Department of Justice Seal



THURSDAY, MAY 27, 1999

(202) 616-2777


TDD (202) 514-1888


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- "The Department of Justice is charged with protecting the security of this Nation and the liberty of its people, and I take those two responsibilities very, very much to heart.

"To protect national security while guarding the liberty of its people, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1979. This Act is known as FISA and it requires that before the government can wiretap or conduct an electronic surveillance of a U.S. citizen for intelligence purposes, it must obtain approval from a Judge by presenting evidence sufficient to show probable cause to believe certain things.

"Those certain facts are that a particular U.S. person knowingly engages in clandestine intelligence gathering activities on behalf of a foreign power which may involve a violation of the criminal statutes of the United States.

"Congress required this specific showing for a very good reason - it wanted to protect the rights of U.S. citizens to be free from unreasonable searches as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.

"In the investigation of espionage at the Department of Energy laboratories, the Department was asked whether surveillance or wiretaps could be authorized. Based on the facts reported to us in 1997, the Department determined that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding of probable cause. But as in all cases it was prepared to continue to review the matter to determine if there was additional evidence that could be used to show probable cause. Although Eric Holder and I did not personally review the matter at the time, I have since reviewed the case and I agree with the findings made by the career lawyers in the Department of Justice.

"As in all cases where questions are raised concerning how we handled a matter, we are going to review everything that we did to see if there is anything that should have been done differently, in order to ensure our national security, and to do everything possible in the future.

"When I took this job, I swore to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States. I believe that it is my sworn duty to ensure that only FISA cases with evidence sufficient to show the "probable cause" required by the statute are presented to the Court.

"Our efforts to fight crime and to protect the national security can require the government to intrude into the homes of American citizens or listen to their telephone conversations in certain instances. But the same law that allows the courts to authorize such intrusion, says it can only be done if the probable cause standards set by Congress, Courts and the Constitution are met.

"Some have said, well, we should simply let the Court decide whether to authorize a FISA warrant or FISA surveillance. But that is not what the law says. If I do not believe that the probable cause standard is met, I can't present to the Court a FISA application. To do so would violate my oath of office, and I am not going to do it."