A Utah federal judge who sits on the secret court that reviews and approves counterterrorism wiretaps and surveillance said the judges need answers on the Bush administration’s surveillance of U.S. citizens, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. U.S. District Judge Dee Benson, who in May 2004 was appointed to the court created in 1978 by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, said he needs to know more about the president’s decision to secretly allow the National Security Agency to monitor phone calls and other communications from U.S. citizens. The concern is that secret wiretap material may have been used to obtain warrants from the court without the judges’ knowledge of its origins, possibly calling into question the credibility of some information presented to the court. U.S. District Judge James Robertson, one of the 11 judges on the intelligence court, resigned on Modnay, reportedly in protest over the Bush administration’s surveillance program.
Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the presiding judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, is arranging a briefing on the secret program, according to the Washington Post. Stephen Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington University and former Justice Department official, called a briefing “very peculiar.” Said Saltzburg: “They’re not Congress and I’ve never seen anything like this where the judges will be given some kind of a special briefing.” Saltzburg said there is a legitimate concern that information obtained through the secret eavesdropping may later be used to get a warrant, “and if that’s so, the judges might feel the government wasn’t honest with them.”