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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson also sits on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the 11-judge panel that secretively approves wiretaps and searches in the most sensitive terrorism and espionage cases.
Benson said he needs to know more about the president's decision to secretly allow the National Security Agency to monitor phone calls and other communications from U.S. citizens.
The concern is that secret wiretap material may have been used to obtain warrants from the court without the judges' knowledge of its origins, possibly calling into question the credibility of some information presented to the court.
"In looking at FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) warrants, my main job is to decide whether the statute has been complied with and, if there is a probable cause, determine it's based on certain facts," Benson told The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday.
"It may be important for me to know where those facts came from, and, if the facts came from a source whose reliability is in question, then I'd want to know that," he said.
"On the policy question and the legality of what they're doing -- I don't have an opinion on that because I don't know what they're doing," said Benson, who was appointed to the intelligence court in May 2004.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge James Robertson resigned from the intelligence court, reportedly in protest over the surveillance program.
Bush and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, defending the program, have said that the war against terrorism requires the ability to rapidly adapt and track targets with suspected terrorist ties without the burden of having to go to court.
But Benson said there is emergency authority, granted under the Patriot Act, giving the government permission to conduct surveillance without a warrant, as long as an application is filed with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court within 72 hours.
Benson and the other judges on the intelligence court work on a rotating schedule, spending a week at a time in the secure courtroom in Washington about five times a year, reviewing the government requests for wiretaps and surveillance warrants.
Benson, whose term on the intelligence court expires in 2011, said he usually reviews 30 to 50 applications for different types of surveillance during each stint.
Benson, 57, was born in Sandy and earned an undergraduate degree and law degree from Brigham Young University. He went to work for Sen. Orrin Hatch and spent two years as his chief of staff.
He was an associate deputy U.S. attorney general and later the U.S. attorney for Utah before being nominated as a district judge in 1991.
He is the chief judge for the U.S. District Court in Utah.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)