Judge Criticizes Warrantless Wiretaps
Saturday, June 23, 2007; 3:28 PM
WASHINGTON -- A federal judge who used to authorize wiretaps in terrorist and espionage cases criticized President Bush's decision to order warrantless surveillance after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Royce Lamberth, a district court judge in Washington, said Saturday it was proper for executive branch agencies to conduct such surveillance. "But what we have found in the history of our country is that you can't trust the executive," he said at the American Library Association's convention.
"We have to understand you can fight the war (on terrorism) and lose everything if you have no civil liberties left when you get through fighting the war," said Lamberth, who was appointed by President Reagan.
The judge disagreed with letting the executive branch alone decide which people to spy on in national security cases.
"The executive has to fight and win the war at all costs. But judges understand the war has to be fought, but it can't be at all costs," Lamberth said. "We still have to preserve our civil liberties. Judges are the kinds of people you want to entrust that kind of judgment to more than the executive."
Lamberth was named chief of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 1995 by then-Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. Lamberth held that post until 2002.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 established the court after domestic spying scandals in the 1970s.
The court meets in secret to review applications from the FBI, the National Security Agency and other agencies for warrants to wiretap or search the homes of people in the United States in terrorist or espionage cases. Each application is signed by the attorney general. The court has approved more than 99 percent of them.
Shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush authorized the NSA to spy on calls between people in the U.S. and suspected terrorists abroad without FISA court warrants. The administration said it needed to act more quickly than the court could and that the president had inherent authority under the Constitution to order warrantless domestic spying.
After the program became public and was challenged in court, Bush put it under FISA court supervision this year. The president still claims the power to order warrantless spying.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Bush believes in the program, which is classified because its purpose is to stop terrorists' planning.
The program "is lawful, limited, safeguarded and _ most importantly _ effective in protecting American citizens from terrorist attacks," Fratto said. "It's specifically designed to be effective without infringing Americans' civil liberties."