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Bush Admin Official Defends Warrantless Wiretaps

WASHINGTON -- A former Bush administration lawyer under pressure for his legal memos justifying spying with warrantless wiretaps defended the program in an essay published Thursday.

John Yoo was responding to a report issued last week by a team of five federal inspectors general. The report questioned the legal justifications for the wide-ranging surveillance program started under President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Yoo said: "The best way to find an al-Qaida operative is to look at all e-mail, text and phone traffic between Afghanistan and Pakistan and the U.S. This might involve the filtering of innocent traffic, just as roadblocks and airport screenings do."

The inspectors general were particularly critical of Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general in Bush's Justice Department.

The report said Yoo's analysis approving the program ignored a law designed to restrict the government's authority to conduct electronic surveillance during wartime, and did so without fully notifying Congress. And it said flaws in Yoo's memos later presented "a serious impediment" to recertifying the program.

Yoo insisted that the president's wiretapping program had only to comply with constitutional protections against search and seizure -- but the report said Yoo ignored the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which had previously covered federal national security surveillance.

In his essay, Yoo argued: "It is absurd to think that a law like FISA should restrict live military operations against potential attacks on the United States. ... In FISA, President Bush and his advisers faced an obsolete law not written with live war with an international terrorist organization in mind."

Yoo accused the inspectors general of "responding to the media-stoked politics of recrimination, not consulting the long history of American presidents who have lived up to their duty in times of crisis."