[Intel Source: Instapundit] The Department of Justice explains the legal rational behind their contention that the President had the legal authority to authorize warrantless intercepts of international communications. While I'm sure that opponents of the action will continue claiming that this decision by the President was criminal, this should move the debate into the sphere of whether or not the action was necessary, rather than illegal.
Update 0334 23 Dec: In this article that discusses the letter mentioned above, we see the author trying to make it look like the NSA just started intercepting communications that go through the U.S. A closer reading, though, indicates that they've probably been "intercepting" them for a long time; what's new is that they're running their computer filters through the data now:
"The NSA's system of monitoring e-mails and phone calls to check for search terms has been used for decades overseas, where the Constitution's prohibition on unreasonable searches does not apply, declassified records have shown.
But since Bush's order in 2001, Bamford and other specialists said, the same process probably has been used to sort through international messages to and from the United States, though humans have never seen the vast majority of the data...
"...Among the risks, he said, is that the spy agency's computers will collect personal information that has no bearing on national security and that intelligence agents programming those computers will be tempted to abuse their power to eavesdrop for personal or political gain.
"But even when no personal information intercepted by the NSA's computers make it to human eyes and ears, Rotenberg said, the mere fact that spy computers are monitoring the calls and e-mails may also violate the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizures."
Ninme has a post about the new Ann Coulter column that expresses some of my feelings (don't normally like Ann Coulter, but thinks she makes some good points here). Coulter makes a rare good point when she says:
"But if we must engage in a national debate on half-measures: After 9/11, any president who was not spying on people calling phone numbers associated with terrorists should be impeached for being an inept commander in chief."
Ninme goes on to opine:
"See, the thing is (and you get this if you listen to talk radio callers for about 20 seconds) they’d never admit it’s a fair comparison because they really think Bush staged 9/11, lied about WMDs, and turned the world against us (including a lot of nice Muslims) so he could get better Christmas gifts from a richer Dick Cheney. So it’s not even about politics, really. It’s about stopping everything George Bush tries to do because everything he does is evil and he shouldn’t be there anyway."
Reasonable people can disagree that these actions are needed; a lot of the complaints about the President's actions I've read, though, seem to be coming from the perspective Ninme talks about, rather than principled opposition to a danger to privacy rights.