Friday, February 10, 2006

Lawmakers seek oversight of Bush spying program

Lawmakers seek oversight of Bush spying program

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic and Republican lawmakers called on Thursday for stronger congressional oversight of President George W. Bush's domestic spying program, despite a new White House gesture of openness toward Congress.

A day after the White House began sharing details of the program with the two congressional intelligence committees, Republican Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio said Congress still needed to adopt new legislation to ensure the program was legal under the Constitution.

"We can end this controversy about the constitutionality of this program very simply, and that is to deal with it by legislation," said DeWine, a member of the Senate intelligence and judiciary committees.

He also said it was "in the best interests of this country" for the Senate intelligence committee to have regular oversight of the program, which has caused an outcry among Democrats and some Republicans.

DeWine and other members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence got their first formal briefing on the program on Thursday from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and deputy U.S. intelligence chief, Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden.

But Democrats emerged from the closed-door session to express frustration over what they called White House stonewalling.

"Where we really wanted hard information that was important to us, that gave us the size and the scope and the reach and the depth, they were not forthcoming," said Sen. John Rockefeller of West Virginia, the panel's ranking Democrat.


Rockefeller said the committee would vote on whether to launch a full Senate inquiry at a February 16 business meeting. "The momentum of that may do more to bring about a resolution than anything else," he said. "They cannot shut us out."

The program, which Bush authorized in 2001, allows the National Security Agency to monitor the international phone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens to track people with ties to al Qaeda and other militant groups.

Up to now, the administration has informed only eight lawmakers, known as the "Gang of Eight," about its existence. But the White House has come under increasing pressure to brief the full Senate and House of Representatives intelligence panels.

On Wednesday, the White House allowed Gonzales and Hayden to share some details of the program with House lawmakers.

Some Republicans worry that the wider discussion would allow lead to the release of classified information that could jeopardize the program.

"I am most concerned -- most concerned -- over the loss of the capability of this program, which could have dire consequences," said Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, the Senate intelligence panel's Republican chairman.

Two Senate Democrats -- Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin -- queried the chief executives of AT&T Inc., Sprint Nextel Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc. in a Thursday letter about whether their companies have been asked to participate in the program.

The White House maintains that warrantless eavesdropping is legal under Bush's Constitutional powers as commander-in-chief and a congressional authorization for the use of military force adopted days after the September 11 attacks.

Critics say Bush may have overstepped his authority under the Constitution and the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is drafting a measure requiring the White House to submit the program for review by a secret federal court that handles eavesdropping warrant applications.

But Roberts said any effort to address the program with new legislation would emerge from his intelligence committee.