[Clips] Gonzales: NSA may tap 'ordinary' Americans' e-mail

R. A. Hettinga rah at shipwright.com
Fri Feb 10 09:22:31 PST 2006

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  Date: Fri, 10 Feb 2006 12:21:03 -0500
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  From: "R. A. Hettinga" <rah at shipwright.com>
  Subject: [Clips] Gonzales: NSA may tap 'ordinary' Americans' e-mail
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  CNET News

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

  By Anne Broache

  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.

  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.

  "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."

  Support for the program appeared to split down party lines. Several
  Republicans said they generally supported the administration's efforts and
  understood the importance of the eavesdropping operations. "I suspect few
  members of Congress would vote to eliminate this program or cut its
  funding," said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah.

  The committee's top Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said bluntly
  that the secret surveillance program is not authorized by a 1978 law called
  the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which he called the
  "exclusive source of authority for wiretapping for intelligence purposes."
  "Wiretapping that is not authorized under that statute is a federal crime,"
  he said. "That is what the law says, and that is what the law means."

  Leahy chided the attorney general for the administration's lack of
  consultation with Congress on the legality of the program. "Thank heavens
  we actually have a press that tells us what you all are doing, because you
  all are certainly not," he said without disguising any hint of disapproval.

  Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said she, too, was concerned
  that too few members of Congress had been adequately briefed about the
  program, a phenomenon that gave her reason to believe "this program is much
  bigger and much broader than you want anyone else to know," she said.

  Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, argued that by circumventing
  FISA, the Bush administration could be jeopardizing national security in
  the long run. If the wiretapping program is illegal, he said, front-line
  NSA employees could be prosecuted, and evidence gathered through the
  process could be tossed, meaning that "some of those toughest, cruelest and
  meanest members of al-Qaida may be able to use illegality in the court
  system to escape justice."

  But even some Republicans who said they supported the program also admitted
  they believed it would be more effective and better accepted by the public
  if Congress explored new legislation to give it a formal legal blessing.
  "Presidents are always stronger in the condition of foreign affairs when
  Congress is onboard," said Sen. Mike DeWine, an Ohio Republican. He
  broached the idea of amending FISA so that it would exclude the sort of
  communications the administration said it has been tapping through the NSA

  The administration will "listen and consider your ideas," Gonzales said.

  Specter said he expected to schedule a second day of hearings to allow
  senators to ask the attorney general additional questions about the
  situation. Other members of the committee indicated they hoped to bring in
  additional witnesses, such as former Attorney General John Ashcroft, for

  The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is planning a hearing of its
  own later this week with the attorney general and NSA Director Michael
  Hayden, DeWine said, but that session will be closed to the public.

  R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
  The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
  44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
  "... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
  [predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
  experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'
  Clips mailing list
  Clips at philodox.com

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R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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