IS THE NSA...

IS THE NSA PROGRAM ILLEGAL? COULD IT BE CRIMINAL, TOO? Is the NSA's newly-revealed program to collect the phone records of millions of Americans illegal? Experts are expressing different opinions this morning. But Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, thinks it's clearly illegal -- and she says it may even be criminal, too.

I just got off the phone with her. And I'm going to try -- and probably fail -- to accurately boil down what she said into something real, real simple.

Her view is that there's only one legal way for NSA to get such records -- with an order from the court created by the FISA. Others are arguing there may be other ways -- by subpoena or by a so-called "National Security Letter" from the FBI. But she makes a strong case that this just isn't so.

The key question is, Does the NSA have subpoena power? If it does, it might not need a court order. If it doesn't, however, it seems clear that it would need a court order. Got that?

Martin says it's absolutely clear that the NSA doesn't have subpoena power. Why? Because it hasn't been given that power by Congress. And it can't use law-enforcement subpoenas because it's not a law enforcement agency -- it's an intelligence agency.

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