Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires—a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so. It’s important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution.—President Bush, at a Q and A in Buffalo, N.Y., April 20, 2004.
Q: Why did you skip the basic safeguards of asking courts for permission for the intercepts? A: First of all, I—right after September the 11th, I knew we were fighting a different kind of war. And so I asked people in my administration to analyze how best for me and our government to do the job people expect us to do, which is to detect and prevent a possible attack. That’s what the American people want. We looked at the possible scenarios. And the people responsible for helping us protect and defend came forth with the current program, because it enables us to move faster and quicker. And that’s important. We’ve got to be fast on our feet, quick to detect and prevent. We use [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] still—you’re referring to the FISA court in your question—of course, we use FISAs. But FISA is for long-term monitoring. What is needed in order to protect the American people is the ability to move quickly to detect.
—President Bush, at a press conference Dec. 19, 2005, after the New York Times reported that Bush had directed the National Security Agency to wiretap “hundreds, perhaps thousands” of phone conversations inside the United States without seeking court orders.
Comment. White House spokesman Scott McClellan, asked at a Dec. 20 press briefing whether the president’s 2004 remarks might have been a wee bit misleading, said, “I think he was talking about [it] in the context of the Patriot Act.” In other words, Bush was reassuring his fellow Americans that he wouldn’t impose warrantless wiretaps under the Patriot Act because he was already imposing warrantless wiretaps with no legal authority at all. He just forgot to say the second part.