May 16, 2006

Bush agrees to full NSA oversight by Congress

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House, in an abrupt
reversal, will allow the full Senate and House of
Representatives intelligence committees to review President
George W. Bush's domestic spying program, congressional
officials said on Tuesday.

Two days before the program was expected to dominate Air
Force Gen. Michael Hayden's Senate confirmation hearing as CIA
director, the Republican chairmen of the Senate and House
panels said separately that Bush had agreed to allow full
committee oversight of his Terrorist Surveillance Program.

The program, which allows the National Security Agency to
eavesdrop on the international phone calls and e-mails of U.S.
citizens without first obtaining warrants, has stirred an
outcry in Congress among lawmakers who believe Bush may have
overstepped his constitutional authority.

Up to now, the White House has sought to avoid full
committee oversight by limiting briefings to subcommittees from
each panel. Initially, the administration shared program
details only with the chairmen and vice chairmen of the
committees and party leaders in the House and Senate.

"It became apparent that in order to have a fully informed
confirmation hearing, all members of my committee needed to
know the full width and breadth of the president's program,"
Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, who heads the 15-member Senate
Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement.

The first full Senate committee briefing was scheduled for
Wednesday afternoon.


Hayden, who was the program's architect as NSA director
from 1999 to 2005, was expected to face a blizzard of questions
on NSA spying at a Thursday Senate confirmation hearing.
Republican and Democratic senators have said his confirmation
would depend on how detailed his answers would be.

A congressional aide who deals with intelligence matters
said the change in policy on NSA oversight would also allow
Hayden to speak about the program during the classified segment
of his confirmation hearing before Roberts' committee.

The aide also predicted that broader congressional
oversight could pave the way for bringing the NSA program under
federal law, a proposal that Hayden has signaled his possible
support for during private meetings with members of Congress.

Meanwhile, Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, the chairman of
the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said full
oversight would eliminate what he called politically driven

"By briefing the full committee on this program, it is my
hope that we can put an end to the politics surrounding this
issue and get back to the serious business of protecting our
national security," Hoekstra said in a separate statement.

In addition to constitutional concerns, critics say the
program violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or
FISA, a 1978 law requiring court warrants for all
intelligence-related eavesdropping inside the United States.

Bush has defended the program by saying the intelligence
activities he has authored are lawful and are needed to protect
Americans from further harm after the September 11 attacks.

In a report that raised hackles in Congress further last
week, USA Today newspaper said the NSA has also assembled a
database containing phone records of millions of Americans that
can be examined for patterns of potential terrorist activity.