Janet's Conner

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Monday, May 15, 2006

BUSH ADMINISTRATION FIGHTS TO DEFEND SPY PROGRAM WHILE CRITICS RATCHET UP CALLS FOR DETAILS OF SURVEILLANCE

WASHINGTON---Rocked be revelations in the news media, the Bush administration is waging a vigorous campaign to not only defend its secret surveillance of calls and e-mails but also to stamp out efforts to learn more about it.

While President George W. Bush in his radio address yesterday again insisted the surveillance is legal and necessary to combat terrorism, his administration last week blocked an internal probe of the spying's legality and intervened to dismiss a private lawsuit against a phone company.

The White House admits it is working hard to keep the National Security Agency's surveillance secret, insisting public knowledge of spying programs harms efforts to fight terrorism.

"There are classified intelligence activities in the United States for a reason, and that's to protect the American people," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

The administration has been shaken by disclosures about the NSA.

In December, The New York Times revealed tht the NSA, without a warrant or subpeona, is intercepting calls and e-mails between the United States and other countries if it suspects al-Qaida or an affiliate is involved.

And last week, USA Today reported that the NSA, again without a court order or subpeona, collects records of domestic calls of tens of millions of Americans for a massive database to hunt for terrorists.

Bush has confirmed the first program but has deflected questions about the second request.

The reports set off a debate about the legality and propriety of the surveillance. But much remains unknown, and many are dismayed at how far the administration goes to keep it that way.

Last week, for example, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-Saugerties) was outraged to learn a probe he requested in January of how and when Justice Department attorneys OK'd the NSA program had been scuttled.

The head of the department's Office of Professional Responsibility told Hinchey his staff had been denied the necessary security clearance, making the investigation impossible. "We are not asking for top secret information," Hinchey said. "We simply want to know how the domestic spy initiative evolved."

Former attorneys with the office called the denial of clearance "astounding." The top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed dismay and sent letters urging Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to permit the probe.

Last week, the aministration also intervened in a private lawsuit, asserting that the case involves "state secrets" and arguing that it be dismissed.

The nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation filed the class action lawsuit in January on behalf of telephone subscribers against AT&T, charging the telecom illegally gave the NSA access to records. Many of the allegations were echoed in the USA Today story last week.

Richard Wiebe, an attorney for the subscribers, said the government indicated it would seek to dismiss the suit on grounds it threatens national security. "They've done this in similar lawsuits around the country, which have raised the issue of the domestic surveillance system," he said. " ...I think it's especially troubling in this context."

Usually, the state secrets are incidental in the lawsuit, he said, but in this case, the state secrets are what the lawsuit is about.

"If the government prevails, there would never be any judicial review," Wiebe said, "so you would have constitutional claims that would never have a day in court."

Source: Newsday Washington Bureau
Story By: Tom Brune
May 14, 2006




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