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Political Controversy Continues Over Domestic Spying


The controversy over domestic spying as part of the war on terror continues to rage in Washington and both major political parties now see it as an issue in congressional elections in November.

Opposition Democrats refer to the issue as the president's domestic spying program. The White House prefers to call it terrorist surveillance.

Shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on communications of those suspected of having links to terrorism, bypassing a 1978 law that requires the government to first get a court warrant before the monitoring can begin.

President Bush argues that he has the authority to circumvent the 1978 surveillance law because of powers granted to him by the U.S. Constitution to protect the country and by Congress when it authorized military action against Afghanistan shortly after the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Many, but not all, Republicans are rallying to defend the president's domestic surveillance program.

This is Senator John Kyl of Arizona.

"The war on terror is hugely important. It is hard to overstate, in my view, the importance of dealing with this enemy and apparently this program is really important," he said.

In fact, many Republicans believe their defense of the domestic spying program could help them in the November midterm congressional elections when the party hopes to maintain its majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives.

Vice President Dick Cheney recently spoke to a group of conservative activists in Washington.

"At the very least, this debate has clarified where all of us stand on the issue," he said. "And with an important election coming up, people need to know just how we view the most critical questions of national security."

Many Democrats and even a few Republicans are questioning the legality of the president's decision to bypass the 1978 surveillance law and authorize monitoring without a court warrant.

Senator Jack Reed is a Democrat from Rhode Island. He spoke on Fox News Sunday.

"It should have been put to a vote in the Senate," said Mr. Reed. "That is my point. If the president feels he needs the authority to do this, the authority comes from the Congress, acting in a bipartisan, bicameral way and then that authority is vindicated by the courts."

Democrats are also preparing their own counterattack on Republican claims that they are weak on national security in advance of the congressional elections in November.

This is Senator Hillary Clinton of New York.

"Contrary to Franklin Roosevelt, that we have nothing to fear but fear itself, this crowd is [saying] all we have got is fear and we are going to keep playing the fear card," said Ms. Clinton.

Political experts agree the domestic spying controversy is likely to be an election issue. But they also note that the debate over civil liberties and security is as old as the American Republic.

Larry Sabato directs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

"In a sense, it is not resolvable," he explained. "You have to reach some kind of reasonable balance between individual liberty and security. It is not easy to do. We go back and forth in this debate and I think we are going to do that and we are going to see that again in 2006."

Public opinion polls suggest Americans are split over the domestic spying program. Many legal experts believe the issue will eventually be decided in the court system, most likely by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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