May 14, 2006

Cheney pushed to widen eavesdropping: NY Times

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Vice President Dick Cheney argued in
the weeks after the September 11 attacks that the National
Security Agency should intercept domestic telephone calls and
e-mails without warrants as part of its war on terrorism, The
New York Times reported in Sunday editions.

Cheney and his top legal adviser, David Addington, believed
the Constitution permitted spy agencies to take such sweeping
measures to defend the country, The newspaper said, citing two
senior intelligence officials who spoke anonymously.

NSA lawyers opposed the move and insisted that any
eavesdropping without warrants should be limited to
communications into and out of the country, a position that
ultimately prevailed, the Times said.

Gen. Michael Hayden, the director of the NSA at the time
designed the eavesdropping program and is certain to face
questions about it when he appears at a Senate hearing on his
nomination as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Hayden persuaded wary NSA officers to accept the
eavesdropping program and sold the White House on its limits,
the Times said.

The newspaper said accounts by the two intelligence
officials, as well as others it interviewed, placed Hayden as
the man in the middle as President George W. Bush demanded that
intelligence agencies act to prevent more attacks.

While intelligence agency lawyers and officials were
concerned with avoiding accusations of spying on Americans,
Cheney and Addington thought eavesdropping without warrants
"could be done and should be done" if people suspected of links
to Al Qaeda made calls inside the United States, one of the
intelligence officials told the Times.

Another official described the debate as "very healthy,"
with Cheney's staff "pushing and pushing, and it was up to the
NSA lawyers to draw a line and say absolutely not."

Cheney's spokeswoman, Lee Anne McBride, declined to discuss
the deliberations about the classified program and said: "As
the administration, including the vice president, has said,
this is terrorist surveillance, not domestic surveillance ... "
the Times reported.

People speaking for the NSA and for Hayden also declined to
comment, the newspaper said.