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The attorney, John Yoo, a young George W. Bush appointee with close ties to the president's inner circle, wrote a series of memos legally blessing the program even though his superiors and most top officials were uninformed about it.
The report was compiled at the request of Congress by five government agency watchdogs: the inspectors general of the Justice Department, Pentagon, CIA, Directorate of National Intelligence and National Security Agency.
It represents the most detailed public disclosure of the existence of secret surveillance efforts beyond the warrantless wiretapping program, saying the overall package of efforts came to be known in the Bush administration as the "President's Surveillance Program."
Eventually, the surveillance program and the Justice Department's role in it were so controversial that the deputy attorney general, James B. Comey, and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III both threatened to resign in 2004 because they believed the program was illegal.
"I am glad the American people can finally see for themselves what happens when a handful of senior officials -- who think they know better than the courts, the U.S. Justice Department and Congress -- decide to rewrite the law in secret," said Senate Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). "This report allows the American people to see how senior Bush administration officials concocted the program first and came up with its creative legal justifications later."
Some Democratic senators are calling for an investigation after learning Congress wasn't briefed about an covert CIA counterterrorism program allegedly ordered to be kept secret by former Vice President Dick Cheney.
CIA Director Leon Panetta briefed Congress about the still classified program on June 24, a day after learning about it and immediately canceling it. Intelligence sources noted that the program never got off the ground and wasn't instituted.