Justice Department probes eavesdropping leak
US probes eavesdropping leak
Fri Dec 30, 2005 3:30 PM ET17
By Deborah Charles
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department is
investigating who disclosed a secret domestic
eavesdropping operation approved by President George
W. Bush after the September 11 attacks, officials said
"We are opening an investigation into the unauthorized
disclosure of classified materials related to the
NSA," a Justice Department official said on condition
Earlier this month, Bush acknowledged the program and
called its disclosure to The New York Times "a
shameful act." He said he presumed the Justice
Department would investigate who leaked the National
Security Agency eavesdropping operation to the
White House spokesman Trent Duffy told reporters that
Bush was informed on Friday about the Justice
Department probe. He said the decision to conduct the
investigation was made by the department -- it was not
requested by the White House.
News of the covert domestic spying program sparked
outcry by Democrats and Republicans, with many
lawmakers and rights groups questioning whether it
violates the U.S. Constitution.
Several lawmakers have backed a planned hearing on the
issue by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen
Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania.
Bush and senior administration officials have argued
that the policy of authorizing -- without court orders
-- eavesdropping on international phone calls and
e-mails by Americans suspected of links to terrorism
was legal and necessary to help defend the country
after September 11.
A 1978 law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,
makes it illegal to spy on U.S. citizens in the United
States without the approval of a special, secret
court. Bush secretly gave the NSA authority to
intercept communications without such approval.
CALL FOR SPECIAL COUNSEL
The American Civil Liberties Union has urged the
government to name a special counsel to determine
whether Bush violated federal wiretapping laws by
authorizing illegal surveillance.
In a statement on Friday, the ACLU criticized the
Justice Department's investigation.
"President Bush broke the law and lied to the American
people when he unilaterally authorized secret wiretaps
of U.S. citizens," said ACLU executive director
"But rather than focus on this constitutional crisis,
Attorney General (Alberto) Gonzales is cracking down
on critics of his friend and boss," he said. "Our
nation is strengthened, not weakened by those
whistle-blowers who are courageous enough to speak out
on violations of the law."
The White House has sought to play down the impact on
civil liberties, saying the program was narrow in
scope and that key congressional leaders were briefed
In its first report on the spying program two weeks
ago, The New York Times said about a dozen current and
former officials agreed to discuss it anonymously,
because of their concerns about the operation's
legality and oversight.
The newspaper said it was asked by the White House not
to publish an article about the program because it
could jeopardize investigations and alert potential
terrorists that they were under scrutiny.
The Times said it delayed publication for a year and
omitted some information that administration officials
argued could be useful to terrorists.
The New York Times declined to comment on the
This is the second recent high-level investigation
into the leak of classified information to the media.
After a two-year probe into the disclosure of a covert
CIA operative's identity, a special prosecutor in
October indicted Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of
staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby on perjury and
obstructing justice charges.
That investigation is still continuing.
(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria in Crawford,