February 21, 2006

House Democrat says White House nixed NSA briefing

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top intelligence official was
prepared to brief the House of Representatives intelligence
committee about President George W. Bush's domestic spying
program last December but was stopped by White House Chief of
Staff Andy Card, a leading House Democrat said on Tuesday.

Rep. Jane Harman of California, ranking Democrat on the
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said she and
fellow Democrats on the panel sought a briefing from deputy
U.S. intelligence chief, Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, soon
after Bush confirmed the existence of the surveillance program.

"Gen. Hayden said he was prepared to brief the full
committee but our request was disapproved by White House Chief
of Staff Andy Card," Harman said in a statement issued by her

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said she was not aware
of any conversations about a possible intelligence briefing in
December. A spokeswoman for Hayden declined to comment.

But Harman's remarks could suggest a previously undisclosed
readiness by top intelligence officials to speak about the
secret program with a broader audience of lawmakers.

The administration has fully briefed only eight lawmakers
in the House and Senate about the program's operations up to
now, saying wider disclosure could pose security risks.

Bush acknowledged publicly on December 17 that he
authorized the National Security Agency after the September 11
attacks to eavesdrop without a court warrant on international
telephone calls and e-mails between Americans and others
suspected of ties with al Qaeda.

The program has raised concerns among Democrats and some
Republicans that Bush may have overstepped his constitutional
authority and even violated federal law by not briefing the
full House and Senate intelligence panels about the operation.

Two weeks ago, the White House bowed to mounting pressure
in Congress and provided some details of the eavesdropping
program to the full House and Senate intelligence committees.

But the White House has also pressed Republican lawmakers
to stave off calls for full congressional investigations.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has put off
until March 7 a vote sought by Democrats that would authorize
such an inquiry. House Republicans have also clashed over the
need for Congress to undertake a full-scale probe.

Perino said the White House was open to ideas in Congress,
particularly a proposal by Republican Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio
to create special House and Senate intelligence subcommittees
to oversee the program's operations.

"The administration has signaled that it is now shifting
course. A senior White House official told me this weekend that
it is important to put the program on solid legal footing and
improve congressional oversight," Harman said.

"This is welcome news, but it is not a substitute for fully
briefing the committees on the operations of the program."

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick)