Domestic Spying Draws Legal Challenge

Two lawsuits were filed Wednesday challenging the Bush administration's authorization of secret eavesdropping by the National Security Agency. Renee Montagne talks to Larry Diamond, one of the plaintiffs in the case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Diamond is a specialist with Stanford's Hoover Institution who does research in the Middle East.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Those who sued the administration yesterday over domestic eavesdropping include Greenpeace, the Council on American Islamic Relations and a former advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority. They're suing to stop the National Security Agency from monitoring Americans' international calls and e-mails without court permission.

Plaintiff Larry Diamond is the one-time CPA higher-up. He joined the ACLU lawsuit because of his work as a Middle East specialist with the conservative Hoover Institution. As an example of the National Security Agency's spying could hurt him, he points to one of his students now in Cairo.

Mr. LARRY DIAMOND (Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University): Well, if he's in touch by e-mail with say, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the member of the Muslim Brotherhood is being monitored by the NSA program, this goes on through a widening radius of communications so that, eventually, people who have nothing to do with terrorism are going to be monitored.

So, for student research and for the people from these areas who frequently contact people like myself who are concerned about democracy and human rights in these countries, these people are likely to be chilled and inhibited from freely communicating their views about American policy, their views about their own government's policies, if they know that the NSA is monitoring, storing and statistically analyzing their conversations.

MONTAGNE: Well, one could ask if, though, these conversations do have links to terrorism, isn't it in the country's interest that they are monitored?

Mr. DIAMOND: Absolutely, and I don't suggest, Renee, that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA, which is the governing authority here on what the NSA can do, that it's entirely adequate to the task. It was written a generation ago in a different era.

But, I think what deeply troubles the plaintiffs in this lawsuit is that if FISA needs to be modernized or widened in its scope in some way, the President did not go to the Congress and ask for this authority but rather, in our view, illegally and, in fact, unconstitutionally seized the authority and authorized this program in secret.

MONTAGNE: Do you have any evidence at all that you have indeed been spied on?

Mr. DIAMOND: No. I don't think anybody, any plaintiff to this lawsuit has firm and conclusive evidence that they have been spied upon. One of the perverse natures of this, of course, is that because the program is secret, how can you possibly know for sure? But, the complaint filed yesterday in federal district court by the ACLU makes clear that there is well grounded fear or suspicion that some or many of their phone calls and/or e-mail messages to people and organizations in these parts of the world have been intercepted by this NSA program.

MONTAGNE: You have been close to the administration. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice invited you to become part of the Coalition Provisional Authority, but you have turned into quite a critic of the administration about the way it's conducting the war in Iraq. Your latest book is called Squandered Victory. Does that enter into your thinking about the possibility that you might be spied upon?

Mr. DIAMOND: I don't know. I don't have any reason to believe that this spying program is being used to spy upon, quote, "enemies" the way Richard Nixon sought to do so during his administration. We don't allege that. I don't believe that. I think they have a very difficult, even agonizing, task here in trying to be vigilant about the continuing threats we face, but one thing we've learned is that in periods of national emergency or threat, our civil liberties much more easily come under threat and if we are not vigorous in defending them, we will find that our liberties are diminished.

MONTAGNE: Larry Diamond is a Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

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