February 18, 2006

Court should monitor Bush spy program: Roberts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush's
domestic spying program should be overseen by a special court,
the Senate Intelligence Committee's chairman said in an
interview published on Saturday that revealed a split with the
White House.

Committee Chairman Pat Roberts told The New York Times he
had concerns that the court, established under the 1978 Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act, could not issue warrants quickly
enough for the eavesdropping program. But he said he would like
to see that obstacle worked out.

"I think it should come before the FISA court, but I don't
know how it works," Roberts, a Kansas Republican who has backed
the administration on most intelligence issues, was quoted as
saying. He said speed and agility were essential for the

Both Republicans and Democrats have raised questions about
the program, which began shortly after the September 11
attacks. It allows the National Security Agency to act without
a warrant in eavesdropping on the international communications
of U.S. citizens suspected of having terrorist ties.

The surveillance act made spying on American citizens in
the United States illegal without the approval of the special
court, which operates in secret.

Bush insists he has constitutional authority to authorize
the eavesdropping program as part of his war on terrorism, and
the administration has resisted appeals for legislation to
change the program.

The White House also contends Congress gave Bush the power
as part its authorization to use force to respond to the
September 11 attacks. Many lawmakers from both parties

Roberts told the newspaper he did not believe that
exempting the program from the court's purview "would be met
with much support" from Congress.

He was cited as saying he believed Bush had the
constitutional authority for the program. However, he said, "We
would be much more in concert with the Congress and the FISA
court judges," if the court oversaw the program.

Roberts announced on Thursday that "an agreement in
principle" had been reached with the White House to address
concerns about the eavesdropping. He rejected a call by
committee vice chairman John Rockefeller, a Democrat, for an
immediate probe into the program.

The White House has said Bush is open to ideas like that of
Ohio Republican Sen. Mike DeWine, who suggested creating a
special subcommittee within the intelligence committees that
would receive more details on the program and provide more
oversight. DeWine's bill would also exempt the program from the
intelligence court.