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Is Bush scared of Osama?

President George W Bush has said that he took the Al-Qaeda leader's threats of another attack seriously.

india Updated: Jan 26, 2006 16:40 IST
Caren Bohan (Reuters)
Caren Bohan (Reuters)

President George W Bush said on Wednesday he took Osama bin Laden's threats of another attack seriously and invoked the Al-Qaeda leader's recent audiotape to defend a domestic eavesdropping programme.

"I understand there are some in America who say, 'Well this can't be true, there aren't still people willing to attack.' All I would ask them to do is listen to the words of Osama bin Laden and take him seriously," Bush said at the National Security Agency.

"When he says he's going to hurt the American people again or try to, he means it. I take it seriously and the people of NSA take it seriously and most of the American people take it seriously as well," Bush said.

Democrats have criticised Bush for authorizing the warrantless monitoring of international telephone calls and e-mail messages of people in the United States suspected of aiding Al-Qaeda.

Critics say the programme, conducted by the NSA, violates the US Constitution and the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which makes it illegal to spy on US citizens in the United States without the approval of a special secret court.

Bin Laden in an audiotape that aired last week warned that Al-Qaeda was preparing attacks in the United States but was open to a conditional truce with Americans.

"Just last week ... we heard from Osama bin Laden," Bush said. "The terrorists will do everything they can to strike us. I am going to continue to do everything I can within my legal authority to stop them."

Top Senate Democrats sent a letter to Bush on Wednesday asking he outline, by February 1, any changes in current law he would propose to improve surveillance of suspected terrorists.

"We are ... gravely concerned that sometime in 2001, in apparent violation of federal law, you authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans in the United States without court approval," said the letter, signed by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and others.

The senators noted that in a speech in 2004, Bush said, "When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so."

They quoted Bush saying, "A wiretap requires a court order."

Democrats have noted that in special cases the NSA is allowed to conduct domestic surveillance but has to obtain a warrant within 72 hours.

Democrats in the Senate and House of Representatives also pressured Republicans on Wednesday to submit Bush's domestic eavesdropping programme to the scrutiny of Congress' intelligence oversight committees.


Sen Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, said the administration's argument it needed to bypass the warrant process in order to go after Al-Qaeda was "far-fetched."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, plans hearings on the NSA programme on February 6.

Bush told reporters he would continue to authorise the eavesdropping programme.

"The American people expect me to protect their lives and their civil liberties and that's exactly what we're doing with this programme," he said.

Touring the NSA in Fort Meade, Bush visited a room with a large screen highlighting statistics about cyberspace, including one saying over 592 billion instant messages were sent daily. That was projected to grow to 1.38 trillion by 2007.

The NSA is one of the most secretive of the US spy agencies. Founded in 1952, it uses high-tech equipment such as satellites and bugs to pick up foreign electronic signals such as telephone calls and computer messages.

First Published: Jan 26, 2006 16:40 IST