Monday, December 19, 2005

They Write Letters


December 18, 2005

Dear Democratic Colleague:

In his December 17 radio address, President Bush disclosed that, after September 11, 2001, he authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to undertake certain activities that he said were designed to prevent additional terrorist attacks. The President argued that his action was “fully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities.”

An article in the December 16 issue of the New York Times, “Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts,” has led to the inevitable conclusion that the President was referring to an authorization to allow the NSA to conduct warrantless electronic surveillance of U.S. persons.

When I was advised of President Bush’s decision to authorize these activities, I expressed my strong concerns verbally and in a classified letter to the Administration. The Bush Administration, however, made clear that it did not believe that Congressional notification was required and it also did not believe that Congressional approval was required to conduct these activities. I have attached a copy of my statement on the President’s disclosure.

Yesterday, several of my colleagues and I sent a letter to Speaker Hastert requesting that he immediately take steps to conduct hearings on the scope of Presidential power in the area of electronic surveillance, and that the Speaker and I jointly appoint a panel of outside legal experts to assist the committees involved in those hearings. I have attached this letter for your information.

I have also been advised by Congresswoman Jane Harman, Ranking Democrat on House Intelligence Committee, that the Bush Administration reversed its decision to brief the full House Intelligence Committee on the details of the activities to which the President referred in his radio address. The refusal to provide the Committee with the information necessary to discharge its oversight responsibilities is reminiscent of an Administration directive in October 2001, which severely restricted the flow of information from the intelligence community to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. Congressional and public pressure forced the Administration to rescind that directive and I am confident that a similar result will eventually occur on the NSA surveillance issue.

We all agree that the President must have the best possible intelligence to protect the American people. That intelligence, however, must be produced in a manner consistent with our Constitution and our laws, and in a manner that reflects our values as a nation to protect the American people and our freedoms. Our suggestion for hearings and the appointment of an independent panel of experts is fully in keeping with that belief.

Nancy Pelosi
House Democratic Leader