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N.Y. Times statement defends NSA reporting

'The question was not why we would publish it, but why we would not'

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- The following is a statement from New York Times executive editor Bill Keller on the paper's decision to print a story Friday that said President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens and others in the United States who were communicating with individuals overseas.

The Times story said the White House had asked the paper not to publish the article, and that the paper had delayed its publication for a year while it conducted additional reporting.

Here is Keller's statement in full:

"We start with the premise that a newspaper's job is to publish information that is a matter of public interest. Clearly a secret policy reversal that gives an American intelligence agency discretion to monitor communications within the country is a matter of public interest. From the outset, the question was not why we would publish it, but why we would not.

"A year ago, when this information first became known to Times reporters, the Administration argued strongly that writing about this eavesdropping program would give terrorists clues about the vulnerability of their communications and would deprive the government of an effective tool for the protection of the country's security.

"Officials also assured senior editors of The Times that a variety of legal checks had been imposed that satisfied everyone involved that the program raised no legal questions.

"As we have done before in rare instances when faced with a convincing national security argument, we agreed not to publish at that time.

"We also continued reporting, and in the ensuing months two things happened that changed our thinking.

"First, we developed a fuller picture of the concerns and misgivings that had been expressed during the life of the program.

"It is not our place to pass judgment on the legal or civil liberties questions involved in such a program, but it became clear those questions loomed larger within the government than we had previously understood.

"Second, in the course of subsequent reporting we satisfied ourselves that we could write about this program -- withholding a number of technical details -- in a way that would not expose any intelligence-gathering methods or capabilities that are not already on the public record.

"The fact that the government eavesdrops on those suspected of terrorist connections is well-known. The fact that the NSA can legally monitor communications within the United States with a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is also public information.

"What is new is that the NSA has for the past three years had the authority to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States without a warrant.

"It is that expansion of authority -- not the need for a robust anti-terror intelligence operation -- that prompted debate within the government, and that is the subject of the article."

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