Washington, 18 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- President Bush changed his planned weekly radio address on short notice yesterrday. Instead of a taped address on the elections in Iraq, the president made a rare live broadcast from the White House, allowing in television cameras.
He talked about "The New York Times'" story that caused a sensation on 16 December. The paper reported that, starting in 2002, the president had authorized the monitoring of telephone and e-mail communications inside the United States without the prior approval of a judge, as normally required by law. The president cited his authority as commander in chief of the military among the justifications for his actions.
In his address, Bush explained who the program was aimed at: "In the weeks following the terror attacks on our nation [of 11 September 2001] I authorized the National Security Agency, consistent with U.S. law and the constitution, to intercept the international communications of people with known links to Al-Qaeda and related terrorist organizations."
Administration officials will not say how such a terror link is defined or established for suspects. The president said his order was reviewed and reauthorized every 45 days to ensure that it was being carried out properly and legally. He also said the publication of information about the program had hurt efforts to fight terrorism.
"[On 16 December], the existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports after being improperly provided to news organizations. As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk," Bush said.
U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, a member of the president's Republican Party and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the intelligence program was inappropriate and he would hold hearings on the matter.
Bush said that members of Congress had been informed about it. But U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat, told CNN that he believes the once-secret program breaks the law. "It doesn't matter how many times he talks to members of Congress, how many times the Justice Department tells him it is OK, if it is not within the law, if we haven't passed a law allowing it, he can't do it," Feingold said. "What he's doing is illegal."
The revelations of domestic spying are hurting Bush's call for the renewal of a key antiterror law. In his address, he criticized a group of mostly Democratic senators, along with some Republicans, for blocking the renewal of the USA Patriot Act on 16 December.
That act gives the government broad powers to fight terrorist activities. But some senators said it gives authorities too much power to look into the private lives of U.S. citizens. If it is not renewed, the law is set to expire in two weeks. Bush said blocking the law's renewal is "irresponsible" and "endangers the lives of our citizens."