John Schmidt, associate attorney general of the United States in the Clinton administration, superbly explains why the NSA intercept program is legal under all authorities and precedents:
President Bush’s post- Sept. 11, 2001, authorization to the National Security Agency to carry out electronic surveillance into private phone calls and e-mails is consistent with court decisions and with the positions of the Justice Department under prior presidents.
In the Supreme Court’s 1972 Keith decision holding that the president does not have inherent authority to order wiretapping without warrants to combat domestic threats, the court said explicitly that it was not questioning the president’s authority to take such action in response to threats from abroad.
Four federal courts of appeal subsequently faced the issue squarely and held that the president has inherent authority to authorize wiretapping for foreign intelligence purposes without judicial warrant.
Schmidt quotes the same language from the 2002 decision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review that we have cited repeatedly:
the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, composed of three federal appellate court judges, said in 2002 that “All the … courts to have decided the issue held that the president did have inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence … We take for granted that the president does have that authority.”
This morning, I sent the following email to New York Times reporters Eric Lichtblau and Adam Liptak (other Times reporters who have participated in the NSA stories do not publish their email addresses):
In your reporting in the Times you appear to have tried to create the impression that the NSA’s overseas intercept program is, or may be, illegal. I believe that position is foreclosed by all applicable federal court precedents. I assume, for example, that you are aware of the November 2002 decision of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, in Sealed Case No. 02-001, where the court said:
“The Truong court [United States v. Truong Dinh Hung, 4th Cir. 1980], as did all the other courts to have decided the issue, held that the President did have inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence information. *** We take for granted that the President does have that authority and, assuming that is so, FISA could not encroach on the President’s constitutional power.”
In view of the controlling federal court precedents, I do not see how an argument can be made in good faith that there is any doubt about the NSA program’s legality. Therefore, I wonder whether you are somehow unaware of the relevant case law. If you know of some authority to support your implication that the intercepts are or may be illegal, I would be interested to know what that authority is. If you are aware of no such authority, I think that a correction is in order.
I will post any response I receive.