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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NSA Eavesdropping Canned

WASHINGTON -- The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush said Wednesday that it had agreed to disband a controversial warrantless-surveillance program run by the National Security Agency, replacing it with a new effort that will be overseen by the secret court that governs clandestine spying in the United States.

The change -- revealed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in a letter to the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- marks a sharp reversal by the administration, which for more than a year has aggressively defended the legality of the NSA surveillance program and disputed court authority to oversee it.

Gonzales said Wednesday that the administration would change the way it spied on terrorism suspects, working through a court.

Under the new plan, Gonzales said, the secret court that administers the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act will oversee eavesdropping on telephone calls and e-mails to and from the United States when "there is probable cause to believe" that one of the parties is a member of al-Qaida or an associated terrorist group.

Under the previous approach, such intercepts were authorized by intelligence officers without court or judge involvement -- prompting objections from privacy advocates and many Democrats that the program was illegal.

Administration officials suggested that the move was aimed in part at quelling persistent objections to the NSA spying by Democrats who now control Congress and that it is intended to slow or even derail challenges making their way through the federal courts. The Justice Department immediately filed a notice with the U.S. Court of Appeals on Wednesday, informing the panel of the new program and promising to file papers "addressing the implications of this development" on pending litigation.

Some Justice officials also said receiving approval from the secret court would enable authorities to more easily use the information they obtain in future criminal prosecutions.