FISC judges to be briefed on NSA warrantless eavesdropping tactics

[JURIST] The presiding judge of the 11-member Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) [constituitive statute], the secret court charged with overseeing government espionage activities, has organized a classified briefing for panel members to allow administration representatives to report on the scope of the recently uncovered [JURIST report] National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] secret eavesdropping program. According to the New York Times report that broke the story, a 2002 presidential order authorized the NSA to secretly monitor international phone calls and emails of possibly thousands of US citizens without warrants. US District Judge James Robertson [official profile], one of the 11 FISC judges, resigned [JURIST report] earlier this week in protest over the President's eavesdropping plan. Most of the judges learned about the program through the Times article, and most agree that they need to hear the administration's legal justification for the eavesdropping in order to confirm the reliability and credibility of the information received by the court. The purpose of the FISC is to authorize surveillance requested by the Justice Department of espionage and terrorism suspects within the US. Under statute, the Justice Department bears the burden of showing probable cause that all surveillance targets are in fact foreign governments or their agents, but an emergency provision allows for warrantless eavesdropping for up to 72 hours if the attorney general certifies that eavesdropping is the only tactic available to the government to access the information. Bush argued Monday, and was supported [press briefing text] by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, that the need to detect terrorist threats quickly and effectively allows the NSA to circumvent the FISA system, as the emphasis of the NSA program is threat detection, not monitoring known targets. Thursday's Washington Post has more.

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