President Bush yesterday defined as “limited” a once-secret program to intercept al Qaeda-linked calls to and from the United States, saying, “This is a limited program designed to prevent attacks on the United States of America, and I repeat — limited,” Mr. Bush told reporters after visiting wounded troops at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.
“It seems logical to me that if we know there’s a phone number associated with al Qaeda or an al Qaeda affiliate, and they’re making phone calls, it makes sense to find out why,” he said.
Mr. Bush repeated his view that a president is empowered by the Constitution to authorize such warrantless intercepts, and said there has been judicial and congressional oversight of the top-secret program.
“I have a responsibility, obviously, to act within the law, which I am doing,” he said. “It’s a program that’s been reviewed constantly by Justice Department officials, a program to which the Congress has been briefed, and a program that is, in my judgment, necessary to win this war and to protect the American people.”
The president criticized anew the leaker who revealed the program to the New York Times, which published a front-page article about it on the day the Senate was scheduled to vote on an extension of the Patriot Act.
“There’s an enemy out there. They read newspapers, they listen to what you write, they listen to what you put on the air, and they react,” said Mr. Bush, who added that the leak of the program causes great harm to national security.
The Justice Department on Friday opened an investigation into the leak, and Congress is preparing hearings to review use of the National Security Agency (NSA) program.