Listening to conversations without warrants, without real oversight and without clear authority should have been enough bring a stop to such practices and a thorough investigation. Instead the administration hides behind vague assertions of authority and works to punish those who would interfere. But in their excuses they bring more questions than answers about their ability to protect us.
Bush claimed that the wiretaps were necessary for his war, as they were "designed to intercept communications from known associates of Al Qaeda to the United States."* Why does this matter? The legal aspect of intercepting calls depending on their origin is not as important as why there are calls originating in the United States needing to be intercepted. Is it that the administration is aware of "associates of Al Qaeda" in the United States? Are these people actually associated or is it like the connection of Iraq with Al Qaeda prior to the invasion? If known associates are able to have their calls bugged, why not actually stop calls and pick them up. How long have these "associates" been in the U.S.? Why won't the courts allow wiretaps of "known associates?"
My guess is that the program outlines were leaked, because the program was not an effective tool in the "war against terrorism." Probably the knowing and the associating were at best speculative and easy to expand into nonrelated areas. Probably the administration did not want to use the specially designed court, because the lack of real associations would have been evident. (Using "probabilities" because the facts are being obstructed.)
Should not we just assume that the administration would not abuse their power? Should not we just assume that their lawyers know the constitution sufficiently to advise the President without need for oversight. The U.S. Constitution is right to allow for check and balances and to both note what is allowed and not allowed. The Congress appears to have adbicated its oversight responsibilities and has led to a Presidency that is out of control. And now we may never know what rights of ours that are being trampled and how our security is quickly eroding.
*-Eric Lichtblau, Bush Defends Spy Program and Denies Misleading Public, NYTIMES.com, January 2, 2006