Mon Feb 27, 6:11 PM ET
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York Times sued the U.S. Defense Department on Monday demanding that it hand over documents about the National Security Agency's domestic spying program.
The Times wants a list of documents including all internal memos and e-mails about the program of monitoring phone calls without court approval. It also seeks the names of the people or groups identified by it.
The Times in December broke the story that the NSA had begun intercepting domestic communications believed linked to al Qaeda following the September 11 attacks. That provoked renewed criticism of the way U.S. President George W. Bush is handling his declared war on terrorism.
Bush called the disclosure of the program to the Times a "shameful act" and the U.S. Justice Department has launched an investigation into who leaked it.
The Times had requested the documents in December under the Freedom of Information Act but sued upon being unsatisfied with the Pentagon's response that the request was "being processed as quickly as possible," according to the six-page suit filed at federal court in New York.
David McCraw, a lawyer for the Times, acknowledged that the list of documents sought was lengthy but that the Pentagon failed to assert there were "unusual circumstances," a provision of the law that would grant the Pentagon extra time to respond.
The Defense Department, which was sued as the parent agency of the NSA, did not immediately respond to the suit.
McCraw said there was "no connection" between the Justice Department probe and the Times' lawsuit.
"This is an important story that our reporters are continuing to pursue and of the ways to do that is through the Freedom of Information Act," McCraw said.
The U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requires the federal government to obtain warrants from a secret federal court for surveillance operations inside the United States.
But the Bush administration says the president as commander in chief of the armed forces has the authority to carry out the intercepts and that Congress also gave him the authority upon approving the use of force in response to the September 11 attacks.