President Bush is stepping up his campaign to win support for a controversial domestic spying program. Mr. Bush says the program is an essential tool in the war on terrorism.
After initially refusing to comment on the existence of the spy program, the White House is now waging an all-out campaign to win over the American public.
The president launched the enhanced effort with a trip to the American heartland and a speech at Kansas State University.
"I want people here to clearly understand why I made the decision I made," he said.
He defended the eavesdropping activities of the National Security Agency in the strongest possible terms. He even gave the effort a new label, referring to it for the first time as a terrorist surveillance program.
"It's a different kind of war with a different kind of enemy," he said. "If they are making phone calls into the United States, we need to know why."
Once again, the president stressed the program is limited to calls between people in the United States and contacts abroad with suspected terrorist ties. He said he has the legal authority as commander-in-chief of the United States to authorize such surveillance, even though it would appear to run counter to U.S. law requiring approval by a special court.
Critics charge the program goes too far and compromises individual liberties enshrined in the constitution. But President Bush said his actions were legal, the program was constantly reviewed, and Congressional leaders were briefed.
"You know, it is amazing that people say to me, 'Well, he was just breaking the law,'" he said. "If I wanted to break the law, why was I briefing Congress?"
Congressional hearings on the program are set to begin February 6. Public opinion surveys show many Americans have mixed feelings about the surveillance effort. Fifty-six percent of those questioned in one recent nationwide poll said they oppose wiretaps without a warrant. But other surveys have shown support for such action when taken to counter a terrorist threat.