The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee told President
Bush Wednesday that the White House broke the law by withholding
information from the full congressional oversight committees about a
new domestic surveillance program.
In a letter to Bush, Rep. Jane
Harman, D-Calif., said the National Security Act requires the heads of
the various intelligence agencies to keep the entire House and Senate
intelligence committees “fully and currently informed of the
intelligence activities of the United States.”
Only in the case
of a highly classified covert action can the president choose to inform
a narrower group of Congress members about his decision, Harman said.
That action is defined in the law as an operation to influence
political, economic or military conditions of another country.
“The NSA program does not qualify as a ‘covert action,'” Harman wrote.
and his senior national security aides have said that appropriate
members of Congress were briefed more than a dozen times about the
National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance operations, which Bush
first approved the month after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
highly classified sessions are known to include the “Gang of Eight,”
which is made up of the top Republican and Democrat in the House and
Senate and on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
believe that Congress was briefed appropriately,” White House
spokeswoman Dana Perino said Wednesday in response to Harman’s letter.
in writing to Harman, House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra,
R-Mich., said Harman had never previously raised concerns about the
number of people briefed on the program.
“In the past, you have
been fully supportive of this program and the practice by which we have
overseen it,” he wrote. “I find your position now completely
Many details about the scope of electronic
surveillance program remain unknown. However, Bush and his aides have
asserted the monitoring _ without court warrants _ is narrowly targeted
to eavesdrop on calls and e-mails of people who are inside the United
States and suspected of communicating with al-Qaida or its affiliates.
President Dick Cheney said Wednesday that the program helped to prevent
possible terrorist attacks against the American people: “This program
is critical to the national security of United States.”
who have been briefed on the program have raised serious concerns about
its legality, but not called for its immediate halt. Republicans and
Democrats alike have called for hearings this year.