Washington The Bush administration formally defended its domestic spying program in a letter to Congress late Thursday saying the nation's security outweighs privacy concerns of individuals who are monitored.
In a letter to the chairs of the House and Senate intelligence committees, the Justice Department said President Bush authorized electronic surveillance without first obtaining a warrant in an effort to thwart terrorist acts against the United States.
"There is undeniably an important and legitimate privacy interest at stake with respect to the activities described by the president," wrote Assistant Atty. Gen. William E. Moschella. "That must be balanced, however, against the government's compelling interest in the security of the nation."
President Bush has acknowledged he authorized such surveillance and repeatedly has defended it in recent days.
But Moschella's letter was the administration's first public notice to Congress about the program in which electronic surveillance was conducted without the approval of a secret court created to examine requests for wiretaps and searches in the most sensitive terrorism and espionage cases.
Moschella maintained that Bush acted legally when he authorized the National Security Agency to go around the court to conduct surveillance of international communications into and out of the United States.
He said Bush's powers as commander-in-chief give the president "the responsibility to protect the nation."