The Bush administration is unlikely to allow the incoming Democratic majority in Congress to learn details about its domestic spying program and interrogation policy, a Republican senator said on Thursday.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who has criticized the Bush White House’s secrecy about national security issues, said he would welcome detailed congressional oversight of the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping.
"It would be ideal," said Specter, whose committee was blocked by the administration this year from conducting a full review of the program, despite an outcry among some lawmakers that the spying was illegal.
"We have to really get into the details as to what the program is, as to how many people they are tapping, what they’re finding out," he told an American Bar Association conference on national security.
But he said he had "grave reservations" that Congress would end up getting the information from the administration.
The eavesdropping program, which was exposed by The New York Times nearly a year ago, allows the NSA to eavesdrop on the international phone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens without first obtaining a warrant.
Specter and other critics say the program has violated U.S. laws, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which requires warrants for all intelligence surveillance.
The Bush administration contends the program is legal, narrowly focused on suspected terrorists and authorized by President George W. Bush’s constitutional powers as commander in chief.
When his Republican party was in control of Congress, Specter launched an unsuccessful legislative bid to have the program reviewed by a secret federal court.
Now, after victory in the November 7 election, Democrats will take control next year and are vowing to press the White House for greater cooperation on domestic spying as well as the CIA’s detention and treatment of terrorism suspects.
"Only then, can we conduct thorough oversight of these programs and determine whether they are legal," Sen. John Rockefeller, incoming Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a recent statement.
But Specter said such oversight may not succeed.
"I look forward to what will happen next year on that subject. I have grave reservations as to how successful we will be here, given the administration’s unwillingness to share those secrets," he said.
The Pennsylvania Republican said the White House was also unlikely to divulge details about its treatment of detainees to the Democratic-controlled Senate intelligence and armed services panels, despite lingering concerns among lawmakers that U.S. interrogations could still violate torture protections.
"We still haven’t resolved the issue of torture," Specter said. "The new leadership on armed services will be pushing a lot harder for answers. What they will get remains to be seen. I would expect the president will resist giving information."