Bush warned spying plan illegal

A key Congressional ally of President Bush sent a sharply worded letter to the president in May warning that the administration might have broken the law by failing to inform Congress of some secret intelligence programs, The New York Times reported in Sunday editions.

Peter Hoekstra, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was clearly referring to programs that have not been publicly revealed, the Times said.

Hoekstra was among those who were briefed on, and supported, the National Security Agency’s controversial domestic surveillance program and the Treasury Department’s tracking of international banking transactions, the Times said.

“I have learned of some alleged intelligence community activities about which our committee has not been briefed,” Hoekstra wrote.

“If these allegations are true, they may represent a breach of responsibility by the administration, a violation of the law, and, just as importantly, a direct affront to me and the members of this committee who have so ardently supported efforts to collect information on our enemies,” the Times quoted the letter as saying.

The Times noted that since his appointment as committee chairman in 2004, Hoekstra has been a major White House ally on intelligence matters, supporting controversial policies including the treatment of terrorist suspects.

Intelligence officials have appeared at two closed committee briefings to answer questions from Hoekstra and other members which eased some concerns from the lawmakers about whether the Bush administration is sharing information on all of its intelligence operations, the Times said.

The domestic spying program, which Bush ordered soon after the September 11 attacks, allows the National Security Agency to monitor the international phone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens without first obtaining warrants if in pursuit of al Qaeda suspects. The program has stirred an outcry among civil-rights groups and lawmakers who believe Bush overstepped his constitutional authority.

© 2006 Reuters