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White House Briefs Intel Panels on NSA Wiretap Program

President Bush's monthlong campaign to convince the public that the government's eavesdropping program is an essential anti-terrorism tool appears to have made an impact, a new AP-Ipsos poll suggests.

Some 48 percent now support the administration's program to monitor — without a court warrant — some U.S.-based calls with suspected links to terrorists. That's up from 42 percent last month. Half now say the administration should have to get a warrant, down from 56 percent one month ago.

Bush has been particularly successful at making his case for the National Security Agency's controversial monitoring among men and core segments of his base.

After weeks of insisting that divulging details would harm the program, the White House relented Wednesday and briefed House intelligence committee lawmakers. Thursday, the Senate learned more about the NSA program.

Press secretary Scott McClellan said the White House will listen to ideas that lawmakers have about legislation, but Bush has indicated that he would resist any move that would compromise the program.

"There is a high bar to overcome on such ideas," McClellan said.

The decision to give Congress more information came as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., announced he was drafting legislation that would require the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to review the constitutionality of the administration's monitoring of terror-related international communications when one party to the call is in the United States.

It also came as Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., chairwoman of a House intelligence subcommittee that oversees the NSA, broke with the Bush administration and called for a full review of the NSA's program, along with legislative action to update the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

She and others also wanted the full House Intelligence Committee to be briefed on the program's operational details. Although the White House initially promised only information about the legal rationale for surveillance, administration officials broadened the scope Wednesday to include more sensitive details about how the program works.

Questions from Congress about the monitoring abound. Once publicly mum on the subject, House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales with 51 questions he wants answered by early March.

As part of his upcoming bill, Specter said he wants the FISA court to review the program to weigh the nature of the terrorist threat, the program's scope, the number of people being monitored and how the information is being handled.

Since the monitoring program's existence was first revealed in a newspaper report more than 50 days, senior administration officials have argued that Bush and Cheney were within the law when they chose to brief only the eight lawmakers who lead the House and Senate and their intelligence committees.

Several lawmakers want to hearings to review whether the FISA law should be updated.