Powell speaks out on NSA eavesdropping

Sees `nothing wrong' but seems to favor obtaining warrants

December 26, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON --Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday that it would not have been "that hard" for President Bush to have obtained warrants for eavesdropping on domestic telephone and Internet activity but that he saw "nothing wrong" with the decision not to do so.

"My own judgment is that it didn't seem to me, anyway, that it would have been that hard to go get the warrants," Powell said. "And even in the case of an emergency, you go and do it. The law provides for that."

But Powell added that "for reasons that the president has discussed and the attorney general has spoken to, they chose not to do it that way."

"I see absolutely nothing wrong with the president authorizing these kinds of actions," he said.

Asked whether such eavesdropping should continue, Powell said, "Yes, of course it should continue."

Powell said he had not been told about the eavesdropping activity when he served as secretary of state.

He spoke on the ABC News program This Week about the disclosure, first reported in The New York Times, that Bush had authorized the National Security Agency to intercept communications by Americans without approval from a special foreign intelligence court.

Though Powell stopped short of criticizing Bush, his suggestion that there was "another way to handle it" was another example of his parting company on a critical issue with the president he served for four years.

This fall, Powell broke with the administration on the issue of torture, endorsing a move by Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, to pass a measure in Congress banning cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees by all American authorities, including intelligence personnel.

The White House at first opposed the measure but later accepted it.

Since leaving office at the end of Bush's first term, Powell has been involved in several business and public service ventures, including the establishment of the Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies at City College of New York, his alma mater.

On Iraq, Powell repeated earlier statements that differed from those of Bush, saying he did not know whether he would have advocated going to war with Iraq if he had known that the country had no stockpiles of illicit weapons.

Referring to the case for going to war if there were no such weapons, Powell said he would have told the president, "You have a far more difficult case, and I'm not sure you can make the case in the absence of those stockpiles."

Powell said he expected American troop levels to continue to decrease in the coming year out of necessity, because it would become difficult to sustain the current high levels and because he expects the effort to train Iraqis to be successful.

The main worry in Iraq, he said, is the growth of semi-independent militias with allegiance to sectarian groups within the Iraqi military.

Asked whether the ethnic divisions in Iraq that were reinforced by the recent elections posed a threat of civil war, Powell said, "I think it is something we all have to be worried about."

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