February 7, 2006

Cheney resistant to change in spy program

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Vice President Dick Cheney on
Tuesday resisted bipartisan appeals for changes in a hotly
disputed warrantless eavesdropping program, saying he believed
"we have all the legal authority we need."

Democrats and some Republicans have urged the Bush
administration to work with Congress to revise a law already on
the books in order to end questions about whether the spy
program, initiated after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks, was

In an interview to air on Tuesday night on PBS' "Newshour,"
Cheney was asked whether President George W. Bush was willing
to work with Congress to settle some of the legal questions
about the spy program.

"We believe... that we have all the legal authority we
need," Cheney said.

He said Bush had indicated he was willing to listen to
ideas from the U.S. Congress and that members of Congress
certainly have the right to suggest changes.

"We'd have to make a decision, as the administration,
whether or not we think it would help and would enhance our
capabilities," he said.

The secret National Security Agency program was exposed in
December by The New York Times. It monitors telephone calls and
email exchanges between people in the United States and abroad
when one party is suspected of links to al Qaeda.

A 1978 law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,
makes it illegal to spy on U.S. citizens in the United States
without the approval of a special security court.

Some senators have suggested changes in the law to bring it
up to date with today's fast-paced world of high-speed
communications like cell phones and email.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Monday Democrats
and some Republicans challenged the assertion that Bush had the
authority to act under both the Constitution and a
congressional resolution that authorized the use of U.S. force
against al Qaeda three days after the September 11 attacks on
New York and Washington.

Cheney said he was concerned that additional legislation on
the issue would disclose the program in a way that would
possibly damage it.

"I think it's important for us if we're going to proceed
legislatively to keep in mind that there's a price to be paid
for that and it might well in fact do irreparable damage to our
capacity to collect this information," he said.

Cheney also said some congressional critics were changing
their tune on the program now that it was public. When they
were briefed privately on the classified program, they had been
supportive, he said.

"I presided over most of those briefings, there was no
great concern expressed that somehow we needed to come get
additional legislative authority," he said.