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Secret Court to Govern Wiretapping Plan
By Lara Jakes Jordan, Associated Press
Washington - The Justice Department, easing a Bush administration policy, said Wednesday it has decided to give an independent body authority to monitor the government's controversial domestic spying program.
In a letter to the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said this authority has been given to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and that it already has approved one request for monitoring the communications of a person believed to be linked to al-Qaida or an associated terror group.
The court orders approving collection of international communications - whether it originates in the United States or abroad - was issued Jan. 10, according to the two-page letter to Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa.
"As a result of these orders, any electronic surveillance that was occurring as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program will now be conducted subject to the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court," Gonzales wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.
"Accordingly, under these circumstances, the President has determined not to reauthorize the Terrorist Surveillance Program when the current authorization expires," the attorney general wrote.
The Bush administration secretly launched the surveillance program in 2001 to monitor international phone calls and e-mails to or from the United States involving people suspected by the government of having terrorist links.
The White House said it is satisfied that the new guidelines meet its concerns about national security.
"The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has put together its guidelines and its rules and those have met administration concerns about speed and agility when it comes to responding to bits of intelligence where we may to be able to save American lives," White House press secretary Tony Snow said.
Snow said he could not explain why those concerns could not have been addressed before the program was started. He said the president will not reauthorize the present program because the new rules will serve as guideposts.