Wednesday, May 17, 2006

GOP senator says judges were told of phone spying

Trying to be a thoughtful citizen, I emailed Larry Tribe, the Harvard professor whose article appeared in yesterday's Globe and asked his advice about how to proceed in light of the information revealed about the NSA and phone data. He replied (which impressed me) and suggested contacting legislators to make my views clear to them. Based on my limited experience on Capitol Hill, he is correct. Representatives and Senators do take into account the letters and phone calls they receive from constituents. So, call now and vote early and often.

Here is the next installment regarding the NSA and phone "spying." Things are still murky. . .

GOP senator says judges were told of phone spying
Verizon, BellSouth deny playing a role

By Katherine Shrader, Associated Press | May 17, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Two judges on the secretive court that approves warrants for intelligence surveillance were told of the broad monitoring programs that have raised controversy, a Republican senator said yesterday, for the first time connecting a court to knowledge of the collecting of millions of phone records.

President Bush, meanwhile, insisted the government does not listen in on domestic telephone conversations among ordinary Americans. But he declined to specifically discuss the compiling of phone records or whether that would amount to an invasion of privacy.

USA Today reported last week that three of the four major telephone companies had provided information about millions of Americans' calls to the National Security Agency. Verizon Communications Inc., however, denied yesterday that it had been asked by the agency for customer information, one day after BellSouth said the same thing.

Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, said that at least two of the chief judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had been informed since 2001 of White House-approved National Security Agency monitoring operations.

''None raised any objections, as far as I know," said Hatch, a member of a special Intelligence Committee panel appointed to oversee the NSA's work.

Hatch made the comment when asked during an interview about recent reports that the government was compiling lists of Americans' phone calls. He later suggested he was also speaking broadly of the administration's terror-related monitoring.

When asked whether the judges somehow approved the operations, Hatch said, ''That is not their position, but they were informed."

The surveillance court, whose 11 members are chosen by the chief justice of the United States, was set up after Congress rewrote key laws in 1978 that govern intelligence collection inside the United States.

The court secretly considers individual warrants for physical searches, wiretaps, and traces on phone records when someone is suspected of being an agent of a foreign power and when making the request to a regular court might reveal highly classified information.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the court has been led by US District Judge Royce C. Lamberth, and then by US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who succeeded him.

Bush was asked yesterday about the reported lists of calls.

''We do not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval," Bush said.

He appeared to acknowledge the NSA sweep of phone records indirectly, saying that the program referred to by a questioner ''is one that has been fully briefed to members of the United States Congress in both political parties."

''They're very aware of what is taking place. The American people expect their government to protect them within the laws of this country, and I'm going to continue to do just that," Bush said.

Spokesman Tony Snow later said Bush's comments did not amount to a confirmation of published reports that the NSA's surveillance included secretly collecting millions of phone call records.

Verizon, meanwhile, called into question key points of a USA Today story that has led to wide coverage by other news media in the past week.

''Contrary to the media reports, Verizon was not asked by NSA to provide, nor did Verizon provide, customer phone records," the New York-based phone company said in an e-mail statement.

A day earlier, BellSouth Corp. had said NSA had never requested customer call data, nor had the company provided any.

A story in USA Today last Thursday said Verizon, AT&T Inc., and BellSouth had complied with an NSA request for tens of millions of customer phone records after the attacks.

USA Today spokesman Steve Anderson said yesterday, ''We're confident in our coverage of the phone database story, but we won't summarily dismiss BellSouth's and Verizon's denials without taking a closer look."

The Senate Intelligence Committee is to hold a confirmation hearing tomorrow on Bush's nomination of Air Force General Michael V. Hayden to head the CIA. Hayden is sure to face vigorous questioning; as the NSA director from 1999 until last year, Hayden oversaw the creation of some of the government's most controversial intelligence surveillance.

The Senate and House intelligence chairmen -- Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, and Representative Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan -- announced yesterday that their full committees would be briefed for the first time on Bush's warrantless surveillance program. The operations have allowed the government to eavesdrop on domestic calls when one party is overseas and suspected of terrorism.

Democrats have demanded such information for months, saying the administration was violating the law by withholding it from committee members.

Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan and an Intelligence Committee member on the select NSA panel, said the administration had given the public only part of the story.

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