Memos justifying Bush-era warrantless wiretapping released

Two memos released late Friday night by the Department of Justice (DOJ) offer some of the clearest insight into the Bush administration's legal reasoning for the warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens's phone calls, and emails to date.

The memos on the secret program, dubbed Stellar Wind by the National Security Agency, that launched after the Sept. 11, terrorist attacks, were obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Washington Post reports.

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While the program was exposed in 2005 by a New York Times story, and brought under court oversight in 2007, the documents released Friday give a deeper look at President George W. Bush's head of legal counsel and assistant attorney general, Jack Goldsmith's justification.

“We conclude only that when the nation has been thrust into an armed conflict by a foreign attack on the United States and the president determines in his role as commander in chief . . . that it is essential for defense against a further foreign attack to use the [wiretapping] capabilities of the [National Security Agency] within the United States, he has inherent constitutional authority” to order warrantless wiretapping — “an authority that Congress cannot curtail,” Goldsmith wrote in a redacted 108-page memo dated May 6, 2004, according to the Post.

The ACLU obtained the memos from the Justice Department through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

A staff attorney with the ACLU, Patrick Toomey, told the Post that the reasoning in the memos was "deeply disturbing" and suggested that the president's power to monitor the communications of people in the U.S. is "virtually unlimited…when it comes to foreign intelligence."

In the May memo, Goldsmith came to the conclusion that the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force by Congress, which passed shortly after the terrorist attacks, gave the "express authority for a warrantless program because it gives a thumbs up to "all necessary and appropriate force."