about the wiretap programme run by the National Security Agency has sparked a political firestorm in the US, especially by civil libertarians who say that in authorising the program, President Bush has overstepped his constitutional limits.

     

    Cheney said that the creation of the surveillance programme after the terror attacks on New York and Washington, which claimed some 3000 lives, was made "in a manner that is fully consistent with the constitutional responsibilities and legal authority of the president and with the civil liberties of the

    American people".

    SOURCE: Agencies


    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    Interactive: How does your country vote at the UN?

    Interactive: How does your country vote at the UN?

    Explore how your country voted on global issues since 1946, as the world gears up for the 74th UN General Assembly.

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    We dialled more than 35,000 random phone numbers to paint an accurate picture of displacement across South Sudan.

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Meet the man on a mission to take down Cambodia's timber tycoons and expose a rampant illegal cross-border trade.