RNC Points To Spy Orders By Carter, Clinton

Thursday, December 22, 2005

As members of Congress from both parties continued to criticize the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping yesterday, the Republican National Committee issued a news release portraying the critics as Democrats seeking to "play politics again with national security."

The RNC asserted that Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter both authorized comparable forms of "search [or] surveillance without court orders."

The RNC quoted fragments of Clinton's Executive Order 12949, authorizing the attorney general to "approve physical searches, without a court order, to acquire foreign intelligence information," and Carter's Executive Order 12139, authorizing the attorney general to "approve electronic surveillance to acquire foreign intelligence information without a court order."

The Clinton and Carter orders, which were published, permitted warrantless spying only on foreigners who are not protected by the Constitution. Bush's secret directive permitted the NSA to eavesdrop on the overseas calls of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

The RNC's quotation of Clinton's order left out the stated requirement, in the same sentence, that a warrantless search not involve "the premises, information, material, or property of a United States person." Carter's order, also in the same sentence quoted, said warrantless eavesdropping could not include "any communication to which a United States person is a party."

-- Barton Gellman

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