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Bush Admin Backs Down on Illegal Wiretapping

StoryJanuary 18, 2007
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Glenn Greenwald

Constitutional law attorney specializing in presidential power and First Amendment issues. He is the author of the new book "How Would a Patriot Act?" and runs the blog Unclaimed Territory.

The Bush administration has reversed its policy to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens without court-approved warrants. On Wednesday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced wiretaps will now be approved by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as required by law. But questions remain over the extent of the reversal. [includes rush transcript]

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to our top headline, the Bush administration reversing its policy to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens without court-approved warrants. Wednesday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced wiretaps will now be approved by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as required by law.

We’re joined on the telephone right now by Glenn Greenwald. He is a constitutional attorney. Can you talk about the significance of this, in the last minute we have?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, I think it’s unclear exactly what the administration has agreed to do with its secret agreement with the FISA court, but the significance is that the administration has been claiming for the last year that it was impossible to defend the country while eavesdropping in compliance with FISA, and obviously, as it turns out, that was false all along, because they are now agreeing to eavesdrop only within the framework of FISA.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you explain what now will happen?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, the administration is saying that all of their eavesdropping in the future will be done only with approval of the FISA court and within the parameters of a FISA judge, which means there will be no more eavesdropping in secret. But it still remains for us to learn how they’ve been using that eavesdropping power over the past year in secret and what other measures are being justified by the theory that the president has the right to act outside the law. They have not rescinded those theories. They’re continuing to claim that they had the power to do this all along.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that this has to do with just the Democratic Congress that is now in power?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, the administration has a history of, whenever there is about to be a court ruling or some other confrontation about their lawlessness or their radical theories of power, they end up abandoning it and finding some other way to do it. There was already a court ruling saying that they broke the law and violated the Constitution, and the appeals court was about to hold oral argument on that. And Alberto Gonzales was to appear today, and is going to appear today shortly, before the Judiciary Committee that’s now chaired by Pat Leahy rather than Arlen Specter, and so there was going to be a lot of pressure brought to bear to force them to comply with the law. So this was certainly — the fact that there were finally going to be consequences from their behavior motivated their decision.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, thanks for joining us, constitutional law attorney, wrote the book How Would a Patriot Act? His blog. is called "Unclaimed Territory."

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