NSA chief not concerned by congressional inquiries


(Gold9472: I'm sure he's not. What have the Democrats been able to do in 6 years?)

Fri Jan 6, 2006 7:15 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the National Security Agency told employees last month that NSA officials had not violated U.S. law by participating in an agency program that eavesdrops on U.S. citizens without judicial oversight, newly released documents show.

"Media coverage surmises that administration and agency officials may have acted unlawfully -- notions I reject, categorically!" NSA Director Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander assured agency employees in a December 22 message.

He acknowledged that Congress may schedule hearings on the domestic spying program, which President George W. Bush authorized in 2002 to eavesdrop on Americans' telephone calls and e-mails without first obtaining warrants.

"Overall, we are not concerned," the NSA director said. "Our operations are carefully deliberated and measured; they are within the law; and they are nobly executed with strict oversight."

The December 22 message, and an earlier one in which Alexander cautioned staff not to comment to the media, were released by the NSA in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The New York Times, which first reported the program's existence last month.

Copies of the documents were obtained from the NSA by Reuters on Friday.

A 1978 law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, forbids domestic spying on U.S. citizens without the approval of a special court. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, Bush secretly authorized the NSA to intercept communications without court approval.

Critics of the administration warn that civil liberties could be jeopardized by government eavesdropping practices that avoid judicial oversight.

Rep. Jane Harman, ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives intelligence committee, has also accused Bush of violating the law by not allowing full congressional oversight of the program.

Administration officials have discussed the program only with a handful of lawmakers including congressional leaders and the top two members of the House and Senate intelligence oversight panels.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, forcefully rejected Harman's charge that the administration had violated requirements of the National Security Act.

"I anticipate the debate to continue well into the new year," Alexander told his staff. "We must not allow public discourse to distract us from our work: to protect and safeguard our nation."