White House denies calling for probe


From correspondents in Crawford

THE White House said overnight it had no role in the Justice Department's decision to investigate the leaking of classified information indicating that President George W. Bush authorised a secret government wiretap program.

"The Justice Department undertook this action on its own, which is the way it should be," White House spokesman Trent Duffy said in Crawford, Texas, where the President was enjoying a year-end vacation on his ranch.

But he added: "The White House was informed of the decision, as was the president."

Mr Duffy stressed that "the leaking of classified information is a serious issue." And he defended the use of wiretaps, warning that "Al-Qaeda's playbook is not printed on page one, and when America's is, it has serious ramifications."

The probe was opened after Mr Bush earlier this month urged a "full investigation" into who leaked information about the secret government wiretap program.

It is unknown who was behind the leak revealing the secret program, although media reports have suggested that some agents were concerned about the program's legality.

The president's call for a probe came after US media reported that Mr Bush had authorised the National Security Agency (NSA) to engage in an operation to monitor massive volumes of telephone and Internet communications.

Domestic spying is a sensitive issue for many Americans who are proud of their civil liberties. Similar revelations about domestic spying led to legislation in the 1970s that allows wiretapping but requires government agencies to obtain a special court warrant for it.

The President's order enabled the NSA to monitor, without a warrant, international telephone calls and electronic mail of US citizens with suspected ties to Al-Qaeda.