Several members of Congress from both parties have questioned whether the warrantless snooping is legal. That is because it bypasses a special federal court that, by law, must authorize eavesdropping on Americans and because the president provided limited notification to only a few lawmakers.
"It's amazing that people say to me, 'Well, he's just breaking the law.' If I wanted to break the law, why was I briefing Congress?" asked Mr. Bush. One of those who had been informed, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., was sitting behind Mr. Bush during his appearance at Kansas State University.
Mr. Bush's remarks were part of an aggressive administration campaign to defend the four-year-old program as a crucial and legal terror-fighting tool. The White House is trying to sell its side of the story before the Senate Judiciary Committee opens hearings on it in two weeks.
CBS News chief White House correspondent John Roberts reports the White House is keenly aware of the political stakes over privacy issues and is taking every opportunity to say it's mindful of civil liberties — that the program is not a massive
Back in Washington, Gen. Michael Hayden, the former National Security Agency director who is now the government's No. 2 intelligence official, contended the surveillance was narrowly targeted. He acknowledged that the program established a lower legal standard to eavesdrop on terror-related communications than a surveillance law implemented in 1978.
Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, government officials had to prove to a secretive intelligence court that there was "probable cause" to believe that a person was tied to terrorism. Mr. Bush's program allows senior NSA officials to approve surveillance when there was "reason to believe" the call may involve al Qaeda and its affiliates.
Hayden maintained that the work was within the law. "The constitutional standard is reasonable. ... I am convinced that we are lawful because what it is we are doing is reasonable," he said at the National Press Club.