NSA's Interception of Terrorist Communications

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from Feb. 10, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

JIM ANGLE, GUEST HOST: A lot of people have opinions about the NSA program to intercept terrorist communications into and out of the United States, but to the frank, very few people know what they’re talking about. Only a handful of members of Congress actually know the details of the program. One of them is Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. She told FOX the program is very valuable and, if handled properly, would even be legal under FISA, the law that governs electronic surveillance.


REP. JANE HARMAN, D-CALIF.: The program on which I have been briefed, which has not been totally disclosed but some portions have been disclosed, is something I strongly support. In general terms, it’s a foreign collection program collecting information on people who are Al Qaeda or close to Al Qaeda, trying to figure out their plans with respect to attacks on America. And why wouldn’t everyone want to know that? I want to know their plans, I want to disrupt their plots, prevent attacks. Obviously that’s much better than responding to attacks.

ANGLE: I was struck by some things that were said in the Judiciary Committee hearing with the attorney general. A number of people, even critics of the administration, were saying what the administration is doing is a good thing, just as you said. It’s the kind of thing you want to do. But they were worried about the legal rationale for it. You have addressed this question before. Is it — do we need to change the program or do we need to change the law?

HARMAN: We need to assess whether or not this program fits within FISA. I say it does. I have seen no reason why it doesn’t. If it fits within FISA, the administration, in my view, has to follow the law. If it doesn’t fit within FISA for some reason that I have not yet understood, then we need to consider whether we change the program or change the law. But bottom line here is this very valuable program — and I insist, you know, I won’t back off that for a minute, at least the one on which I was briefed, there may be something else out there, but the valuable program on which I was briefed must comply with the law and can.

ANGLE: To clarify here, you’re saying that what you know about the program actually is legal under existing law?

HARMAN: Would be legal under existing law. The administration has admitted it’s not getting FISA warrants on U.S. persons who are part of the chain of .

ANGLE: Who might be called by a foreign terrorist?

HARMAN: Right. Of people involved in what they think is plots spearheaded by Al Qaeda to attack Americans. So let me be clear about this. If U.S. persons are part of those plots, I surely want to know what they’re up to. I absolutely believe, however, that there would be probable cause through the FISA court and through — you know, under FISA to get court warrants and the law applies and the law should be complied with and I have not heard any compelling arguments why we shouldn’t use the law.

ANGLE: The media reporting on this has talked about the program, there have been a lot of public discussion, more perhaps than about any other highly classified program in my memory.

HARMAN: Right.

ANGLE: How accurate is the public understanding? You actually know what the program is. How accurate is the public understanding?

HARMAN: Not extremely accurate. The most early — now it can be said, now that attorney general Gonzales has said this is not a domestic-to-domestic program. The early reports by Supreme Court?

HARMAN: Well, I think the administration is going to have to come to Congress. Attorney General Gonzales is going to be back in both open and closed session and the intelligence committees are going a toehold finally in this. And so the administration is going to have to spend a lot of time in Congress and there are court cases moving through, some of which might get to the Supreme Court. This issue is a bigger issue, not a smaller issue, because of the way it was handled.

A critically important capability which I strongly support is now all over the newspapers and the subject of accumulating leaks and the subject of numerous hearings and the subject of countless hours, no doubt, in the administration because the administration refused to treat Congress as a partner and refused to understand that FISA and the way FISA is drafted could be helpful here and could have covered this program, in my opinion, and the conversation would have been over weeks ago.

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