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Wiretap Vet Kalb Pans Un-Vetted Bugs

Fox News commentator and former CBS and NBC correspondent Marvin Kalb, whose phone was bugged by the Nixon administration during his coverage of negotiations to end the Vietnam War, says he thinks recently uncovered secret Bush administration wiretaps are illegal, though he is not necessarily opposed to making them legal.

"I find nothing wrong," he said, in monitoring people the administration believes are in contact with terrorists. "I think every American wants to head off another terrorist attack," he said on Fox News Monday. He did not say whether he thought wiretaps were the best way to do that, but said if that was the government's conclusion, it ought to be done legally.

Kalb said on CNN Monday that the President should go to Congress and get the law changed if he thinks it is necessary to tap the phones of U.S. residents to collect information on possible terrorist attacks.

Following illegal taps like that of Kalb--who along with broadcast journalists Dan Rather and Daniel Schorr was on President Nixon's "eneimes" list--a law was passed in 1978 that explicitly limits surveillance of U.S. residents to that involving probable cause that a crime has been or is about to be committed, not simply to protected, or suspected, speech the government might feel threatened by.

There is even a special panel of federal district judges from which the Department of Justice is supposed to obtain that permission by making its case for probably cause.

Without getting the approval of those judges, the Bush adminstration has been monitoring U.S. citizens believed to have ties to terrorists, saying it is within its legal authority. Numerous legislators, Republican and Democrat, and some legal experts have disagreed, saying the taps violate the 1978 law. One of the judges on the special court resigned, apparently in protest.

Kalb said he has no philosophical disagreement with the administration over the taps. "I understand the President might think it is the right thing to do to head off another terrorist attack," he said on Fox News Monday, "but it shouldn't be done illegally."

Kalb said he thinks the existing law could be enough, pointing out that of the thousands of taps that have been vetted with the judges, only a handful were stopped.

But if the 1978 law is not sufficient, he said, "then go to Congress and change it."