President Bush has defended his decision to allow the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on phone calls connected to the United States by saying September 11 showed that the government needed to collect more information to prevent attack. But on Wednesday one group of 9-11 families members, September 11 Advocates, disagreed.
“Our government intercepted two al Qaeda communications, during routine monitoring, on September 10, 2001—’tomorrow is zero hour’ and ‘the match begins tomorrow,’ ” the group said in a statement. Those messages weren’t interpreted until it was too late. “It was certainly not any FISA court issue that delayed such translation. Rather, the delay was ostensibly due to NSA’s overwhelming workload created by its voluminous influx of information that needed to be translated and analyzed on a daily basis.”
Plus, says the group, the existing FISA law gives the president the right to order eavesdropping on someone for three full days before he has to go to the secret court to get an order. “Moreover, in a time of war, the President is given a full fifteen days to retroactively ask for such a warrant,” the statement reads. “Thus, why is there any need for the President to circumvent the law?”
According to the 2004 report to Congress on secret warrant requests to the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court, “The Court did not deny in whole or part any application submitted by the government in 2004,” when there were 1,758 requests. In the three previous years, the court saw 3,888 requests for FISA warrants. It denied four and modified two. The government appealed the modifications, and it won on both appeals. Even before September 11, the court wasn’t exactly a tough hurdle: In 2000, it approved 1,003 applications, modified one, and denied zero.