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Bush defends wiretaps, urges patriot act renewal
Updated: 2005-12-18 09:11

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush defended a secret order he signed allowing for eavesdropping on people in the United States, as he fought on Saturday for the renewal of the anti-terror USA Patriot Act.

U.S. President George W. Bush gives his weekly radio address form the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, December 17, 2005. Bush spoke about the need for Congress to renew the provisions of the Patriot Act that are due to expire at the end of this year. [Reuters]

On Capitol Hill, where a hearing has been promised on Bush's order, lawmakers in both parties said they wanted to avoid allowing the Patriot Act to expire. One possibility was a temporary extension until differences could be resolved in efforts to balance national security with civil liberties.

Bush said he made the secret order to allow eavesdropping of people in the United States after the September 11, 2001, attacks, and criticized leaks to the news media about it.

"I authorized the National Security Agency, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations," Bush said a rare live radio address.

"This is a highly classified program that is crucial to our national security," Bush said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, later responded by saying: "The president's statement today raises serious questions as to what the activities were and whether the activities were lawful."

Bush initially refused to confirm a report on Friday in The New York Times about the NSA program, saying he would not discuss sensitive intelligence matters.

On Saturday, the president said he had reauthorized the eavesdropping program 30 times since the September 11, 2001, and intends to continue it "for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from al Qaeda and related groups."

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, voiced concern about the program and backed plans by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, for a congressional hearing.

"Electronic surveillance is an important law enforcement and intelligence gathering tool, but it can and must be done lawfully, in accordance with our laws and Constitution," he said.

Bush's radio address came amid an impasse in Congress over a measure that would extend key provisions of the 2001 Patriot Act that are set to expire on December 31. The act expanded the power of law enforcement to track suspected terrorists.

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