Prepared statement of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program.
Good morning Chairman Specter, Senator Leahy, and members of the Committee. I'm pleased to have this opportunity to speak with you.
Al Qaeda and its affiliates remain deadly dangerous. Osama bin Laden recently warned America that - quote - "operations are under preparation and you will see them in your homes." Bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, added just days ago that the American people are - and again I quote - "destined for a future colored by blood, the smoke of explosions, and the shadows of terror."
None of us can afford to shrug off warnings like this or forget that we remain a nation at war.
Nor can we forget that this is a war against a radical and unconventional enemy. Al Qaeda has no boundaries, no government, no standing army. Yet they are capable of wreaking death and destruction on our shores. And they have sought to fight us not just with bombs and guns. Our enemies are trained in the most sophisticated communications, counter-intelligence, and counter-surveillance techniques - and their tactics are constantly changing. They use video feed and worldwide television networks to communicate with their forces; e-mail, the Internet, and cell phone calls to direct their operations; and even our own training academies to learn how to fly aircraft as suicide-driven missiles.
To fight this unconventional war while remaining open and vibrantly engaged with the world, we must search out the terrorists abroad and pinpoint their cells here at home. To succeed, we must deploy not just soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. We must also depend on intelligence analysts, surveillance experts, and the nimble use of our technological strengths.
Before 9-11, terrorists were clustered throughout the United States preparing their assault. We know from the 9-11 Commission Report that they communicated with their superiors abroad using e-mail, the Internet, and telephones. General Hayden, the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, testified last week before the Senate that the terrorist surveillance program instituted after 9-11 has helped us detect and prevent terror plots in the United States and abroad. Its continuation is vital to the national defense.
Before going any further, I should make clear what I can discuss today. I am here to explain the Department's assessment that the President's terrorist surveillance program is consistent with our laws and Constitution. I am not here to discuss the operational details of that program, or any other classified activity. The President has described the terrorist surveillance program in response to certain leaks, and my discussion in this open forum must be limited to those facts the President has publicly confirmed - nothing more. Many operational details of our intelligence activities remain classified and unknown to our enemy - and it is vital they remain that way.
The President is duty bound to do everything he can to protect the American people. He took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. In the wake of 9-11, he told the American people that, to carry out this solemn responsibility, he would use every lawful means at his disposal to prevent another attack.
One of those means is the terrorist surveillance program - an early warning system designed for the 21st century. It is the modern equivalent to a scout team sent ahead to do reconnaissance or a series of radar outposts designed to detect enemy movements. As with all wartime operations, speed, agility, and secrecy are essential to its success.
While the President approved this program to respond to the new threats against us, he also imposed several important safeguards to protect the privacy and civil liberties of all Americans.
First, only international communications are authorized for interception under this program - that is, communications between a foreign country and this country.
Second, the program is triggered only when a career professional at the NSA has reasonable grounds to believe that one of the parties to a communication is a member or agent of al Qaeda or an affiliated terrorist organization. As the President has said, if you're talking with al Qaeda, we want to know what you're saying.
Third, to protect the privacy of Americans still further, the NSA employs safeguards to minimize the unnecessary collection and dissemination of information about U.S. persons.
Fourth, this program is administered by career professionals at NSA. Expert intelligence analysts and their senior supervisors with access to the best available information make the decision to initiate surveillance. The operation of the program is reviewed by NSA lawyers, and rigorous oversight is provided by the NSA Inspector General. I have been personally assured that no other foreign intelligence program in the history of NSA has received a more thorough review.
Fifth, the program expires by its own terms approximately every 45 days. The program may be reauthorized, but only on the recommendation of intelligence professionals, and there must be a determination that al Qaeda continues to pose a continuing threat to America based on the latest intelligence.
Finally, the bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees has known about this program for years. The bipartisan leadership of both the House and Senate has also been informed. During the course of these briefings, no Members of Congress asked that the program be discontinued.
Mr. Chairman, the terrorist surveillance program is lawful in all respects. As we have thoroughly explained in our written analysis, the President is acting with authority provided both by the Constitution and by statute.
First and foremost, the program is consistent with our Constitution. Under Article II, the President has the duty and the authority to protect America from attack. Article II also makes the President, in the words of the Supreme Court - quote - "the sole organ [of government] in the field of international relations."
These inherent authorities vested in the President by the Constitution include the power to spy on enemies like al Qaeda without prior approval from other branches of government. The courts have uniformly upheld this principle in case after case.
Fifty-five years ago, the Supreme Court explained that the President's inherent constitutional authorities expressly include - quote - "the authority to use secretive means to collect intelligence necessary for the conduct of foreign affairs and military campaigns."
More recently, in 2002, the FISA Court of Review explained that -quote - "all the other courts to have decided the issue [have] held that the President did have inherent authority t