New York Times as fifth columnists : Bush says leak about wiretapping counter terrorism efforts is " helping the enemy "
December 20, 2005
Bush accuses leak instigators of aiding the enemy
FEISTY and sometimes angry George Bush has accused those who leaked the fact he had authorised wiretaps on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Americans without judicial warrants, of having compromised US security.
In his last White House press conference for the year, the President said that the constitution and the resolutions by Congress that had authorised military action in Afghanistan and Iraq gave him the legal power to bypass laws that required approval from a special court for wiretaps by the National Security Agency on Americans.
In contrast to his sombre, even contrite tone during his address to the nation on Iraq from the Oval Office, Mr Bush switched between anger, exasperation and grim humour as he emphatically rejected any suggestion that he had acted illegally.
Insisting that the spying by the highly secretive NSA had been essential in the war against terrorism, Mr Bush said: "It was a shameful act for someone to disclose this important program in a time of war."
He added: "The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy."
However, Democrats and even some Republicans, including Arlen Specter, the Republican chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, have questioned the legality of the wiretaps and have promised congressional hearings when Congress returns in January.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, passed by Congress in 1978 after the revelation of widespread abuses of wiretaps by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, requires warrants from a special court for any wiretaps on Americans.
President Bush said that the events of September 11, 2001, and the failure of American intelligence agencies to expose the terrorist plot, had made it necessary to "move more quickly" than the legislation made possible.
"We've got to be fast on our feet," he said. " It is legal for us to do so. I swore to uphold the laws and legal authority is derived from the constitution. I just want to assure the American people that I have the authority to do this."
Mr Bush was scathing in his criticism of senators who had stalled passage of the Patriot Act, the US domestic anti-terrorism laws passed in the wake of the September 11 attacks, but which had several controversial provisions that were due to expire at the end of this year.
In an indirect reference to Harry Reid, the Democrat leader in the Senate and Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in the 2008 presidential election, Mr Bush said: "I want senators from Las Vegas or New York … to explain why these cities are safer after they refused to pass the Patriot Act."
The spying controversy, which flared last week after The New York Times revealed details of what had been a highly secret operation, has overshadowed what even Democrats concede was the landmark general election in Iraq.
The controversy followed revelations about secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and Asia where suspected al-Qaeda members were taken for interrogation and Mr Bush's backdown on his threat to veto legislation proposed by Senator John McCain that outlaws "cruel and inhumane" treatment of prisoners held by the US military and civilian agencies, including the CIA.
There was some good news for Mr Bush amid all the controversy, with a Washington Post poll showing that his approval rating had surged in the wake of the Iraqi elections.
His approval rating rose to 47 per cent, up from 39 per cent in November and up 10 points to 46 per cent approving his handling of the war in Iraq.
In addition, 56 per cent said they approved of the way Mr Bush was handling terrorism.