A Possible Clue On NSA Spying

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Did President Bush mention the government's secret warrantless surveillance program to the president of Pakistan more than four years ago? A brief passage of a 2002 book seems to raise that possibility.

In "Bush at War," Bob Woodward recounts a meeting between Bush and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf at the Waldorf Towers in New York in early November 2001.

Bush started by talking about plans for a quick victory in Afghanistan but then turned to another topic, according to the passage on Page 303:

"He had become fascinated with the ability of the National Security Agency to intercept phone calls and other communications worldwide," Woodward wrote, referring to Bush. "If they got the key phone calls, future terrorism might be stopped, certainly curtailed. Bush summarized his strategy: 'Listen to every phone call and close them down and protect the innocents.' "

By this time, Bush had already issued his order allowing the NSA to intercept communications between the United States and overseas locations without warrants. The program was never divulged publicly, however, until press reports last December.

Of course, Bush could have been referring merely to the NSA's traditional surveillance programs, which have long involved intercepting large amounts of communications overseas.

Woodward, an assistant managing editor at The Washington Post, said this month that he does not know what Bush may have had in mind during his conversation with Musharraf. Woodward noted that he has not referred to the NSA's warrantless spying program in his books or reporting.

-- Dan Eggen

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