by David Kravets
September 20, 2008
U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey on Saturday denied that the Bush administration -- in conjunction with the nation's telecommunication companies -- devised a "dragnet" electronic surveillance program that funneled Americans' communications to the National Security Agency without court warrants.
But the attorney general also insisted that defending his claim in court would harm national security.
"Specific information demonstrating that the alleged dragnet has not occurred cannot be disclosed on the public record without causing exceptional harm to national security," Mukasey wrote in a federal court filing in San Francisco. "However, because there was no such alleged content-dragnet, no provider participated in that alleged activity."
It was the first time Mukasey, as the nation's top law enforcement official, provided an emphatic and wholesale written courthouse denial of allegations contained in lawsuits accusing the Bush administration of widescale domestic spying in the years following the 2001 terror attacks. Keith Alexander, the NSA director, issued a similar courthouse denial in a 2007 court document (.pdf).
Despite Mukasey's denial, contained in a court filing (.pdf) made public Saturday, Mukasey asked a federal judge to grant immunity to the nation's telecommunications companies accused of assisting with the alleged surveillance dragnet. It is the first time the government has invoked the immunity legislation (.pdf) Congress approved July 9, which was signed by President Bush the next day.