February 6, 2006 3:12 PM PST

Gonzales: NSA may tap 'ordinary' Americans' e-mail

WASHINGTON--Agents operating a controversial National Security Agency surveillance program may have inadvertently spied on the e-mails and phone calls of Americans with no ties to terrorists, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Monday.

Gonzales stressed that the program is "narrowly focused" and that adequate steps are taken to protect privacy, though he said he was unable to describe such procedures because of the program's classified nature.

Alberto Gonzales
Credit: Anne Broache
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
fields Senate questions on Monday.

The admissions came as part of the first of what will likely be several public hearings before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. A full slate of Democrats and Republicans rotated 10-minute stints questioning Gonzales, the day's sole witness, about the secret eavesdropping program. A CNET News.com survey published Monday lists which telecommunications companies say they are not cooperating with the NSA.

The Bush administration has said repeatedly that the program, which has transpired without prior court approval since shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, only monitors communications in which at least one party is located outside the United States and is a member or agent of al-Qaida or groups associated with terrorists.

Meanwhile, it has stuck to a three-pronged defense of the program, which Gonzales outlined repeatedly on Monday: the U.S. Constitution, a Congressional resolution passed shortly after Sept. 11 that authorizes the use of military force against al-Qaida and its allies, and a Supreme Court interpretation of that resolution.

But Gonzales shunned all questions he deemed "operational" matters, such as how many people have been subject to the tapping, how the government goes about cooperating with telecommunications companies and Internet service providers from a legal perspective, and whether additional secret surveillance programs have been authorized by the same logic.

Videos:
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No warrant required
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifies.

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Is NSA spying legal?
Sen. Patrick Leahy
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Examining wiretaps
Sen. Arlen Specter
quizzes Gonzales.

"Can you assure us that no one is being eavesdropped upon in the United States other than someone who has a communication that is emanating from foreign soil by a suspected terrorist, al-Qaida or otherwise?" Sen. Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat, asked at one point early in the daylong hearing.

"I can't give you absolute assurance," Gonzales replied, before adding, "What I can assure the American people is we have a number of safeguards in place so we can say with a high degree of certainty that those procedures are being followed."

Democrats dominated the criticism about the program's lack of court authorization and suspected illegality, but Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, also strongly encouraged the attorney general to consider seeking court review for the entire program. "The concern is that there is a broad sweep which includes people who have no connection with al-Qaida," he said. "What assurances can you give to this committee and, beyond this committee, to millions of Americans who are vitally interested in this issue and following these proceedings?"

Said Gonzales, "The program as operated is a very narrowly tailored program, and we do have a great number of checks in place." He said later in the hearing that he was unable to give "specific information about collected, retained and disseminated" communications, except to say that it is done so "in a way to protect privacy interests of all Americans."

CONTINUED: Split down party lines…
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10 comments

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Freedom
The question is who's watching the NSA watchers, so I defer to Mr. Benjamin Franklin: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." --Benjamin Franklin, 1759.

Or maybe the FISA 15 day surveilence just isnt't enough for administration and it's a time management issues at the cost of the American populace - <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.iwantmyess.com/?p=49" target="_newWindow">http://www.iwantmyess.com/?p=49</a>
Posted by marileev (292 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Don't defer to Mr. Franklin
What liberty is essential. Freedom to remain alive? Very likely. Freedom to think? Very likely. What else?
The question here is not over liberties being essential but what "liberties" are legally mandated.
Posted by therealCSMR (7 comments )
Link Flag
Re Freedom
"The question is who's watching the NSA watchers, so I defer to Mr. Benjamin Franklin: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." --Benjamin Franklin, 1759."

I agree with your in initial statement. However, I believe that this administration has successfully used fear to give many people the idea that eradicating section of the constitution will make us safe from outsiders. What we will get in exchange will be greater danger from within. The constitution is met to protect us from an over-reaching government. Once freedoms are gone, we will not get them back.
Posted by Gpruitt54 (4 comments )
Link Flag
NSA tap
would this help the u.s. now that the whole world knows phone tapping is going on? could the u.s. be mislead by phony information,(deversion)and get blind sided by somthing else? as unprepared and unorganized as we were in 911,i have little faith.
Posted by steve thomas--2008 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
headline is biased to the point of inaccuracy
To have a headline "Gonzales: NSA may..." when what he actually said was "with a high degree of certainty" it does not, is biased to the point of inaccuracy.
Posted by therealCSMR (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A quote from the first president
Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.
George Washington

this standard form of oath applies to all government employees
"I (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and
defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies,
foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to
the same; that I take this obligation freely without any mental
reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully
discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So
help me God."

Oh well, the man is not above and beyond the laws of the land as enacted by congress until such time the laws have been rescinded!, nor does he have the authority to create his own rules and regulations outside that of the houses of congress!

What more can one say!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Oh well he talks to Rev, Fallwell ("God" given
name) and Fallwell talks only with God; so, I guess maybe he does "honestly" ( a loose use of the word)think he's above the law, on level with God and all that.
Posted by jesdog (66 comments )
Link Flag
 

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