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Letter to the Editor: Unanswered Questions (New York Times)
ACLU Launches Nationwide Effort to Expose Illegal FBI Spying on Political and Religious Groups
NEW YORK - The American Civil Liberties Union today submitted records requests under the Freedom of Information Act to the National Security Agency (NSA), the Department of Justice and the Central Intelligence Agency for information about the NSA's program of warrantless spying on Americans, which was authorized by President Bush.
"Requiring a judge to approve a wiretap is not a nicety that can be avoided by presidential decree - it is a fundamental rule of American democracy," said Ann Beeson, Associate Legal Director of the ACLU.
The requests submitted today seek all records about "the policies, procedures and/or practices of the National Security Agency for gathering information through warrantless electronic surveillance and/or warrantless physical searches in the United States ..." Information received by the organization will be made public on its Web site.
In response to the public outcry over widespread political surveillance during the 1970s, Congress enacted legislation known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to prevent the President from engaging in precisely this kind of warrantless domestic surveillance, said the ACLU.
"Even FISA wiretaps and secret searches require limited judicial review," added Beeson. "The government ignored the system authorized by Congress in favor of limitless power to spy on Americans."
The New York Times has reported that at least one judge on the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court questioned whether the information obtained under the N.S.A. program was being improperly used by the Administration for unlimited spying.
The FOIAs are the latest phase of a broader ACLU campaign to reveal and limit unchecked government spying on Americans in the name of national security.
To expose FBI monitoring of political and religious groups in the United States, the ACLU filed FOIAs in 20 states on behalf of over 150 organizations and individuals. Today the ACLU made public the latest documents obtained in the project which confirm that the FBI is using counterterrorism resources to monitor and infiltrate advocacy groups including PETA, Greenpeace, the American Arab Anti Defamation Committee the ACLU itself. www.aclu.org/safefree/spying/23124prs20051220.html
Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has already committed to conduct oversight hearings on the NSA's actions to eavesdrop on people in the United States without warrants, stating, "There is no doubt that this is inappropriate." However, no other Congressional committees, particularly the Intelligence oversight panels, have committed to conducting inquiries or oversight hearings into the matter.
"We applaud Chairman Specter for his commitment to conduct oversight hearings on this violation of the law, and urge the Intelligence committees to do the same," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "These must be public hearings so the American people can learn directly how the President was able to authorize the surveillance of Americans without judicial review. The government already has wide latitude to conduct surveillance on its citizens, but with judicial oversight. We must not undermine our Constitution in a purported attempt to save it."
Information about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and the
ACLU's opposition to expanded FISA wiretap powers under the Patriot Act, is available online at www.aclu.org/fisa
Information that the ACLU has accumulated as a result of the FOIA to uncover the breadth of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force investigations is available online at www.aclu.org/spyfiles
The ACLU's request to the National Security Agency is available here: www.aclu.org/safefree/spying/23143lgl20051220.html
The ACLU's request to the Department of Justice is available here: www.aclu.org/safefree/spying/23148lgl20051220.html
The ACLU's request to the Central Intelligence Agency is available here: www.aclu.org/safefree/spying/23147lgl20051220.html