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House committee chair says Bush’s spying program is useless

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February 12, 2006


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.”

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