June 6, 2006 2:55 PM PDT

Senate won't quiz telecoms about NSA spying

A prominent Republican senator backed away on Tuesday from his pledge to question executives from telecommunications companies that have allegedly been cooperating with the government's secret wiretapping program.

Arlen Specter said that after discussions with the Bush administration and Senate Intelligence Committee colleagues who had been more fully briefed on the National Security Agency program, he was "prepared to defer on a temporary basis" requiring representatives from AT&T, Verizon Communications and BellSouth to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he leads.

The Pennsylvania senator, who had emerged as one of the few vocal Republican skeptics of the warrantless surveillance, had promised to organize such a hearing after USA Today reported last month that the nation's three leading telecom companies had opened up their lines to the NSA. (Some of those companies have since denied their participation.) He said Tuesday that the companies voiced willingness to discuss the topic in a closed session but wouldn't be able to reveal classified information, a stance he found "insufficient and unacceptable."

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Specter said he was willing to suspend the inquiry largely because Vice President Dick Cheney had provided assurances that the White House would be more receptive to pending legislation--including a proposal chiefly backed by Specter himself--that would send the existing NSA program and all future surveillance plans to a special court for review of their constitutionality.

Specter's decision, announced at an afternoon committee meeting, clearly startled a number of his Democratic colleagues.

"Why don't we just recess for the rest of the year...and simply say we'll have no more hearings, and Vice President Cheney will just tell the nation what laws we'll have--he'll let us know which laws will be followed and which laws will not be followed," deadpanned Patrick Leahy, the committee's ranking Democrat. "Heck, it's a nice time in Vermont this time of year. That'd make my life a lot easier."

Specter said that he didn't intend to abandon scrutiny of the program. He said the committee is currently negotiating a time for next week or the week after to bring in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales again and plans to ask him about the telecom companies' involvement.

Had enough committee members been present to allow for it, Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy said, he would have ordered a formal vote on whether to summon the telecom companies--although he acknowledged such an idea would likely be defeated.

The committee wants to learn "not who's listening on who; we're not trying to find out what is happening on the telephones, but what is the legal and constitutional justification that was given to those companies," Kennedy said. "If we don't have a responsibility to deal with that, who in the world does?"

Of the four Democrats present, only Calif. Sen. Dianne Feinstein--an Intelligence Committee member who said she'd been briefed "very thoroughly" on the program--said she agreed with Specter's decision.

"I don't know what would be served by issuing a subpoena here," she said. "It seems to me that the Intelligence Committee, having reviewed that program, knows what questions to ask, and they cannot be asked in open session."

She did suggest, however, that the Intelligence Committee bring in the telecom company representatives for its own private round of questioning.

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16 comments

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Why am I not surprised
I'm sure that Senator Specter was given two choices: Either drop the inquiry or wind up next to Jimmy Hoffa. This government is becoming so corrupt I think it's time for another revolution so we can get rid of all the criminals in the white house.
Posted by yrrahxob (77 comments )
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Let's go hunting?
Cheney probably just offered to take Specter on a hunting trip if Specter did not back off.
Posted by shadowself (202 comments )
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Of course
Someone probably pulled up in a black car and showed the honorable senators 5 years of records on which porn sites their family members have visited, which sex lines they've called, which pills they've ordered over the internet, and tax laws they've broken. Voila, silence.
Posted by scdecade (329 comments )
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I doubt that...
Where I'll agree with you that the government does appear to be becoming very corrupt, I seriously doubt the Senator was threatened.

Long ago, I used to feel the same way it appears many feel now about the POSSIBILITY of our conversations being monitored. I was outraged.

Now, I just don't care anymore. Yea, maybe I finally threw in the towel and gave up, but the point is that if you're not breaking the law, who cares?

Yea, maybe it is the "principle", but I just don't care anymore. If they wanna listen in on my conversations let 'em go right ahead. I hope they enjoy it.

Charles Whealton
Chuck Whealton @ pleasedontspam.com
Posted by chuck_whealton (521 comments )
Link Flag
Public Servant Means Serving the Public
Both Senators Specter and Feinstein should take heed to senator Leahy when he sarcastically said, "Why don't we just recess for the rest of the year...and simply say we'll have no more hearings, and Vice President Cheney will just tell the nation what laws we'll have--he'll let us know which laws will be followed and which laws will not be followed. Heck, it's a nice time in Vermont this time of year. That'd make my life a lot easier."

Just because the weather outside is nice, doesn't mean there's not work to be done or that this issue simply disappears <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.iwantmyess.com/?p=60" target="_newWindow">http://www.iwantmyess.com/?p=60</a>

Public servant is that an oxymoron too?
Posted by marileev (292 comments )
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What a surprise.
Be careful of who you/what you for.

How much longer will this monkey and his puppets be in the White House?
Posted by riodejaneiro2007 (67 comments )
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What the government is failing
to consider is that it is behavior like this that spawns terrorists and revolutionaries. Stomp on the people long enough and hard enough and what do any of us have to loose?
Posted by Raemir (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Translation : Im trying to get reelected...
...And my party's current track record for spying on our people is starting to make Soviet era Russia look palatable.

The rapist just ran off because someone shined a light in his direction. Wait until the light, READ: elections, are over. Hell be back to screw us again. Dont worry. I have faith that the slippery slope to a fascist dictatorship in this country wont be impeded by something as trivial as the will of the people, or cattle as I call them. MOOOOve along people. Nothing to see here.
Posted by Jonathan (832 comments )
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Shame on the Senate!
Our elected officials have forgotten or neglected their Constitutional duties for too long with this Administration. If there is an issue that demands hearings, domestic spying is it. Now the Senate is going to handle this even more poorly as the hearing with the oil company executives.
Posted by cardinalbird2 (13 comments )
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Who cares anymore? I sure do!
For the people who don't care if the government is spying on them, think about this - laws can and do change over time. Something that is legal today could be illegal tomorrow, especially the way things are going. Remember that.

Dave
Posted by Dave_Brown (46 comments )
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depending on public apathy
The danger of "putting off" any real questioning is that the public has a short term attention span, which is what I think our politicians are counting on. Careful, something such as a military invasion in some middle east country will pull our focus, and another piece of privacy-removing legislature will silently pass in Congress.

If you care about your communication privacy, use email for your communications that has security encryption. That way, even your ISP can't read it.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.essentialsecurity.com/products.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.essentialsecurity.com/products.htm</a>
Posted by 209979377489953107664053243186 (71 comments )
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Public apathy
Kind of like the Abramoff Scandal and other instances of widespread corrpuption in the government. Nothing is done about it and the so-called "liberal media" conveniently forget about it.
Posted by jdbwar07 (150 comments )
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Shocking...
I guess you get what you vote for. I'm glad I didn't vote for this administration and his puppets
Posted by riodejaneiro2007 (67 comments )
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Please don't fall for the trap
It's very easy to blame the bushies for all of the invasive government spying on citizens. Undoubtedly, the bushies are guilty as the day is long. GWB IMO has **** on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. This in the name of security against external threats all the while stirring up a hornets nest of a billion Arabs with his merderous policy in Iraq. But many of these programs and even the authority to undertake them was begun under the clinton administration.

So IMO the problem is not the democrats or the the republicans. The problem is both. The one thing the duopoly we're stuck with agrees on is that any attempt to usurp the status quo must be stamped out immediately with a jackbooted response. Unfortunately, this is the nature of all governments and ours (the US federal, state, and local) proves on a daily basis that it's not any better than any other. It's only, ONLY, ONLY the Bill of Rights that stops them. That's it. And the Bill of Rights in under assault from all sides; Democrats and Republicans alike.
Posted by scdecade (329 comments )
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