Terrorist Surveillance Program, RIP

Attorney General Gonzales announced today, via a letter to Senators Leahy and Specter, that the Terrorist Surveillance Program has been put under the jurisdiction of the FISA court and therefore will not be reauthorized by President Bush. Gonzales says that the administration has not compromised the program’s effectiveness:

[O]n January 10, 2007, a Judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issued orders authorizing the Government to target for collection international communications into or out of the United States where there is probable cause to believe that one of the communicants is a member or agent of al Qaeda or an associated terrorist organization. As a result of these orders, any electronic surveillance that was occurring as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program will now be conducted subject to the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Gonzales assured the Senators–not that they care, necessarily, but we do–that security will not be compromised because the court authorization “had to ensure that the Intelligence Community would have the speed and agility necessary to protect the Nation from al Qaeda–the very speed and agility that was offered by the Terrorist Surveillance Program.” He adds that “These orders are innovative, they are complex, and it took considerable time and work for the Government to develop the approach that was proposed to the Court….”
So what has changed? It’s hard to say. These “orders” presumably authorize the NSA to initiate surveillance under emergency circumstances without going through the cumbersome FISA warrant process. Frankly, I haven’t had time for extensive research, but it isn’t obvious what provision of FISA authorizes such blanket “orders.”
In any event, the administration seems to have found a solution that allows the Terrorist Surveillance Program to continue in all but name, while defusing the criticisms of the program–which were, in my opinion, almost entirely unjustified.
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