Report: Bush's spy briefings appear to have been illegal

For the second time, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service finds legal problems in the NSA program.

Published January 19, 2006 1:59PM (EST)

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has just issued its second report on the Bush's administration's warrantless spying program. Like Al Gore, it suggests that the Bush administration broke the law by assuming for itself the power to spy on American citizens without approval or adequate oversight from Congress.

When the CRS issued its first report on the National Security Agency program earlier this month, it took issue with the legality of the spying program itself. It weighed the legal justifications the attorney general and other administration officials have advanced for the program, and it found them to be not "well grounded" in the law.

In its second report, issued Wednesday at the request of Rep. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, the CRS says that the administration's decision to brief only a handful of members of Congress about the NSA program appears to have violated the National Security Act.

That law generally requires the White House to keep all members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees "fully and currently informed" on intelligence activities. There's an exception for "covert actions." But as USA Today reports, the CRS says that it probably doesn't apply to the NSA program. A "covert action" is defined as one whose existence the government would deny if it were revealed. When the New York Times revealed the existence of the NSA program, the president and others in his administration admitted that it existed.

By Tim Grieve

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

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Espionage War Room