February 8, 2006 10:25 PM PST

White House discloses details on surveillance

In a sign that political pressure from other Republicans is having an effect, the White House on Wednesday disclosed details about its domestic spying program in a secret meeting with members of a House of Representatives intelligence panel.

The briefing by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and intelligence adviser Michael Hayden represents a rare concession for the Bush administration, which has closely guarded the operational details about how eavesdropping is done and previously had discussed them only with a few congressional leaders.

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The move comes after a recent spate of criticism from fellow Republicans, including a call this week for a full congressional inquiry from Rep. Heather Wilson, a Republican who heads the subcommittee overseeing the National Security Agency.

In addition, Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, on Wednesday warned that the controversy "is not going to go away" and said he is drafting legislation to bring the NSA's spying under the umbrella of a court created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The bill will "set criteria for what ought to be done to establish what the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court should apply in determining whether the administration's program is constitutional," Specter said.

Even Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, a Republican who has been one of President Bush's most loyal champions in the House of Representatives, posed some stiff questions to Gonzales on Wednesday. A staunch defender of the Patriot Act, Sensenbrenner has been releasing daily statements on what he describes as "civil liberties safeguards" in a proposal to renew it.

Many of Sensenbrenner's 51 questions (click for PDF) are sympathetic to the president and appear intended to defuse criticism of the NSA's program, which the administration has described as a way to monitor terrorists by intercepting communications when at least one party is outside the United States.

But some of the questions are more pointed. Sensenbrenner asks the attorney general, for instance, to respond to points raised in a Jan. 30 letter (click for PDF) sent by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International and People for the American Way.

In an appearance before a Senate committee this week, Gonzales defended the program's legality but acknowledged it may have inadvertently intercepted the e-mails and phone calls of Americans with no ties to terrorists.

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13 comments

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National Security.
I think Gonzales performed well under the pressure of both the democrats and republicans during the senate investigation. This country CAN-NOT allow terrorist to gain a foot-hold. We need to secure the mexican crossing points in the south, they remain unchecked. We DO-NOT have enough man-power to cover this problem.
Posted by solarflair (35 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Grow up?
"Foothold" and "manpower" are one word and do not require hyphens, neither does "cannot". "Do not" are two separate words and cannot be hyphened.

As for the Mexico border, there's no point in trying to lock it down when our shipping ports are much more open than the border is. And it's not like the Canadian border is any more secure, it's not.

Throwing more people at the problem isn't going to fix it either. Total security is a myth, it can't be achieved. You build a wall all along the Southern border and they'll dig tunnels under it. You blow up the tunnels and they'll make more. Blow those up and they'll come in through shipping containers. Check all the containers and they'll come from the North. Build a wall to the North and they'll dig tunnels under it. Blow up the tunnels and...and...and...there's no stopping it.

If you want to get people into a country bad enough, you can get them in. They are typically called spies, and we have many of them floating around inside the U.S. The only difference between a spy and a terrorist is the terrorist only does a tiny amount of damage, you know it immediately and the threat is gone right then and there. A spy does a great deal of damage, and done right, you'll never know it happened.

You think terrorists are a larger threat than spies? The Chinese have the blueprints and schematics for the Aegis destroyer's advanced RADAR systems thanks to spying.

People, seriously, you need to stop being so damn naive. Terrorism is a limited threat at best. There are many things in the world that pose a greater danger to the United States than a handful of religious extremists.

The greatest in my opinion is the hawks and cowards in this country turning it into police state that nobody will want to live in anymore.
Posted by (28 comments )
Link Flag
National Security may not really be the priority
of this administration. Contraband, people, and weapons have been smuggled into this country literally by the mining cart full for years.

As for Mr. Gonzales, if you mean performed well for the administration in frustrating Congress; then, you are absolutely and 100% right!

But if you mean performed well for the American people in being honest and straight forward with the elected representives in the Senate, well....... he actualy gets an F- {:( .
Posted by jesdog (66 comments )
Link Flag
Details on surveillance??
by the same wonderful folks that brought you 'weapons of mass deciept'? Yeeeaaahhh RIGHT!
Posted by Vetter83 (50 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Maybe
Notice how they haven't actually revealed anything.

What continually irritates me about this administration, and politicians in general, is that they seem to forget what their job really is.

They are there to protect the interests of the American people, both physically (terrorism, war) and financially (pension scandals, abusive utility costs, etc).

They are not there to facilitate the enrichment of a select number of businesses (Haliburton, Enron, etc), they are not there to spy on their employers (American citizens) and they do have to do what we ask them.

Every American citizen has the right to know what the people that we pay to look after our interests are doing.

And this is the biggest issue. We pay for everything - it's our money, not theirs. We agree to re-build and maintain infrastructure, run the military, fund space exploration, provide financial backup to those that have lost their jobs (welfare), provide health care to those that can't afford private coverage (medicare) and various other legitimate expenses.

We did not authorise them to spend our money on kickbacks, bribes and plum contracts for businesses owned by friends and family members of leading politicians.

We certainly didn't authorise them to spend our money on various data mining and other spying programs that invade our privacy.
Posted by ajbright (447 comments )
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Just One Comment
I think I already addressed the legal arguments (exhaustively) in another post but a quick summary:

American Presidents since Jimmy Carter and beyond have performed warrantless searches of electronic communications for national security. The courts have consistently ruled -- as recently as 2002 -- that such searches do not violate the 4th Amendment and additionally that legislation such as FISA can not limit or "unduly fusterate" the President's Constitutional parties.

Information from these warrantless searches for national seucrity can NOT be used to obtain a criminal warrant. Today's Wall Street Journal explains this with further commentary:

"They decided that pertinent information gleaned from a warrantless wiretap should never be used later to justify a domestic warrant. But why not? If a tip gathered from an email from Pakistan leads to suspicion about an American-based contact, what's wrong with using that news to get a legal warrant to track that suspect in the U.S.? It might even prevent a domestic attack."

But lets get back to this nebulous concern of "privacy". In this debate we hear things like "police state" and "big brother" in this argument. So far I have yet to see a single person step before a microphone and explain how their privacy or rights have been compromised by "King George's Police State". Sure if you take an absolutist interpretation of the 4th Amendment these rights have been violated, but no US court has EVER interpreted the 4th Amendment in this manner -- one that would preempt the President's other Constitutional powers.

There are these wild perceptions out there by the tin-foil-hat community but in my opinion there is little to no demonstrable evidence to justify such perceptions.

Yet this same crowd that worries about the police state, insists that the President's claims that 10 terror attempts were thwarted in recent years -- including the US Bank tower in Los Angeles in 2002, were likely a fabrication created by the Administration to justify their "domestic spying".

So in summary their argument is that they fear a police state, but can provide no evidence beyond abstract concepts and concerns, but any suggestion that there is any kind of terrorist threat is a trumped up fear. If this trend continues, soon many Americans will have a perception of 9-11 that mirrors Iran's perceptions of the holocaust.

Our lives and our privacy are so paramount that how dare anyone listen in on our international phone calls to steal grandma's secret recipes, under the prextext of national security? For crying out loud, as Stephen Hayes continues to report we have only translated less than 3% of the documents we have captured in Iraq -- some of which appear to possibly contain information on terror links. I guess the NSA needs to pull more spooks off of investigating our collective noctural activites and doing some real spy work.
Posted by Kellino (36 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Just One Rebuttal
Mr. Kelling: I respectfully dissent regarding your observations (although some observations you make are certainly thoughtful and make sense). First, there is constitutional precedent where the U. S. Supreme Court did in fact "pre-empt" the president's powers, and it did involve a "seizure". During the Korean Campaign President Truman seized the steel mills to avoid their temporary closure for domestic reasons. The Supreme Court found that act was not constitutional and enjoined the president from further doing so. The President is not above the constitution, and the president is bound by his oath, which incidentally shall not require a religious test (in the original version) to uphold the Constituion among other things(USConst. Art. VI).

I also beg to differ with your interpretation of "privacy" as being "nebulous", for it is not some type of ethereal cloud. Nor is it just a "liberal" ideal without any practical signifcance. Indeed, there are also a lot of well-paid lawyers with huge law lbraries and lots of litigation experience who just might be very concerned about intercepting "grandma's secret recipe", especially if there is a proprietary {i.e. "private" property} interest involved and it happens to be with ConAgra, Sara Lee, or Altria. You bet they might be interested not only in maintaining the proprietary interest, but the "privacy" and "secrecy" of that interest. And if you think you might have any better protection from an unknown government employee than any other citizen, or person, you way well be inviting disagreement.

More practically, the less secure the information about your private estate is and the greater the wealth that is in it, the greater a target you become. In the interests of prudence, you might quite justifiable want to keep your travel plans secret. The Fourth Amendment is unequivocal in its command, and the very reasons for it are just as valid today as it was since the concept started to emerge at the time of the Magna Carta (which, incidentally, talked quite a lot about "private" property rights) and was finally authored in our Constitution. The Supreme Court has never had an "absolute" interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, and for good reason ... The key word is 'unreasonable' which the Amendment proscribes against. Consequently there is a great deal of discussion, and almost always with a dissent, over what constitutes 'reasonable'.

Let's keep in mind that the "Executive" branch of the government is not just the President acting as Commander and Chief, but includes those acting in the executive either under direct orders and authority of the President or under the implied and ostensible authority of the President. This then includes Justice, and the NSA. These are the agencies actually conducting the acts.

Congress has defined the mechanism for reasonableness in FISA. And let's also keep in mind that the Congress has equal consitutional authority and dignity in that great and fragile document, including the power to declare war, raise armies and navies. While the legal authority of the President, defined in part as the "executive Power", arises from the Constitution (Article II), his power ultimately drives from the Congress to, (Article I, Sections 7 & 8). That definition of reasonableness in FISA is quite liberal, granting the executive the ability to act subject to an after the fact review of the reasonableness of the action. There is no requirement in FISA that the action taken must be successful or even right on target ... only that it is reasonable under the circumstances and based upon 'probable cause' (the Consitutional definition). Nothing impairs overseas or covert international intelligence gathering (excepting, per Congress, outright assasinations).

The fundamental reason for our constitution (which is why it is the Supreme Law of the Land) is that we operate under the law, and not at the caprice and whim of the Soverign. Fisa is in fact the law, and even the President cannot violate it, nor commit treason, murder, robbery, mayhem, larceny or outlawed fraud (see Article II, Section 4).

If FISA has been disregarded, then the law MAY have been very well violated, and should be appropriately dealt with. (The key words here are "If" and "appropriate"). For that we the people will have to wait and see what, if anything , comes from this from Congress. In the meantime the President is entitled to at least the benfit of civility and his motives may well be that he has attempted to act in his perception of the best interests of the nation.

Revisiting Reasonableness: the word identifies the reasonably prudent man concept in similar circumstances. The problem today is that the concept has certain failings; first it has been feminized and consequently vilified in our society today; it is no longer "policitically correct"; and, in any event our contemporary society hasn't even a clue as to the understanding of the concept. The term has come closer to the meaning that if you can get away with it then it must be reasonable. Thus from the boardroom to the bordello citizens are disregarding their respect for the law and its institution, this includes Congress and the Executive, and as a consequence the Constitution is becomming dangerously less relevant.

As far as Los Angeles, you seem to have made a leap across the Universe on a fact not established as yet, and the truth of it may never be known. Judgment should be reserved until we get the facts (although your point that it may have been reasonable even under FISA, if that is tyour point, is a worthy one).

More disconcerting are real facts. Perhaps you are not aware, but there have been tunnels dug underground accross our southern national border, which have been going on for quite some time for purposes of smuggling contraband, people and weapons into the United States. This should create a clear and present danger and immediate concern to our country, and especially our leadership. But clearly there are conflicting interests that seem to be paramont to our national safety and interest.

The Los Angeles Times reported a story of one such tunnel. It apparantly was a well engineered tunnel with track systems, professionally engineered and built, and had been in operation for what may have been several years. The Mexican Federal Police uncovered it after an investigation, and obtained a warrant (yup! a Search Warrant issued by a Mexican Magistrate), conducted the serach and seized the tunnel, and traced it all the way into the United STates where US Authorities were notified resulting in a joint investigation. Contaband, weapons and people where the principle staples transported here also. Do you think a terrorist from the Middle-East might fit the profile coming through such a tunnel? It seems to me that this administration is not that concerned about it. There appears to be higher, especialy economic, priorties.
Posted by jesdog (66 comments )
Link Flag
A view from over the pond
As I understand, the NSA was formed during WWII by combining the code breaking and cryptanalysis parts of US Naval and Army Intelligence, so has a military heritage, and that must have some impact on what it sees its role as being.

What I am told is the largest NSA base after Fort Meade is in North Yorkshire, UK (and about two miles from where I type this).

The UK press has carried a number of stories in recent years about the NSA's Echelon system, which has been used to eavesdrop on French government commmunications, amongst other things.

I presume that you guys over the water have no problems with the NSA eavesdropping on those that Bart Simpson memorably called the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys"? So what's your beef if the NSA eavesdrops on you?

There is a more pressing issue on this side of the pond. You think that you have problems - we see an increasing likelihood of having to carry compulsory ID storing biometric data that can be checked against a central database that will communicate with other government agencies is a hot topic here at present. The ultimate goal of such a scheme would be to use this to control access to govenrment-controlled services (and it will be sued by private sector bodies as well), and the purest arguments against it are philosophical.

As far as I can see, all your arguments against electronic eavesdropping are nimby ones - fine to do it elsewhere, but not in the US of A. Have they stopped teaching philosophy in the US? What do you guys think about Blair's porposed assault on our civil liberties?
Posted by Pepperrell (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
To "over the pond".
Your point is well taken; and I do not see any significant or legitmate interest serving American foreign policy interests by spying, especially regarding primarily petty matters, on our allies.

The Bush administration is not a rational administration. which leads me to your question What do many "Colonists" think about Blair's assault on Her Majesty's Citizens Civil Liberites? for many who are aware of your government's position of putting the individual's civil liberties on the defensive, similar to our own ciercumstance, it scares hell out of us. For several reasons: One, it is confusing to a patriot, and can lead to demoralization - how can one defend liberty while it is being destroyed by those who command that defense; two, democracy, which recognizes individual libery from government intrusion, is still in the minority in this world, even though it has been growing in recognition and acceptance (not necessarily by the government in power) during the twentieth century, and if the traditional modern democracies act in rejection of civil liberties, that growth may reverse itself; third, it is still true that a threat to your liberty (and ultimnately the substantive and procedural concepts of the common law which provides the mechanism by which a modern democracy can work), is a dagger also pointed at the throat of mine; fourth, I have little confidence in the leadership in whom our representative democracy is entrusted who act to protect our liberty (and our practical ideology inevitably) by destroying those liberties; fifth, because of number fourth, it makes those same leaders inadvertant allies of the enemy that seeks to destroy the same practical ideology; finally, your leader, as is mine with equal dignities, is a ***** and neither of them have conducted a wining war on terrorism; frankly, in spite of good counsel early on, and the existence of legitimate strategies, I do not have confidence that they even have a clue as to what must be done.

A "rhetorical alegory and anecdote" about our leader's insistance on invading Iraq: The former CCCP decided to put missiles in Cuba under Kruschev's regime; President Kennedy had to make an intelligent and fromidible response; effective use of a foreign policy was an alternative; an immediate show of force was an alternative; a pre-emptive response also was an alternative. An effective means of accomplishing a foregin policy goal was set in motion under Truman's administration in framing a long term regional strategy for Soviet aggrandizement, thus if Kennedy and his able state department were intelligent enough to figure out an extension, or new application from Truman's administration's plocies, he could accomplish through a strong enough show of force on one hand, and by diplomatic means on the other, a resolution to the crises. Kennedy's administration did have that intelligence, fortunately for the United States and the world at large (and in like manner, so did Reagan, which became the basis by which he could infrom Mr. Gorbachev, why not tear down that wall). Mr. Kennedy did have two other options: war, probably with the CCCP; or bomb and invade Cuba. And let us not forget, there really were WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION (not mere rumors or gossip) in Cuba. Yet not a shot was fired that if it were would probably been heard but once, then never again, by anyone, around the world.

If Bush had been president before Kennedy, Kennedy might have had a third alternative. The rhetorical wuestion then is: Should Kennedy have bombed and invaded Mexico because the share a remotely common culture with Cuba, and might have weapons of mass destruction (on rumor and gossip) and thus be making a show of force on Communism (terrorism, or whatever "ism" the human race is wont to supply to justify a rationalization for its conduct after the fact)? Isn't that what Mr. Blair supported for invading Iraq also?

Yet these two democracies divided by a common language did exactly the same thing to themselves: Bush is Back in power; and Blair. You tell me.
Posted by jesdog (66 comments )
Link Flag
Things were clearer then
To begin with, please drop the references to colonists - I'm not an imperialist, and only empires have colonies. If you guys use it, it indicates chips on shoulders, and if we use it, you get antsy. And its patronising, too.

We may be an older democracy than the US, and the Mother of Parliaments, but that's history. And much of what was best about Great Britain then and now still lurks in the background on both sides of the Pond. Your points on previous administrations are apposite, but we don't make statesmen any more, and neo-cons rule, at least in Washington.

I entirely commend your points about the shortcomings of the current administrations. In the same way that you (or rather Jed Bush) elected Dubya, more voters (I didn't) voted for B-liar's party than for any other, thanks in part to the gerrymandering (a good American noun) that reorganised electoral boundaries between 1997 and 2001.

There are two issues about Iraq which are directly connected to the whole surveillance/terrorist thing: oil and glory. The US (and the UK to a lesser extent) needs more oil than it can produce to feed its insatiable apppetite for SUV's, air conditioning and air travel. It wants to secure future reserves, and to do that needs to exert control over foreign real estate. On the glory front, Dubya wants to outdo his Pa, a better man than the son, as Prescott Bush was to George Sr. Tony B-liar wants to make his mark on history - in his own words, "change things" - which frightens the hell out of me.

Back in 1989 I read a paper delivered by an oil-major deep-thinker at a geopolitical conference held in Istanbul. It forecast pretty accurately what would happen as the Soviet Union collapsed, which of course was happening as a direct result of Ronald Reagans policies (as those policies intended). It flagged the rise of militant Islam as being the next big thing, and predicted that there would be no post-Cold War peace dividend. And of course, it was presented at a conference hosted by an oil major.

The predicted rise of militant Islam has come about, but instead of engaging with local pro-democratic groups, we have supported tyrants, imposed crooks and further alienated the populations that we want to embrace democracy.

And the surveillance measures that this topic is really about (should we find a different forum for this, moderator?) come about as a result of our bungling. If the CIA funded Pakistani Intelligence to in turn fund the Taliban and the elsuive bearded Saudi, is the problem not at least partly of America's making? Who should really be blamed for 9/11? After all, Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with it, as far as we can see over here.

Ho hum, as usual there are no easy answers, but if the fundamental democratic liberties are what we want to build in Iraq, why are Bush and Bliar encroaching so much on them in our own countries? We will look back on the last decade as a real truning point, and I expect that the two Blair administrations will be judged properly and found to have been a rather shabby charade. Abd Dubya? I wouldn't presume....
Posted by Pepperrell (2 comments )
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