House committee chair says Bush’s spying program is useless


    The House Intelligence Committee chairman Sunday said President Bush’s secret eavesdropping program on Americans is useless because al-Qaida
    undoubtedly has changed its means of communication to avoid
    Washington’s monitoring.

    Bush said two weeks ago in his State of
    the Union address that the program of monitoring calls and e-mail
    between the United States and suspected terrorist associates overseas
    “remains essential to the security of America.” But Rep. Pete Hoekstra,
    R-Mich., suggested that the public disclosure of the program’s
    existence in December in the New York Times has undermined its
    effectiveness.

    “Does anyone really believe that, after 50 days of
    having this program on the front page of our newspapers, across talk
    shows across America, that al-Qaida has not changed the way that it
    communicates?” Hoekstra said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

    Since
    that disclosure, legal scholars and lawmakers from both parties have
    questioned whether Bush had the authority to conduct the surveillance
    without a judge’s approval.

    By law, a secret court, the Foreign
    Intelligence Surveillance Court, is designed to grant warrants for such
    surveillance. Bush gave the National Security Agency approval to
    monitor the communications without taking that step.

    Hoekstra
    defended the program’s legal standing. He said if Democrats who were
    briefed on the program before it became public thought the president
    was breaking the law, they should have tried to stop him.

    “If I
    came out of that briefing and believed that the president was violating
    the law, I would have gone to the speaker and said, `Mr. Speaker, the
    president’s violating the law,'” Hoekstra said. “`You and I need to go
    see the president and talk to him and get this issue resolved do it
    now.'”

    Rep. Jane Harman, the leading Democrat on the Intelligence
    Committee, said she did not fully understand the legal underpinnings of
    the program at the time of the classified briefings and was not free to
    consult with experts.

    Since the monitoring has become public, she
    has argued that the president broke the law by failing to consult all
    the members of the intelligence committees, instead of just the leaders.

    “Remember,
    we go into those briefings alone,” said Harman, D-Calif. “We have no
    ability to consult staff. We have no ability to consult constitutional
    experts or legal experts on the history of FISA. Since the program has
    been disclosed, I think all of us, or at least I, have become a lot
    smarter about all of that.”

    Hoekstra and Harman appeared with two
    others who were among the few leading lawmakers to be briefed on the
    program before it became public: Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman
    Pat Roberts, R-Kan. and former Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who
    was the Senate Democratic leader.

    The two Republicans _ Hoekstra
    and Roberts _ said Congress does not need to pass further legislation
    granting specific authority to conduct the eavesdropping because the
    president had authority under the resolution that lawmakers passed four
    days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that authorizing him to take
    on al-Qaida.

    Both Democrats _ Harman and Daschle _ said they
    think the program is valuable and should continue, but said the law
    should be changed to allow it.

    Meantime, Sen. Joseph Biden, a
    member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the eavesdropping
    program should not continue “unabated without any review.”

    The
    intelligence committees of Congress should demand to know, in secret
    session, what the administration is doing, said Biden, D-Del. He said
    he supports a proposal by the committee chairman, GOP Sen. Arlen
    Specter of Pennsylvania, to have the FISA court review the
    eavesdropping program and decide whether it is legal.

    “We cannot
    say to a president, ‘Mr. President, whatever you want to do, under any
    circumstances, tap anything, and you don’t even have to tell us what
    you’re doing.’ That is bizarre,” Biden told ABC’s “This Week.”

    Add your comments to this article…