Could warrantless spying backfire on the war on terror?

Judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court want to know more about what the president did.

By Tim Grieve

Published December 22, 2005 6:15PM (EST)

We suggested yesterday that the Bush administration's decision to help itself to warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens might actually cause damage to its war on terror. From the Washington Post today comes evidence that we were right.

The Post reports that Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who presides over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, has asked top-ranking officials from the National Security Agency and the Justice Department to brief judges on the court about Bush's secret surveillance program. Depending on what they hear, the Post says, the judges could then "demand that the Justice Department produce proof that previous wiretaps were not tainted." Warrants obtained based on information obtained through warrantless surveillance could be called into question, the Post says. And one judge on the court said that there could even be calls -- from the judges themselves -- to disband the secret FISA court in protest of the president's actions.

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Judge Dee Benson, a former staffer for Sen. Orrin Hatch who was appointed to the bench by the president's father, said he needs more information before deciding just how troubled he is by the revelations of warrantless spying. "But I wonder," he tells the Post, "if you've got us here, why didn't you go through us? They've said it's faster [to bypass FISA], but they have emergency authority under FISA, so I don't know."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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