The National Security Agency has eavesdropped, without warrants, on as many 500 people inside the United States at any given time since 2002, The New York Times reported Friday. That year, following the Sept. 11 attacks, President George W. Bush authorized the NSA to monitor the international phone calls and international e-mails of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States, the Times reported.
Before the program began, the NSA typically limited its domestic surveillance to foreign embassies and missions and obtained court orders for such investigations. Overseas, 5,000 to 7,000 people suspected of terrorist ties are monitored at one time. The Times said reporters interviewed nearly a dozen current and former administration officials about the program and granted them anonymity because of the classified nature of the program.
Government officials credited the new program with uncovering several terrorist plots, including one by Iyman Faris, an Ohio trucker who pleaded guilty in 2003 to supporting al-Qaida by planning to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge, the report said. But some NSA officials were so concerned about the legality of the program that they refused to participate, the Times said. Questions about the legality of the program led the administration to temporarily suspend it last year and impose new restrictions. On Friday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was asked about the program.
"I'm not going to comment on intelligence matters," she told NBC's "Today" show. But Rice did say that President Bush "has always said he would do everything he can to protect the American people, but within the law, and with due regard for civil liberties because he takes seriously his responsibility." "The president acted lawfully in every step that he has taken," Rice said, "to defend the American people and to defend the people within his constitutional responsibility", reports the AP. N.U.
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