February 9, 2006 9:42 AM PST

Former CIA chief expresses doubt about NSA program

WASHINGTON--A former CIA director on Thursday raised questions about an NSA terrorist surveillance program that has been monitoring phone calls and e-mails without a court's approval.

"There comes a point at which, when one is investigating individual Americans...it's necessary to go to a court, have the court weigh and balance the factors, and approve an in-depth investigation," said R. James Woolsey, a Clinton appointee who is now a vice president at the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.

The Bush administration has described the program as narrowly focused on communications in which at least one party is outside the United States or affiliated with Al Qaeda. But Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told senators at a marathon hearing on Monday that he couldn't assure them that the wiretapping doesn't inadvertently involve nonterrorists.

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Speaking at an event here sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, Woolsey said that despite those misgivings, he considered himself "somewhere around 75 percent in the administration's camp on this set of issues."

He said he staunchly believes that Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which establishes the president's role as commander-in-chief and implicit wartime powers, permits the president to do the kind of "electronic mapping of the battlefield" that the NSA program appears to do.

Also on Thursday, Democratic senators Russ Feingold and Ted Kennedy sent letters to AT&T, Sprint Nextel and Verizon Communications, asking questions about their possible participation in the NSA surveillance program.

The letters ask whether government officials have contacted the telecommunications companies, requesting that they open their networks to eavesdropping. Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, also has asked similar questions. (CNET News.com surveyed those and other companies in a report published Monday.)

Woolsey said that because the Constitution already supplies "plenty" such powers, the president need not seek legislative justification for the NSA program. He suggested that one of the administration's main defense tactics--which has involved relying on a congressional resolution passed just after Sept. 11 that authorizes him to use all necessary military force against Al Qaeda and its affiliates--may even create too narrow of a situation.

"I don't believe the president needs to wait for a statute to begin to listen in on conversations between persons affiliated with Hezbollah," he said.

Such a position runs contrary to a storm of skepticism over the secret wiretapping program's legality from congressional Democrats and Republicans alike since The New York Times first revealed the program's existence in December.

Most recently, Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, said he's drafting new legislation that would instruct the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, Court to determine the constitutionality of the program.

Woolsey said he's not sure what the best forum would be for reviewing governmental requests to drill down on communications involving American citizens, if it chose to go that route. "In order to get into what's going on, it seems to me, the government needs to go through some process that's court-like," he said. "I don't know if it's the FISA Court, or the FISA court remodeled, or another court."

CNET News.com's Declan McCullagh contributed to this report.

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17 comments

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Freedom
The NSA Fiasco has been a great lesson in how the administration has taken liberty with its boundaries upon the public. I defer to other sages on the topic of freedom:

"America is not a land of one race or one class of men. We are all Americans that have toiled and suffered and known oppression and defeat, from the first Indian that offered peace in Manhattan to the last Filipino pea pickers. America is not bound by geographical latitudes. America is not merely a land or an institution. America is in the hearts of men that died for freedom; it is also in the eyes of men that are building a new world." -- Carlos Bulosan, excerpt from America is in the Heart

"Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is in an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe." -- Frederick Douglass 1866

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Benjamin Franklin 1759

Thanks CNet for continuing the discourse.
Posted by marileev (292 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Clearly you didn't read the article
You might want to read the whole article, and not just the ridiculous and misleading headline.

Woolsey is saying that what Bush is doing is fine and that he (Woolsey) believes that Bush has even broader powers than what even the administration is claiming.

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

How is it an essential liberty for me to be able to call _known_ Al-Qaeda phone numbers and not have my calls listened to?

What a joke. Get a clue.
Posted by ebrandel (102 comments )
Link Flag
Where did headline come from
How in the world do you justify the headline "Former CIA chief expresses doubts about NSA program"?

Your article says:
"He said he staunchly believes that Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which establishes the president's role as commander-in-chief and implicit wartime powers, permits the president to do the kind of "electronic mapping of the battlefield" that the NSA program appears to do."
and:
"He added that because the Constitution already supplies "plenty" such powers, the president need not seek legislative justification for the NSA program."
and:
"I don't believe the president needs to wait for a statute to begin to listen in on conversations between persons affiliated with Hezbollah," he said.
These statements would seem to suggest that while acknowledging:
"There comes a point at which, when one is investigating individual Americans...it's necessary to go to a court, have the court weigh and balance the factors, and approve an in-depth investigation," said R. James Woolsey...
Mr. Woolsey does not believe that point has been reached.

Perhaps you should stick to technology news and leave topics such as this to people who can understand rather plain English!
Posted by (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Exactly what I was thinking
I was expecting to read a story where he states problems with the program. Instead, he basically said that the constitution grants Bush even broader problems and the NSA wiretaps where perfectly fine.
Posted by ebrandel (102 comments )
Link Flag
I found out where it came from
At the bottom of the article:

CNET News.com's Declan McCullagh contributed to this report.

Declan McCullagh is, of course, News.com's leftist hack.
Posted by ebrandel (102 comments )
Link Flag
probably directed to the wrong person though
...authors rarely create the headlines for their stories.
Posted by grantdavis (15 comments )
Link Flag
Where did your headline come from?
Your headline is not supported in the body of your story! Woolsey quotes such as ' ... staunchly believes ...' and ' ...75% in administrations camp ...' doesn't demonstrate 'doubt about NSA program'.

Ohhhh, I get it. The author knows most people don't read past the headline! Dummy me.
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
The headline apparently comes from the facts
of the atricle. The issue: NSA eavesdropping on American Citizens; The answer was simply that a court is necessary for investigating individual Americans, to determine probable cause. That, incidently, just happens to be the law ... a law which is far more liberally construed and applied than the more stringent rquirements of the Consitution.

There is no prohibition against international surveilence or intelligence gathering. The headline is accurate. Woolsey did in fact express doubt about spying on individual Americans.

You don't have to rewrite the story to suit your bias. You don't have to like either. But, for now, you still have a right to do it.
Posted by jesdog (66 comments )
Link Flag
 

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