July 26, 2006

CIA chief says warrants ill-suited for al Qaeda hunt

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - CIA Director Michael Hayden told
senators on Wednesday that the requirement of court orders to
carry out electronic surveillance inside the United States was
ill-suited for tracking al Qaeda and other militant groups.

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the
intelligence official who crafted President George W. Bush's
domestic spying program also said international phone calls
targeted by warrantless surveillance are the most valuable to
protecting national security.

"Why should our laws make it more difficult to target al
Qaeda communications that are most important to us -- those
entering or leaving this country," said Hayden, an Air Force
general who set up the administration's eavesdropping program
in 2001 as director of the National Security Agency.

Congress is debating how to accommodate the legally
questionable NSA eavesdropping program by changing the 1978
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

FISA requires individual court warrants for all
intelligence-related eavesdropping in the United States.

But the NSA program, which began shortly after the
September 11 attacks and was disclosed in December by The New
York Times, allows the government to eavesdrop on the
international phone calls and emails of U.S. citizens without
first obtaining a warrant, if in pursuit of al Qaeda.

The CIA director backed compromise legislation between the
White House and Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter of
Pennsylvania that would allow a secret FISA court to review the
NSA program to determine its legality.

Critics say the proposal would allow FISA judges to move
away from individual warrants, a keystone of U.S. civil
liberties protections, by granting blanket approval to entire
eavesdropping programs.

Hayden said the compromise proposal would provide effective
new criteria for government surveillance efforts.

"The FISA regime from 1978 onward focused on specific court
orders, against individual targets ... that was well suited to
stable, foreign entities," Hayden said.

"It is not as well suited to detect and prevent attacks
against the homeland," he added.

He also urged lawmakers to provide protection for private
sector telecommunications companies that participate in
government eavesdropping.

Specter and other lawmakers have questioned the legality of
the eavesdropping program, saying it appears to violate FISA
and may overstep Bush's constitutional authorities as commander
in chief.

Bush has defended the program, saying he had the power in
war time to protect the nation.

Last week, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told Specter's
committee that Bush blocked a Justice Department investigation
of the NSA program.

Gonzales said the president refused to give the Justice
Department's Office of Professional Responsibility access to
the classified program. The office announced in May it was
unable to conduct an investigation into the role department
lawyers had in developing the eavesdropping program.