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EX-CIA LAWYER: NO LEGAL BASIS FOR NSA SPYING
By JESSICA YELLIN, ABC News
Jan. 11, 2006 — Former CIA General Counsel Jeffrey Smith will testify in House hearings that there is no legal basis for President Bush's controversial National Security Agency domestic surveillance program, ABC News has learned.
ABC News has obtained a copy of a 14-page memo Smith wrote to the House Select Committee on Intelligence in which he argues that the wiretaps are illegal.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Bush authorized the NSA to obtain wiretaps inside the United States, without obtaining a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court.
Since it came to light in recent weeks, Bush has insisted the program he authorized was legal and necessary to prevent terrorism, and only applied to a limited number of Americans with known ties to al Qaeda.
In his memo, however, Smith argues "it is not credible that the 2001 authorization to use force provides authority for the president to ignore the requirements of FISA."
He said that if the president's arguments for the wiretaps are sustained "it would be a dramatic expansion of presidential authority affecting the rights of our fellow citizens that undermines the checks and balances of our system, which lie at the very heart of the Constitution."
Smith is a Democrat who worked at the CIA in the Clinton years and as general counsel to the Senate Armed Services Committee under Sam Nunn, then a Democratic senator from Georgia.
Smith is now in private practice. He plans to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Jan. 20.