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Is the government listening? The expansion of domestic spying after 9/11 raises some thorny constitutional issues.


The debate over domestic surveillance is not new. During the Vietnam War, the FBI and even the CIA--which is not supposed to operate against American citizens--spied on antiwar groups. And FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover personally directed wiretap surveillance of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.


* Assign a student to read aloud the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. Review what the Amendment prohibits. Ask students to suggest reasons why they think these protections were added to the Constitution.


* Ask for a show of hands on this question: Would you mind if the National Security Agency included your family's phone conversations in a temporary national electronic surveillance operation in the search for terrorists?

* Use the vote as a prompt for further discussion of the subject.

* [Students should understand that the issue is not whether government should wiretap potential terrorists, but whether a President can order electronic surveillance of American citizens without justifying such surveillance to a court.]


* Is it possible for the government to provide security from the terrorist threat while simultaneously protecting the privacy protections found in the Fourth Amendment?

* Do you think those who oppose increased domestic surveillance would end their objections if there were another terrorist attack on the U.S.?


* Divide the class into two groups. Group A writes a 50-word defense of the President's authorization of domestic surveillance without a warrant.

* Group B writes a 50-word statement explaining why Fourth Amendment protections are paramount.


* The Office of U.S. Courts says the cost of a government-ordered electronic tap averaged $63,011 in 2004.

WEB WATCH cfm This National. Security Agency Web site provides declassified background information on the super-secret intelligence agency.

Every hour, the National Security Agency silently monitors millions of telephone calls and e-mails. The agency is so secretive that for decades the government denied its existence and observers joked that NSA stood for "No Such Agency."

In the last few months, the NSA has taken center stage in a political firestorm. In December, The New York Times reported that in the months after Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush authorized the NSA to eavesdrop on Americans suspected of ties to Al Qaeda without first obtaining warrants.

As a result, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people within the U.S. had their international phone calls or e-mails monitored.

Bush's actions raise several critical constitutional issues. How far does presidential authority extend, particularly when it comes to national security? Does the President have expanded powers during wartime? What is the extent of constitutional protections against "unreasonable searches and seizures" in the Fourth Amendment? And the biggest question: How does the government balance its responsibility to defend the nation from terrorist attacks and other threats to its security while protecting the rights of its citizens?


President Bush has strongly defended his actions. "The NSA program is a necessary program," he said in January. "I was elected to protect the American people from harm. And on Sept. 11, 2001, our nation was attacked. And after that day, I vowed to use all the resources at my disposal, within the law, to protect the American people, which is what I have been doing and will continue to do."

The administration has relied on an expansive interpretation of presidential power, which, it believes, gives it authority for its actions. Not all of its interpretations, however, have been accepted by the courts and legal scholars.

The administration argues that, beginning in the 1970s, Presidents have ceded some of the legitimate power of the office in response to the abuse of presidential power by Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. Now, however, the White House says that the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the continuing threat of terrorism, make it especially critical that the full power of the presidency be restored and exercised.

The bedrock source for presidential authority is considered to be Article 2 of the Constitution, which describes the "executive power" of the President, including his authority as Commander in Chief of the armed forces. The White House is also citing a congressional resolution passed in the days after September 11 that authorized the President to use "all necessary and appropriate force" to fight those responsible.

Bradford Berenson, who served as associate counsel to President Bush from 2001 to 2003, says intelligence gathering on an enemy is clearly part of the President's constitutional war powers. "It's easy now that four years have passed without another attack to forget the sense of urgency that pervaded the country when the ruins of the World Trade Center were still smoking," he says.

But Jeffrey H. Smith, who served as CIA general counsel in 1995 and 1996, isn't so sure. "Clearly the President felt after 9/11 that he needed more powers than his predecessors had exercised," he says. "He chose to assert as much power as he thought he needed. Now the question is whether that was wise and consistent with our values."


This tug of war between presidential authority and citizens' rights is hardly new. Presidents as far back as John Adams have felt that they had not only a right but a duty to assert expanded powers when the U.S. faced a threat to its security. In many cases, their actions were later repealed or struck down by the courts.

Alan F. Westin, a privacy expert and professor emeritus of public law and government at Columbia University, says most people accept that liberties might be curtailed under special circumstances like war, but historically, wartime restrictions have been understood to be temporary.

"Now we're in a permanent war" against terrorism, Westin says. "The administration says again and again that this is a permanent problem."

Polls suggest that Americans are divided over whether President Bush has the authority to order eavesdropping without warrants; the issue seems to provoke very different reactions depending on how it is presented.

The constitutional force counterbalancing the President's authority in this area is the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans from "unreasonable searches and seizures," and has generally been interpreted to mean that authorities must obtain court-issued warrants before any monitoring.

"The prohibition against government eavesdropping on American citizens is well-established and crystal clear," says Ann Beeson, associate legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed a lawsuit in this case. "President Bush's claim that he is not bound by the law is simply astounding. Our democratic system depends on the rule of law, and not even the President can issue illegal orders that violate constitutional principles."

The NSA was created in 1952 to spy on foreign enemies. Its monitoring capabilities were never intended to be directed inward. Today, with people expressing their innermost thoughts in e-mails, posting their medical and financial records on the Internet, and chatting away on cell phones, the agency can virtually get inside a person's mind.

A 1978 law passed in the wake of Watergate was designed to prevent American intelligence agencies from improperly monitoring American citizens. It requires the NSA to obtain a warrant from a special court.

While this court has rarely turned down warrant requests (it has granted about 19,000 and rejected just five), some officials say the numbers are misleading because the government withdrew or modified applications when it appeared the court might reject them. They also say that there are situations in which delaying monitoring for even a few hours while waiting for a warrant could result in the loss of critical intelligence that could prevent an attack.

The buzzword today in national-security circles is "data mining"--digging deep into piles of information to look for patterns or clues to possible threats. Rather than monitoring a dozen or so people for months at a time, intelligence agencies can listen in on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people for shorter periods of time to try to determine who poses potential threats.

General Michael V. Hayden, former director of the NSA and the nation's second-ranking intelligence official, defends the program. "Clearly, not every lead pans out from this or any other source," he says, "but this program has given us information that we would not otherwise have been able to get."


The issue of how to balance the nation's security with the protection of civil liberties came up repeatedly last month at Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. "This hearing comes at a time of great national concern about the balance between civil rights and the President's national-security authority," said Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

To explore this subject, the hearings turned to a 1952 Supreme Court case that involved the actions of President Harry S. Truman during the Korean War. When American steel workers threatened to go on strike, Truman cited his powers as Commander in Chief to seize the steel mills to prevent any disruption to the war effort. The Court ruled that Truman had overstepped his authority.

Specter quoted from that ruling a statement that resonates today in thinking about balancing national security and civil liberties: "What is at stake is the equilibrium established by our constitutional system."

Presidential Powers in Wartime


Supported the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 when war with France looked imminent. These laws essentially suspended civil liberties by making it illegal to criticize the government.

The laws were repeated or allowed to expire from 1800 to 1802.


Suspended habeas corpus [the right of citizens to challenge their arrest in court] during the Civil War in 1861 and 1862.

Habeas corpus rights were restored by the Supreme Court in 1866.


Supported the Sedition Act of 1918, which essentially deprived citizens of some First Amendment rights by making it illegal to say or write anything disloyal about the government, the Constitution, the flag, or the military.

The Sedition Act was repeated in 1921.


During World War II, more than 100,000Japanese-Americans were imprisoned in internment camps because of doubts about their loyalty.

Decades later, the government apologized and gave reparations to survivors.


In 1952, during the Korean War, Truman tried to take over the steer industry to prevent a disruptive strike.

The Supreme Court brooked the President's attempted takeover.


1. The White House argues that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 require full restoration presidential powers, curtailed in the 1970s, after abuses by President

a Jimmy Carter.

b GeraLd R. Ford.

c Richard M. Nixon.

d Lyndon B. Johnson.

2. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution generally requires that if the government wants to conduct a search of a citizen's property it must first

a obtain a warrant from a court.

b obtain permission from the person whose property is to be searched.

c obtain permission from the President.

d notify Local Law-enforcement agencies.

3. The recent National Security Agency INSAI practice of "data mining" differs from its former electronic eavesdropping program in that it

a targets recent immigrants to the U.S.

b restricts monitoring to a smaLL number cities.

c monitors a Larger number of caLLs for shorter periods of time.

d includes written correspondence.

4. "Is the Government Listening?" identifies all of the following Presidents as expanding their powers of office except

a Calvin Coolidge.

b Woodrow Wilson.

c Harry S. Truman,

d Franklin D. Roosevelt.

5. The White House, in its support of President Bush's decision to conduct electronic surveillance of Americans, has cited

a an opinion poll backing such a restoration.

b the powers given to other Presidents.

c powers identified in the Oath of Office.

d a congressional resolution authorizing the President to use "all necessary and appropriate force" to fight terrorists.


1. Explain why you believe innocent people, who have no connection to terrorism, should--or should not--be concerned if the government intercepts their telephone or e-mail correspondence?

2. Should the person who Leaked the information that President Bush ordered electronic eavesdropping without obtaining court authority be penalized? Why or why not?


1. [c] Richard M. Nixon.

2. [a] obtain a warrant from a court.

3. [c] listens to a large number of calls for a restricted period of time.

4. [a] Calvin Coolidge.

5. [d] a congressional resolution authorizing the President to use "all necessary and appropriate force" to fight terrorists.

With reporting by Eric Lichtblau, John Schwartz, David Johnston, Neil A. Lewis, and Scott Shane of The New York Times, and James Bamford.
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Author:Smith, Patricia
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Article Type:Cover Story
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 20, 2006
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