View Full Version : Few Critics On Capitol Hill Seek To End NSA Program

03-06-2006, 09:44 AM
Few critics on Capitol Hill seek to end NSA program


By John Diamond, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Despite widespread criticism of President Bush's warrantless surveillance program, even vociferous detractors in Congress stop short of calling for an end to the anti-terrorist eavesdropping.

At issue for many Republicans and Democrats isn't the program itself, but how little the White House told Congress about it and how much it expands presidential power.

Republican senators such as Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are working with Democrats on bills that would put the secret program in line with laws protecting Americans from domestic spying. Legislation in the works includes proposals to subject the surveillance to regular congressional and judicial oversight.

The program lets the National Security Agency (NSA) intercept — without a court-approved warrant — international communications with one end in the USA and one party suspected of ties to al-Qaeda or an affiliated terrorist group. Bush authorized the program shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Since the program was disclosed in December, Bush has argued that his constitutional powers as commander in chief allow him to pursue, without explicit congressional permission, an enemy operating inside U.S. borders.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan has said the administration will consider congressional proposals as long as they do not restrict the government's power to spy on terrorists. Initially, the administration's position was that no congressional involvement was needed.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said in an interview that the challenge is not to halt the surveillance but to "get it right." Kennedy helped write the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which limits domestic spying and requires court-approved warrants for such activity. Kennedy said the Bush administration should have sought congressional approval for warrantless surveillance.

By ordering the program without specific congressional approval, Kennedy said, Bush is jeopardizing prosecutions of captured terrorists who could claim the evidence against them was collected illegally.

Other Democrats, including Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, have had similar measured reactions. Feingold has criticized Bush's handling of the program, but he said in a Senate floor speech last month that fighting terrorism requires the use of wiretaps.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who has advocated appointment of a special prosecutor to determine whether Bush committed an impeachable offense in going around the FISA law, has not called for stopping the surveillance. Nadler, whose district includes the site of the World Trade Center, destroyed in the 9/11 attacks, says he would at least consider amending the FISA law "to permit what they are doing."

The American Civil Liberties Union and other legal and civil liberties groups have not been so reserved in their reaction to the program.

Several legal challenges are pending, including one filed by the ACLU. Last month, the American Bar Association urged Bush to suspend domestic surveillance of terrorism suspects until it is explicitly authorized by Congress.