Bush Calls For Greater Wiretap Authority

By Anushka Asthana and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 8, 2006

ATLANTA, Sept. 7 -- President Bush urged Congress Thursday to give him "additional authority" to continue his administration's warrantless eavesdropping program. The speech was his latest effort in several days to mark the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by framing the election-year national security debate to political and policy advantage.

Bush asserted that his administration has filled many of the security gaps exposed by the Sept. 11 attacks but said he needs more power to adapt to changes in the threat.

"The nature of communications has changed quite dramatically," Bush warned in an address here. "The terrorists who want to harm America can now buy disposable cellphones and open anonymous e-mail messages. Our laws need to change to take these changes into account."

The president's appeal for congressional action to strengthen the legal underpinnings of the National Security Agency's surveillance program ran into roadblocks even as he spoke. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Spector (R-Pa.) suspended efforts to draft legislation until at least next week after Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) proposed new amendments and a bipartisan group of senators urged more hearings.

Challenges also emerged to new rules Bush outlined Wednesday for putting foreign terrorist suspects on trial. In congressional testimony, U.S. military lawyers criticized his proposed military commissions as lacking sufficient judicial protections for defendants.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats moved to match Bush in harnessing the emotional power of the anniversary commemoration to a policy argument. Introducing what they dubbed the Real Security Act of 2006, they called for a plan to accelerate redeployment of troops out of Iraq, overhaul procedures for bringing accused terrorists to trial and redistribute homeland security funds.

While the plan says Democrats want to "change the course in Iraq" by accelerating a phased redeployment, it does not offer specifics about troop levels or a timetable. Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told a Capitol Hill news conference that Republicans had "failed to make America as safe as we can and should be" and "want to 'stay the course' in the face of failure" in Iraq.

Bush's aggressive defense of the administration's national security policies, amid rising public disapproval of both the Iraq war and his overall management of the war against terrorism, has been a careful balance between claims of progress and warnings of remaining threats.

In his remarks here, Bush delivered what he called a "progress report" on "what we have done to fix the problems that the 9/11 attacks revealed."

Improved intelligence, tougher immigration and better airport security, coupled with diplomatic and military pressure, meant terrorists would find it far harder to plan or carry out an attack like the Sept. 11 assaults on New York and Washington, he told an audience assembled by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

"Many Americans look at these events and ask the same question. Five years after 9/11, are we safer? The answer is, yes, America is safer. We are safer because we've taken action to protect the homeland. We are safer because we are on offense against our enemies overseas. We're safer because of the skill and sacrifice of the brave Americans who defend our people.

"Yet five years after 9/11, America still faces determined enemies, and we will not be safe until those enemies are finally defeated."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company