Senate Democrats

Democratic Leaders Call on Bush to Provide Additional Information on Surveillance Program

Washington, DC – Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence John D. Rockefeller and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy wrote to President Bush today to call on him to provide Congress with additional information on his highly-classified electronic surveillance of U.S. citizens. They called on the president to provide further information on his legal justifications for the program and his efforts to inform Congress about the program.

The full text of the letter follows below:

December 20, 2005

The President
The White House
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. President:

Your recent acknowledgement of the existence of a highly-classified program to conduct electronic surveillance on U.S. citizens and permanent residents without obtaining a court order as required by law has raised a number of troubling issues in the minds of the American people. That is why Democrats and Republicans have called for prompt and thorough congressional investigation of this program. We write to ask that you immediately provide Congress with additional details on the extent and scope of this program, your legal justification for your actions, and your efforts to inform Congress about this program.

The relevant law governing surveillances, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (“FISA”), could not be clearer on the need to obtain a court order for such surveillance. It also provides for emergency procedures and for authorization of electronic surveillance during a time of war, with reasonable time limits beyond which a court order must be obtained. We are deeply troubled by your assertions that the Constitution and the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed by Congress following the 9/11 attacks provide you justification for contravening a statute’s clear language. In your public statements to date, you have not made a convincing legal argument for the authority to do so.

In addition, public statements by several of the handful of Members of Congress who were provided a briefing on this program indicate that insufficient information was provided to them under ground rules that did not enable Congress to conduct satisfactory oversight. There are questions whether your Administration has properly complied with the National Security Act of 1947 requirement to keep the appropriate committees of jurisdiction “fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States.”

It is important for Congress to review these matters. We respectfully ask that you cooperate fully to provide all necessary information on all relevant aspects of this program, including presidential orders, supporting legal opinions, complete descriptions of actions taken under the program, and other information, to the appropriate oversight committees.

As Congress begins to examine this program in greater detail, it is clear Congress and the American people need immediately to understand at least four issues:

  1. Under what specific legal authorities did you authorize warrantless electronic surveillance of American citizens and permanent residents inside the United States?
  2. Given your assertion that the FISA is insufficient in providing appropriate authority and procedures to protect Americans from terrorism, what specific powers or authorities are insufficient and why, in the four years since the 9/11 attacks, has your Administration not proposed correcting modifications?
  3. You have stated that you authorized the NSA to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. Have you ever authorized the interception, without a warrant, of purely domestic communications, or communications of people without known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations?
  4. Could you please provide additional information on the legal and other justifications for limiting briefings on these matters to a handful of Members of Congress, as well as information on the dates, attendance, and issues discussed at these briefings, so it can be determined whether you complied with the letter and spirit of the National Security Act of 1947?


Harry Reid
Democratic Leader

John D. Rockefeller IV
Vice Chairman
Select Committee on Intelligence

Patrick Leahy
Ranking Democrat
Committee on the Judiciary