July 26, 2006 11:53 AM PDT

Spy agencies call for broader surveillance laws

WASHINGTON--The heads of the nation's two major spy agencies on Wednesday told Congress that it's impractical to seek warrants before tracking the global phone and Internet activities of groups like al-Qaida and terrorist sympathizers.

At a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing here, CIA Director Michael Hayden (who until recently headed the National Security Agency) and NSA Director Keith Alexander urged adoption of a proposal that would grant spy agencies more power and current practices more legitimacy. The proposed law amounts to a rewrite of the 1978 wiretapping law called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Under FISA, investigators must file a detailed application and obtain permission from a secret court before eavesdropping on foreign communications in which at least one end is located inside the United States.

But obtaining individual warrants "is less well-suited to provide the agility to detect and prevent attacks against the homeland" than it was during the Cold War era, Hayden said, particularly when investigators are in "hot pursuit" of communications involving al-Qaida and its associates.

The bill in question was announced recently by Pennyslvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter after extensive negotiations with the White House. It proposes a number of key changes that have been criticized by civil liberties groups. Among other things, it would reduce the amount of information that authorities have to supply in warrant applications to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. It would also allow for blanket approval of current and future electronic surveillance programs--a departure from the existing requirement that individual warrants be obtained for each wiretapping target.

It also makes it optional for the government to obtain court review of the existing NSA terrorist surveillance program. However, Specter and the Bush administration have given repeated assurances that the president will submit the program he has publicly confirmed for review, if the bill passes in the precise form that he wishes.

The intelligence officials argued Wednesday that requirements in the existing statute interfere with their efforts to intercept communications within American borders.

For instance, because of the nature of the global communications infrastructure, a large amount of phone and Internet traffic happens to be routed through the United States, which means tapping into overseas conversations theoretically requires a court order, Alexander said.

Specter's proposal would give the NSA broader latitude to monitor foreigners suspected of terrorist involvement, regardless of where they are located. Without adoption of those changes, Alexander said, "we frequently sacrifice to detailed and rigorous process one of our greatest advantages in our effort to collect foreign intelligence--the ability to access a vast proportion of the world's communications infrastructure located in our own nation."

The intelligence officials dismissed concerns about the potential for sweeping up Americans in the process. Hayden admitted that the NSA "routinely" deals with information "to, from or about U.S. persons" while doing foreign surveillance but "knows how to do this while protecting U.S. privacy."

But the officials refused, when pressed by committee Democrats, to disclose publicly how many Americans have been monitored, saying only that their targets are "predominantly" foreign and that any "inadvertent" intercepts of Americans' communications are immediately destroyed.

The hearing came largely at the request of the committee's eight Democrats, who criticized the Specter-White House agreement in a joint letter last week. "Many types of surveillance that now require a warrant will no longer require one if your bill is enacted," they wrote.

The few Democrats present on Wednesday continued to assail the Bush administration's authorization of the wiretapping program without the FISA court's prior approval.

"Whether or not FISA is in need of fine-tuning is a legitimate consideration, but FISA's possible imperfections provide no excuse for the administration's flouting of existing law," Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee's Democratic co-chairman, said of the proposal.

He and other Democrats said they were unconvinced that FISA needs updating, noting that it has already undergone six amendments at the Bush administration's request in the nearly five years since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Bush administration "wants us to override the constitutional checks and balances that are at the core of our democracy, and we should not yield to that arrogant request," Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in written testimony.

The proposal has drawn similarly pointed criticism from civil liberties groups, which have called the so-called compromise with the Bush Administration a "sham" and a "capitulation."

They've attacked the measure on a number of fronts. They charge, for instance, that it would erode Fourth Amendment safeguards against unreasonable searches and seizures by requiring less information about the targets of eavesdropping activities before they gain approval from the FISA court. The bill would also sweep all legal challenges to programs, such as the NSA Terrorist Surveillance Program, to the secret court.

"We must retain a means to compel communications companies to provide properly authorized assistance to the government, and we must insulate those companies from liability when they do so," NSA Director Alexander said.

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee are also contemplating competing proposals--one aimed at "modernizing" FISA and the other designed primarily to preserve existing law. A legislative hearing on a FISA modernization bill similar to Specter's proposal is scheduled for Thursday.

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11 comments

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How about we stop creating terrorists instead?
Throwing our weight around in the Middle East is what pisses
people off, right?

If we hadn't abandoned Afaganistan after we trained them to
fight the Russians, would we be such a target of al Qaeda?

If we hadn't deposed Saddam, would all of the insurgents have
come out of the woodwork and organized a massive campaign
to kill our troops and opposing sects?

Look at the history of the Middle East... just in the last century...
Western powers and Isreal have been controlling the status of
countries and people across the entire region for lifetimes.

If Britain came here periodically and reconfigured our
boundaries and poltical system as they saw fit, we'd be mad as
hell too.

The targeted hatred of the US and Israel comes from our actions.
Using them for our momentary stability, occupying their land, or
not giving a crap when they die. (~14,000 civilians dead in Iraq
in the past months? I know I don't really care about them, and
no one else seems to.)

I hope a Palestinian state with respected borders is set up, Iran
is gutted, and Iraq and Afganistan are stabilized... and then we
get the F out. Or we could get out sooner than later... But those
crazy wackos can't handle their own affairs, right?

Our arrogance creates "terrorists." And killing them just makes
more.

Remember, they feel JUSTIFIED in conducting killing civilians.
They feel oppressed and it resonates in their community
because there's some truth behind it. That apparent insanity
doesn't just pop into their heads. They're humans with brains.
To them, it's reasonable. Let's make it unreasonable.
Posted by mgreere (332 comments )
Reply Link Flag
CLEAN THE SCUM OUT OF THE WHITEHOUSE
Clean the damn scum out of the whitehouse and terrorism will disappear.
Leave the scum in the whitehouse and terrorism will EXPLODE all over the planet in the dumbest world war ever.
We don't need more laws, we need less lawbreakers.
And the most heinous lawbreaking, murdering thieving lying monsters are housed in Washington DC wasting your tax dollars on bombing brown people who never in their life attacked the USA.
This is idiocy and completley what we deserve for embracing the culture of instant gratification at any cost to human life.
We have two generations of apathetic slouchers -perfect prey for a fascist military junta.
How about we restore democratic elections in this occupied terrrorist fascist state?
That would be a good start.
We dont need any more big brother laws becaus big brother is currently a felon molester.
Posted by waterspider (23 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Feel Better?,...
There now,... don't you feel better now? It made me feel better just reading it! Bush-Cheney are impeachable lawbreakers. So says the American Bar Association, and so say I. I'm scared,...
Posted by hard2beat (3 comments )
Link Flag
eroding trust
>Hayden admitted that the NSA "routinely" deals with
>information "to, from or about U.S. persons" while
>doing foreign surveillance but "knows how to do
>this while protecting U.S. privacy."

OK, they claim to know how. Let's hope they actually _do_ what they _know how to do_. I think the rason we see so much of this kind of news story today is that the people have lost trust in these guys, we no longer believe they are making use of their privacy skills, even if those skills do exist.

A large enough portion of our population is uncomfortable enough with current goings on that it's a big deal in the news. Then we see these same agencies asking for more power and less oversight is just reducing the trust in them even more.

It just feels like a matter of time before we all have cameras and microphones in every house, perhaps every room of every house, and more and more people are becoming uncomfortable with it all as we gradually creep along toward that distant goal.
Posted by amigabill (93 comments )
Reply Link Flag
just another amnesty
>grant current practices more legitimacy

In other words, their current practices are illegal, so rather
than prosecute the lawbreakers they want to erase the law.
Posted by Jackson Cracker (272 comments )
Reply Link Flag
And Who Watches the Spy Agencies??
One thing the Republicans and their goons now entrenched in the IC never want to discuss is who is going to keep tabs on the spy agencies? As someone who has worked in the IC and knows what its technical capabilities truly are, having the capabilities of these agencies brought to bear on ordinary citizens is simply unimaginable!! If I found out that these groups were monitoring my lawful actions, such as exercising my 1st Amendment right to free speech, I would personally back track them and hold them personally, and ultimately, responsible. Just following orders is NO LONGER ACCEPTABLE.
Posted by GeekRex (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
GRAB THE PITCHFORKS
Listen Up Fellow Americans,

Its time to sharpen the pitchforks and show up at the whitehouse and remind these fascists who is boss.

Thanks For Listening

PS War On Terror Is BS To Keep People Scared
Posted by rockygabriel (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Get The Pitchforks Ready
And lets meet at the whitehouse.

The pointy farm implements will help those fear mongering, war mongering fascists remember who the real boss is.

US, All of US.

Thanks for listening.

PS The War On Terror Is A Fraud
Posted by rockygabriel (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Give Them an Inch They Take your freedom
It used to be understood that in a democracy certain functions of the government were not going to be as efficient or even possible compared to other more extreme forms of governing. Of course vast warrantless fishing expeditions through all data streams is tempting to government agencies prosecuting a war. The price of democracy and freedom is having a government with one hand tied behind it's back. No torture, warrantless searches, and violation of other laws is permissible just because it's deemed expedient at a given moment against a given threat. That is a true test of a democracy. If you concede principles when pressured then you never really held them to be truly important. Needless to say the current administration has failed to live up to these ideals.
This country has faced much greater threats in the past and has not always lived up to it's principles. I think many of the past threats to this country were far more grave than any current problems yet we are told that drastic changes to laws need to be made now. In the past a war was against a nation state or part thereof. Now we have a diffuse, ill-defined, shadowy "enemy" with a "war" against a concept- not unlike the "war" on drugs or poverty. This type of war can never be won because we are really fighting CRIME! Criminals are the target and we all know that crime will never be wiped out completely. There can be no mission accomplished here. BUT we will be left with a violated constitution and less freedom if Bush gets what he wants. Because the "war on terror" will never effectively end neither will the enchroachments on liberty they desperately crave now.
Where are the "Profiles In Courage" in the Republican Party now? The self-serving spineless weasles are certainly not true "conservatives" in the former meaning that word held. Now "conservative" means conserving energy for collecting money for reelection. No energy wasted standing up against threats to this country from within. Don't risk your position at the feeding trough by trying to conserve the principles this country was founded on and for. By all means wrap your self in the flag and spout "support our troops" and "9/11" at all opportunites. Then go vote yourself another raise, you deserve it! After all that hard work on important issues like amending the Constitution to prevent flag burning and gay marriage. What a disgrace!
Posted by zanzzz (138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Our Rights our Freedoms
It seams like ever day on the news you hear about another one of our laws in place to protect us, get shot down the drain. I know we need to watch out for terrorists and I'm all for that but our rights and freedoms are also going down the drain. Now dont get me wrong I'm all for the USA theres nothing that I love more but God, and I will stand and fight for her, but I'm getting scared of my government which is supposed to be here working for US and not impeding on our rights. Sooner or later theres gona be an uprising against our Gov. Hopefully they will see that and be more lenient on our rights

Just a thought!

God Bless the United States of America

CU
Posted by CryptoUser (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
nothing new here!
Nothing new here!

Just the old ends justifies the means, and the means justifies the ends axiom!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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