Attorney general makes case for spy program
In statement for Senate hearing, Gonzales blasts media

(Gold9472: "National Security" is the new "get out of jail free card".)

Updated: 8:36 a.m. ET Feb. 6, 2006

WASHINGTON - In a statement prepared for a Senate hearing Monday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says the Bush administration’s electronic eavesdropping program “may make the difference between success and failure” in stopping the next terrorist attack.

But even before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Democrats accused the administration of depriving Congress of information about the program.

Suggesting Republicans too may have tough questions for Gonzales, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., called Gonzales’ legal explanations to date “strained and unrealistic.”

In the statement, Gonzales called the monitoring program “reasonable” and “lawful.” He lashed out at the news media for stories he called often “misinformed, confused or wrong.”

“As the president has explained, the terrorist surveillance program operated by the (electronic-monitoring National Security Agency) requires the maximum in speed and agility, since even a very short delay may make the difference between success and failure in preventing the next attack.”

His arguments reiterated those defending President Bush’s decision to allow the NSA to eavesdrop, without first obtaining warrants, on people inside the United States whose calls or e-mails may be linked to terrorism.

No ‘operational details’
But in his prepared remarks, Gonzales said he could not discuss how the program works, as skeptics of the program have demanded. “An open discussion of the operational details of this program would put the lives of Americans at risk,” he said.

The program has sparked a heated debate about presidential powers in the war on terror since it was first disclosed in December.

Gonzales argued that Congress did, in fact, authorize the president in September 2001 to use military force in the war on terror.

He noted that the legislation “calls on the president to protect Americans both ’at home and abroad,”’ and “to take action to prevent further terrorist attacks ’against the United States.”’

But congressional Democrats have said they did not intend to order domestic surveillance.

‘This isn’t a drift net’
News accounts have suggested the program vacuums up vast amounts of communications and sifts through them for possible links to terrorists. Gen. Michael Hayden, the nation’s No. 2 intelligence official, rejected that, saying on Sunday that the NSA first establishes a reason for being interested in the calls or e-mails.

“This isn’t a drift net over Lackawanna (N.Y.) or Fremont (Calif.) or Dearborn (Mich.), grabbing all communications and then sifting them out,” Hayden said of three U.S. cities with sizable Muslim populations.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told Specter last week that he should compel the Justice Department to turn over classified legal opinions on the program, using subpoenas if necessary.

Specter said Sunday he’s open to that. “If the necessity arises, I won’t be timid,” he said.

The Judiciary Committee’s Democrats also want Specter to call more administration officials for questioning, including former Attorney General John Ashcroft and ex-Deputy Attorney General Jim Comey. Comey reportedly objected to parts of the program.

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