View Full Version : DOJ Urging Congress To Pass Laws Allowing For Illegal Wiretapping

07-27-2006, 01:00 PM
Officials Urge Law to Allow Eavesdropping
Foreign Calls Routed Through U.S. at Issue


By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 27, 2006; A02

Senior Justice Department and intelligence officials urged Congress yesterday to approve new laws to accommodate the government's controversial warrantless eavesdropping program.

Arguing that the 1978 law governing surveillance of terrorists is out of step with current technology, the officials, appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said they previously had not sought new legislation to avoid disclosing a key part of the operation. That is the ability to intercept foreign phone calls and e-mails no matter what their destination as they pass through telecommunications facilities inside the United States, said Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency.

But in the wake of media disclosures about the spying, that is no longer the case. "What's happened in the last seven months is that much of this program has already been put out into the public domain," said CIA Director Michael V. Hayden. "That inoculates some of the discussion we're having today against some of the downside."

President Bush launched the program shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, allowing eavesdropping without court warrants on phone calls and e-mails between the United States and locations overseas if one party was suspected of links to terrorists. As part of a proposed deal with Bush to submit the program to court review, the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering changes to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which governs surveillance of suspected terrorists and spies.

What Alexander and Hayden described to the senators are vast facilities that route foreign-to-foreign communications through the United States, where they are readily accessible to the NSA. Alexander testified that because no U.S. court order is needed to acquire communications of foreign intelligence targets overseas, even when they call to the United States, "it ought not to matter whether we do so from the United States or elsewhere."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a member of the Judiciary Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence who has been briefed on the NSA program, said Alexander had "for the first time" told the Judiciary panel about "foreign-to-foreign switching." She said based on what she had learned in secret briefings about the number of U.S. citizens subject to wiretaps, the surveillance program "is easily accommodatable to an individual warrant for U.S. persons."

Alexander disagreed. "If you were in hot pursuit, with the number of applications that you would have to make" for court warrants "and the times to make those, you could never catch up to the target," he said.

Another witness at yesterday's hearing, Steven G. Bradbury, an acting assistant attorney general, made it clear that legislation introduced by Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) after negotiations with the White House would "encourage" -- but not require -- Bush or a future president to present any future surveillance program to the secret FISA court for approval.

"It would be a very substantial change in FISA today by adding a new title that would give the court jurisdiction to review such a program on a program-wide basis," Bradbury said. "It is an important new tool that any president would have going forward."

But Bradbury stressed that the president retained authority to institute such a program on his own and that Bush's pledge to submit the program for judicial review was only "if the chairman's legislation were enacted in its current form or with the further amendments sought by the administration."

Bradbury also said Specter's proposal that civil litigation involving companies cooperating in the surveillance program be transferred to the FISA court was done "to ensure protection of sensitive national security information and promote uniformity in the law."