Monday, January 16, 2006

Mass Domestic Wiretaps Led FBI To Dead Ends

From the 'Who Knew?' department, this update: Mass domestic surveillance is ineffective in catching 'evildoers':

[T]he National Security Agency began sending a steady stream of telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and names to the F.B.I. in search of terrorists. The stream soon became a flood, requiring hundreds of agents to check out thousands of tips a month. But virtually all of them, current and former officials say, led to dead ends or innocent Americans...”

Mass surveillance has only ever served one purpose: to remind 'the people' to watch what they say and do. This would not seem in keeping with the American character, but perhaps times have changed.

Or, then again, perhaps they haven't.


Blogger Management said...

Spy Agency Data After Sept. 11 Led F.B.I. to Dead Ends

WASHINGTON, Jan. 16 - In the anxious months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the National Security Agency began sending a steady stream of telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and names to the F.B.I. in search of terrorists. The stream soon became a flood, requiring hundreds of agents to check out thousands of tips a month.

But virtually all of them, current and former officials say, led to dead ends or innocent Americans.

F.B.I. officials repeatedly complained to the spy agency that the unfiltered information was swamping investigators. The spy agency was collecting much of the data by eavesdropping on some Americans' international communications and conducting computer searches of phone and Internet traffic. Some F.B.I. officials and prosecutors also thought the checks, which sometimes involved interviews by agents, were pointless intrusions on Americans' privacy.

As the bureau was running down those leads, its director, Robert S. Mueller III, raised concerns about the legal rationale for a program of eavesdropping without warrants, one government official said. Mr. Mueller asked senior administration officials about "whether the program had a proper legal foundation," but deferred to Justice Department legal opinions, the official said.

President Bush has characterized the eavesdropping program as a "vital tool" against terrorism; Vice President Dick Cheney has said it has saved "thousands of lives."

But the results of the program look very different to some officials charged with tracking terrorism in the United States. More than a dozen current and former law enforcement and counterterrorism officials, including some in the small circle who knew of the secret program and how it played out at the F.B.I., said the torrent of tips led them to few potential terrorists inside the country they did not know of from other sources and diverted agents from counterterrorism work they viewed as more productive.

"We'd chase a number, find it's a schoolteacher with no indication they've ever been involved in international terrorism - case closed," said one former F.B.I. official, who was aware of the program and the data it generated for the bureau. "After you get a thousand numbers and not one is turning up anything, you get some frustration."

Intelligence officials disagree with any characterization of the program's results as modest, said Judith A. Emmel, a spokeswoman for the office of the director of national intelligence. Ms. Emmel cited a statement at a briefing last month by Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the country's second-ranking intelligence official and the director of the N.S.A. when the program was started.

"I can say unequivocally that we have gotten information through this program that would not otherwise have been available," General Hayden said. The White House and the F.B.I. declined to comment on the program or its results.

The differing views of the value of the N.S.A.'s foray into intelligence-gathering in the United States may reflect both bureaucratic rivalry and a culture clash. The N.S.A., an intelligence agency, routinely collects huge amounts of data from across the globe that may yield only tiny nuggets of useful information; the F.B.I., while charged with fighting terrorism, retains the traditions of a law enforcement agency more focused on solving crimes.

"It isn't at all surprising to me that people not accustomed to doing this would say, 'Boy, this is an awful lot of work to get a tiny bit of information,' " said Adm. Bobby R. Inman, a former N.S.A. director. "But the rejoinder to that is, Have you got anything better?"

Several of the law enforcement officials acknowledged that they might not know of arrests or intelligence activities overseas that grew out of the domestic spying program. And because the program was a closely guarded secret, its role in specific cases may have been disguised or hidden even from key investigators.

Still, the comments on the N.S.A. program from the law enforcement and counterterrorism officials, many of them high level, are the first indication that the program was viewed with skepticism by key figures at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the agency responsible for disrupting plots and investigating terrorism on American soil.

All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the program is classified. It is coming under scrutiny next month in hearings on Capitol Hill, which were planned after members of Congress raised questions about the legality of the eavesdropping. The program was disclosed in December by The New York Times.

The law enforcement and counterterrorism officials said the program had uncovered no active Qaeda networks inside the United States planning attacks. "There were no imminent plots - not inside the United States," the former F.B.I. official said.

Some of the officials said the eavesdropping program might have helped uncover people with ties to Al Qaeda in Albany; Portland, Ore.; and Minneapolis. Some of the activities involved recruitment, training or fund-raising.

But, along with several British counterterrorism officials, some of the officials questioned assertions by the Bush administration that the program was the key to uncovering a plot to detonate fertilizer bombs in London in 2004. The F.B.I. and other law enforcement officials also expressed doubts about the importance of the program's role in another case named by administration officials as a success in the fight against terrorism, an aborted scheme to topple the Brooklyn Bridge with a blow torch.

Some officials said that in both cases, they had already learned of the plans through interrogation of prisoners or other means.

Immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration pressed the nation's intelligence agencies and the F.B.I. to move urgently to thwart any more plots. The N.S.A., whose mission is to spy overseas, began monitoring the international e-mail messages and phone calls of people inside the United States who were linked, even indirectly, to suspected Qaeda figures.

Under a presidential order, the agency conducted the domestic eavesdropping without seeking the warrants ordinarily required from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which handles national security matters. The administration has defended the legality of the program, pointing to what it says is the president's inherent constitutional power to defend the country and to legislation passed by Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Administration officials told Mr. Mueller, the F.B.I. director, of the eavesdropping program, and his agency was enlisted to run down leads from it, several current and former officials said.

While he and some bureau officials discussed the fact that the program bypassed the intelligence surveillance court, Mr. Mueller expressed no concerns about that to them, those officials said. But another government official said Mr. Mueller had questioned the administration about the legal authority for the program.

Officials who were briefed on the N.S.A. program said the agency collected much of the data passed on to the F.B.I. as tips by tracing phone numbers in the United States called by suspects overseas, and then by following the domestic numbers to other numbers called. In other cases, lists of phone numbers appeared to result from the agency's computerized scanning of communications coming into and going out of the country for names and keywords that might be of interest. The deliberate blurring of the source of the tips caused some frustration among those who had to follow up.

F.B.I. field agents, who were not told of the domestic surveillance programs, complained that they often were given no information about why names or numbers had come under suspicion. A former senior prosecutor who was familiar with the eavesdropping programs said intelligence officials turning over the tips "would always say that we had information whose source we can't share, but it indicates that this person has been communicating with a suspected Qaeda operative." He said, "I would always wonder, what does 'suspected' mean?"

"The information was so thin," he said, "and the connections were so remote, that they never led to anything, and I never heard any follow-up."

In response to the F.B.I. complaints, the N.S.A. eventually began ranking its tips on a three-point scale, with 3 being the highest priority and 1 the lowest, the officials said. Some tips were considered so hot that they were carried by hand to top F.B.I. officials. But in bureau field offices, the N.S.A. material continued to be viewed as unproductive, prompting agents to joke that a new bunch of tips meant more "calls to Pizza Hut," one official, who supervised field agents, said.

The views of some bureau officials about the value of the N.S.A.'s domestic surveillance offers a revealing glimpse of the difficulties law enforcement and intelligence agencies have had cooperating since Sept. 11.

The N.S.A., criticized by the national Sept. 11 commission for its "avoidance of anything domestic" before the attacks, moved aggressively into the domestic realm after them. But the legal debate over its warrantless eavesdropping has embroiled the agency in just the kind of controversy its secretive managers abhor. The F.B.I., meanwhile, has struggled over the last four years to expand its traditional mission of criminal investigation to meet the larger menace of terrorism.

Admiral Inman, the former N.S.A. director and deputy director of C.I.A., said the F.B.I. complaints about thousands of dead-end leads revealed a chasm between very different disciplines. Signals intelligence, the technical term for N.S.A.'s communications intercepts, rarely produces "the complete information you're going to get from a document or a witness" in a traditional F.B.I. investigation, he said.

Some F.B.I. officials said they were uncomfortable with the expanded domestic role played by the N.S.A. and other intelligence agencies, saying most intelligence officers lacked the training needed to safeguard Americans' privacy and civil rights. They said some protections had to be waived temporarily in the months after Sept. 11 to detect a feared second wave of attacks, but they questioned whether emergency procedures like the eavesdropping should become permanent.

That discomfort may explain why some F.B.I. officials may seek to minimize the benefits of the N.S.A. program or distance themselves from the agency. "This wasn't our program," an F.B.I. official said. "It's not our mess, and we're not going to clean it up."

The N.S.A.'s legal authority for collecting the information it passed to the F.B.I. is uncertain. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requires a warrant for the use of so-called pen register equipment that records American phone numbers, even if the contents of the calls are not intercepted. But officials with knowledge of the program said no warrants were sought to collect the numbers, and it is unclear whether the secret executive order signed by Mr. President Bush in 2002 to authorize eavesdropping without warrants also covered the collection of phone numbers and e-mail addresses.

Aside from the director, F.B.I. officials did not question the legal status of the tips, assuming that N.S.A. lawyers had approved. They were more concerned about the quality and quantity of the material, which produced "mountains of paperwork" often more like raw data than conventional investigative leads.

"It affected the F.B.I. in the sense that they had to devote so many resources to tracking every single one of these leads, and, in my experience, they were all dry leads," the former senior prosecutor said. "A trained investigator never would have devoted the resources to take those leads to the next level, but after 9/11, you had to."

By the administration's account, the N.S.A. eavesdropping helped lead investigators to Iyman Faris, an Ohio truck driver and friend of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is believed to be the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. Mr. Faris spoke of toppling the Brooklyn Bridge by taking a torch to its suspension cables, but concluded that it would not work. He is now serving a 20-year sentence in a federal prison.

But as in the London fertilizer bomb case, some officials with direct knowledge of the Faris case dispute that the N.S.A. information played a significant role.

By contrast, different officials agree that the N.S.A.'s domestic operations played a role in the arrest of an imam and another man in Albany in August 2004 as part of an F.B.I. counterterrorism sting investigation. The men, Yassin Aref, 35, and Mohammed Hossain, 49, are awaiting trial on charges that they attempted to engineer the sale of missile launchers to an F.B.I. undercover informant.

In addition, government officials said the N.S.A. eavesdropping program might have assisted in the investigations of people with suspected Qaeda ties in Portland and Minneapolis. In the Minneapolis case, charges of supporting terrorism were filed in 2004 against Mohammed Abdullah Warsame, a Canadian citizen. Six people in the Portland case were convicted of crimes that included money laundering and conspiracy to wage war against the United States.

Even senior administration officials with access to classified operations suggest that drawing a clear link between a particular source and the unmasking of a potential terrorist is not always possible.

When Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, was asked last week on "The Charlie Rose Show" whether the N.S.A. wiretapping program was important in deterring terrorism, he said, "I don't know that it's ever possible to attribute one strand of intelligence from a particular program."

But Mr. Chertoff added, "I can tell you in general the process of doing whatever you can do technologically to find out what is being said by a known terrorist to other people, and who that person is communicating with, that is without a doubt one of the critical tools we've used time and again."

William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting from New York for this article.

11:36 PM  
Blogger Management said...

For Release: January 16, 2006

New Zogby Poll Shows Majority of Americans Support Impeaching Bush for Wiretapping

By a margin of 52% to 43%, Americans want Congress to consider impeaching President Bush if he wiretapped American citizens without a judge's approval, according to a new poll commissioned by, a grassroots coalition that supports a Congressional investigation of President Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

The poll was conducted by Zogby International, the highly-regarded non-partisan polling company. The poll interviewed 1,216 U.S. adults from January 9-12.

The poll found that 52% agreed with the statement:

"If President Bush wiretapped American citizens without the approval of a judge, do you agree or disagree that Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment."

43% disagreed, and 6% said they didn't know or declined to answer. The poll has a +/- 2.9% margin of error.

"The American people are not buying Bush's outrageous claim that he has the power to wiretap American citizens without a warrant. Americans believe terrorism can be fought without turning our own government into Big Brother," said co-founder Bob Fertik.

Recently White House spokesman Scott McClellan cited a Rasmussen poll that found 64% believe the NSA "should be allowed to intercept telephone conversations between terrorism suspects." Of course, that is exactly what Congress authorized when it created the FISA courts to issue special expedited secret warrants for terrorism suspects. But Bush defied the FISA law and authorized warrantless wiretaps of Americans, which has outraged Americans to the point that a majority believe Congress should consider Bush's impeachment.

"Bush admits he ordered illegal warantless wiretapping, but says it began in response to 9/11 and was limited to a small number of calls to or from Al Qaeda," Fertik said. "But recent reports suggest wiretapping affected a much larger number of Americans, and a report in Friday's Truthout says the wiretapping began before 9/11."

"The upcoming Senate hearings on White House wiretapping could be as dramatic as the Watergate hearings in 1973. A majority of Americans have already believe Congress should look into grounds for impeachment, yet we have only seen the tip of the iceberg in the Corporate Media. If Bush ordered warrantless wiretapping long before the terrorist attack on 9/11, then Americans will realize that George Bush came into office determined to shred the Constitution and take away our rights," Fertik said.

Impeachment Supported by Majorities of Many Groups

Responses to the Zogby poll varied by political party affiliation: 66% of Democrats favored impeachment, as did 59% of Independents, and even 23% of Republicans. By ideology, impeachment was supported by Progressives (90%), Libertarians (71%), Liberals (65%), and Moderates (58%), but not by Conservatives (33%) or Very Conservatives (28%).

Responses also varied by age, sex, race, and religion. 74% of those 18-29 favored impeachment, 47% of those 31-49, 49% of those 50-64, and 40% of those over 65. 55% of women favored impeachment, compared to 49% of men. Among African Americans, 75% favored impeachment, as did 56% of Hispanics and 47% of whites. Majorities of Catholics, Jews, and Others favored impeachment, while 44% of Protestants and 38% of Born Again Christians did so.

Majorities favored impeachment in every region: the East (54%), South (53%) and West (52%), and Central states (50%). In large cities, 56% support impeachment; in small cities, 58%; in suburbs, 46%; in rural areas, 46%.

Support for Clinton Impeachment Was Much Lower

In August and September of 1998, 16 major polls asked about impeaching President Clinton ( Only 36% supported hearings to consider impeachment, and only 26% supported actual impeachment and removal. Even so, the impeachment debate dominated the news for months, and the Republican Congress impeached Clinton despite overwhelming public opposition.

Passion for Impeachment is Major Unreported Story

The strong support for impeachment found in this poll is especially surprising because the views of impeachment supporters are entirely absent from the broadcast and print media, and can only be found on the Internet and in street protests. The lack of coverage of impeachment support is due in part to the fact that not a single Democrat in Congress has called for impeachment, despite considerable grassroots activism by groups like (

The passion of impeachment supporters is directly responsible for the four polls commissioned by After Downing Street. After the Zogby poll in June, activists led by urged all of the major polling organizations to include an impeachment question in their upcoming polls. But none of the polling organizations were willing to do so for free, so on September 30, posted a request for donations to fund paid polls ( People responded with small donations (on average $27) which quickly added up to over $10,000. After Downing Street has spent a portion of that money on the Ipsos Poll and the two Zogby Polls.


1. is a rapidly growing coalition of veterans' groups, peace groups, and political activist groups that was created on May 26, 2005, following the publication of the Downing Street Memo in London's Sunday Times on May 1. The coalition is urging Congress to begin a formal investigation into whether President Bush committed impeachable offenses in connection with the Iraq war.

2. The Ipsos Public Affairs poll and the new Zogby poll results cited above refer to surveys of U.S. adults. The June 2005 Zogby results are from a survey of likely voters. The new Zogby poll produced results for both adults and likely voters:
1/06 Zogby: Adults and Likely Voters
11/05 Zogby: Adults and Likely Voters.
10/05 Ipsos: Adults and definitions of regions.
6/05 Zogby: Likely Voters.

3. The original impeachment question was written by Zogby for their own poll in June 2005. (We tried to persuade them to repeat their question in their regular polls, but they refused - so we had to pay them to do it.) Subsequent questions, including this one, were written jointly by and the pollsters. Obviously there are many ways to word polling questions, and wording has an effect on the results. (Joseph Cannon takes issue with the IF-THEN formulation.) The range of possible questions can be seen in the 1998 polls on impeaching President Clinton. That is why, in July 2005, we began asking the Corporate Media pollsters to conduct their own polls, using their own wording. We also support the efforts of MyDD's Chris Bowers to conduct an in-depth poll on impeachment, which should be completed soon. Personally, I think it's a waste of time to quibble over individual words in a poll for any number of reasons. The most important conclusions to draw from our poll are:

1. Polls like the Pew poll and the Pentagon Post poll that purport to show that Americans approve of Bush's admittedly illegal wiretapping are far from conclusive - if not downright wrong - if they fail to make clear that the wiretapping was illegal. (If you don't think it was illegal, then you haven't read any of the in-depth legal analyses, including former CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith and the non-partisan Congressional Research Service.) If I had more time, I would dissect the wording of the other polls to prove that the flaws in their wording are far greater than the flaws in our Zogby poll. See TomPaine's Conor Clark.
2. As our series of polls has shown, a solid majority of Americans think Congress should consider impeaching Bush for one reason or another. I don't think we've even measured the full extent of impeachment support; I would love to run a poll that asked about all of the possible reasons - including Iraq, torture, Plamegate, New Orleans, the deficit, and global warming - but we don't have enough money. I hope Chris Bowers will cast a wide net on these questions.
3. Since the wiretapping scandal broke in December, the number of Congressional leaders and commentators - both Democrats and Republicans - who are discussing impeachment has increased exponentially. This of course demolishes the excuse given by Gallup's Frank Newport (and seconded by the PentaPost's Richard Morin) last September: "We will certainly ask Americans about their views on impeaching George W. Bush if, and when, there is some discussion of that possibility by congressional leaders, and/or if commentators begin discussing it in the news media. That has not happened to date." It's time for the progressive blogosphere to join us in demanding impeachment polls by the Corporate Media.
4. All of the heavily-hyped polls alleging Bush got a "bounce" after the Iraq elections were just White House propaganda. The 47% approval rating in the ABC/WP poll in December at the height of the "purple finger" media orgasm was a momentary sugar high; the polls that followed registered 41%, 43%, 40%, 38%, 41%, 43%, and 42%. These new polls are in the exact same range as all of the polls that followed Hurrican Katrina.
5. If the upcoming hearings on the NSA wiretapping are conducted seriously (which is highly unlike with Arlen Specter in charge), they are certain to expose all of the White House excuses as just more lies. There could even be some dramatic and devastating testimony from whistleblowers like Russell Tice. These revelations will probably drive Bush's approval ratings down even further, and produce comparable increases in support for impeachment. Any thoughtful assessment of polling must recognize that polls change as facts and events change - and the facts and events of the next few weeks are certain to hurt Bush.

11:38 PM  
Blogger Management said...

By LARRY MARGASAK, Associated Press Writer Mon Jan 16, 2:18 PM ET

WASHINGTON - Former Vice President
Al Gore asserted Monday that
President Bush "repeatedly and persistently" broke the law by eavesdropping on Americans without a court warrant and called for a federal investigation of the practice.

Speaking on Martin Luther King Jr.'s national holiday, the man who lost the 2000 presidential election to Bush only after a ruling by the Supreme Court on a recount in Florida, called Bush's warrantless surveillance program "a threat to the very structure of our government." Gore charged that the program has ignored the checks and balances of the courts and Congress.

Gore said that Bush's actions — which the president has defended as indispensable in the war against terrorism — represented a "direct assault" on the special federal court that considers, and decides whether to authorize, administration requests to eavesdrop on Americans.

Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the
Republican National Committee, shot back: "Al Gore's incessant need to insert himself in the headline of the day is almost as glaring as his lack of understanding of the threats facing America. While the president works to protect Americans from terrorists, Democrats deliver no solutions of their own, only diatribes laden with inaccuracies and anger. "

Gore said the concerns are especially important on King's birthday because the slain civil rights leader was among thousands of Americans whose private communications were intercepted by the U.S. government.

King, as a foremost civil rights activist in the 1950s and 60s, had his telephone conversations wiretapped by the
FBI, which kept a file on him.

Gore said that there is still much to learn about the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program: "What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and persistently," he maintained.

Bush has pointed to a congressional resolution passed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that authorized him to use force in the fight against terrorism as allowing him to order the program. The program authorized eavesdropping of international phone calls and e-mails of people deemed a terror risk.

Gore was repeatedly interrupted by applause Monday as he spoke to the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy and the Liberty Coalition, two organizations that expressed concern with the legality of the surveillance program.

Gore, also a former member of the Senate from Tennessee, proposed that a special counsel be appointed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to investigate whether there have been violations of the law.

Referring to reports that private telecommunications companies have provided the Bush administration with access to private information on Americans, Gore said any company that did so should immediately end its complicity in the program.

11:38 PM  
Blogger Management said...

From the Los Angeles Times
Gore Wants Special Counsel to Investigate Bush Spy Power
By Ronald Brownstein
Times Staff Writer

7:14 PM PST, January 16, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Former Vice President Al Gore, charging that President Bush's record on civil liberties posed a "grave danger" to America's constitutional freedoms, urged the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Bush's authorization of warrantless domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency.

In a detailed and impassioned speech sponsored by liberal and conservative groups on Monday, Gore said that while much remained unknown about the spying program, "What we do know . . . irtually compels the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law, repeatedly and insistently."

Gore, the Democratic nominee against Bush in the bitterly disputed 2000 presidential race, also said Congress "should hold comprehensive . . . hearings into these serious allegations of criminal behavior on the part of the President."

White House officials declined to respond to Gore's speech. Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said the speech demonstrated Gore's "lack of understanding of the threats facing America."

She added: "While the president works to protect Americans from terrorists, Democrats deliver no solutions of their own, only diatribes laden with inaccuracies and anger."

Since acknowledging in December the existence of the surveillance program, Bush has said it targeted only Americans linked to terrorists and "is fully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities."

Bush said that his constitutional power as commander in chief and the congressional resolution authorizing him to use military force in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks provided a legal basis for the espionage activities.

Many Democrats and some Republicans have disputed those assertions and the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, in a study released earlier this month, questioned the surveillance's legality.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled hearings on the NSA program. The authority to appoint a special prosecutor rests with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a longtime Bush aide who, the president has said, is among those who regularly review the spying program.

Gore said a special counsel was needed because of Gonzales' "obvious conflict of interest" in investigating the program's legality.

The speech was the latest in a series Gore has delivered in recent years harshly criticizing Bush policies.

Although Gore has said he has no interest in seeking the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, his searing denunciations of Bush -- particularly over the war in Iraq -- have generated a steady, though still low, buzz of interest in that possibility. Some see him as a potential liberal alternative to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., the early favorite in the race.

When the former vice president left Monday's speech, some of the 50 supporters who surrounded his car chanted "Gore in '08."

Gore's speech, delivered to an enthusiastic audience at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall, was co-sponsored by the left-leaning American Constitution Society for Law and Policy and the Liberty Coalition, a recently formed alliance of groups concerned with privacy and civil liberties. The coalition includes liberal organizations, such as Political Action, and conservative ones, such as the National Taxpayers Union, the Free Congress Foundation and American Conservative Union.

"An executive who arrogates to himself the power to ignore the legitimate legislative directives of the Congress or to act free of the check of the judiciary becomes the central threat the Founders sought to nullify in the Constitution -- an all-powerful executive too reminiscent of the king from whom they had broken free," Gore said.

Gore did not specifically call for Bush's impeachment -- an unlikely occurrence in a Congress where both chambers are controlled by Republicans. But he repeatedly argued that Bush's authorization of the domestic surveillance and other administration assertions of executive authority in the struggle against terror threatened "the rule of law" -- the same phrase House Republicans stressed in their impeachment case against President Clinton.

Ranging beyond the spying program, Gore charged that Bush has "brought our republic to the brink of a dangerous breach in the fabric of the Constitution" through many of his tactics in the war on terror.

Gore criticized the administration's indefinite detention of terrorism suspects and the authorization of aggressive questioning techniques for captives that, Gore said, "plainly constitute" torture.

If the president has the power "to eavesdrop on American citizens without a warrant, imprison citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can't he do?" Gore asked.

Gore drew some of his loudest applause when he argued that Congress has become "entirely subservient to the executive branch" and failed to exercise its oversight responsibilities on Bush. He said congressional Democratic leaders briefed on the spying program "must share the blame" with Republicans for not protesting it.

Gore was scheduled to be introduced via a satellite feed by former Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., one of the managers of the House impeachment case against Clinton. But problems with a satellite link prevented Barr from speaking.

Barr, a conservative known for his staunch support for civil liberties, has been critical of the administration's surveillance program.

11:39 PM  

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