The Times article quotes the 4th Amendment so I don't have to. The minimum standard in law for any search warrant is set by the 4th Amendment, and that standard requires "probable cause." The plain language of that Amendment is perfectly adequate to set out what is required, even of Congress, even under the FISA law.
"The trigger is quicker and a bit softer," said General Hayden, an Air Force officer who is now the principal deputy director of the new national intelligence agency, "but the intrusion into privacy is also limited: only international calls and only those we have a reasonable basis to believe involve Al Qaeda or one of its affiliates."
The standard laid out by General Hayden - a "reasonable basis to believe" - is lower than "probable cause," the standard used by the special court created by Congress to handle surveillance involving foreign intelligence.
General Hayden said that warrantless searches are conducted when one of a "handful" of senior officers at the security agency determines that there is a "reasonable belief" that one party to a call between someone in America and someone overseas has a link to Al Qaeda.
In his speech this afternoon, President Bush, who was accompanied by the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, also said that decisions to begin wiretaps without court approval were based on a reasonable belief of a link to terrorists.
The intercepts were made, he said, on calls involving "somebody inside the United States and outside the United States, and one of the numbers would be reasonably suspected to be an Al Qaeda link or affiliate."
"If they're making a phone call in the United States, it seems like to me we want to know why," Mr. Bush said.
He also cited a recent Supreme Court decision, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, to bolster his argument that bypassing the courts fell within presidential power during a time when the country is fighting terrorism.
General Hayden defended the program's constitutionality. He said the lower, "reasonable belief" standard conformed to the wording of the Fourth Amendment, asserting that it does not mention probable cause, but instead forbids "unreasonable" searches and seizures.
"The constitutional standard is reasonable," he said. "I am convinced that we are lawful, because what it is we're doing is reasonable," he said.
The Fourth Amendment, however, reads: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
So let's be perfecly clear about this: the President of the United States believes, and has been advised by legal counsel, that during a time when the country is fighting terrorism, he has the power to suspend the Constitution, the very document that gives him an elected office to hold, and to do what he thinks is fit.
And that is the principle his spokesman and new deputy director of intelligence, has espoused, clearly with his approval.
I grew up during the Cold War, when nuclear annihilation of life as I knew it was a distinct possibility, and at no time during that period did any President arrogate to himself the power to suspend any provision of the Constitution just because the USSR had nuclear missiles ready to launch at us.
This man is unfit to hold the office of President, and any politician who is scared or ashamed to say that in public is not fit to hold their office, either.
If they cannot defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, I have no use for them.