May 16, 2006

Bush: spying program protects America

By Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush on Tuesday
defended intelligence programs that have raised concerns the
government is spying on Americans, saying his administration
was obliged to "connect dots" to protect citizens after the
September 11 attacks.

A political and public furor erupted after a newspaper
report that the National Security Agency collected telephone
records of Americans. This followed the revelation last year of
a program to eavesdrop inside the United States without court
approval on international telephone calls and e-mail of
terrorism suspects.

The debate is expected to heat up as the Senate considers
the nomination of Gen. Michael Hayden to be the new CIA
director. Hayden was the architect of the eavesdropping program
when he headed the NSA.

"What I have told the American people is, we'll protect
them against an al Qaeda attack, and we'll do so within the
law," Bush said in a joint press conference with Australian
Prime Minister John Howard.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush was neither
confirming nor denying USA Today's report last week that the
NSA had amassed telephone records of tens of millions of
Americans provided by three major telephone companies.

Critics have raised concerns that the spying programs are
infringing on U.S. citizens' right to privacy. A new USA
Today/Gallup Poll said 51 percent of the public disapproved of
the NSA program to collect phone records. The poll of 809
adults was conducted Friday and Saturday.

"We got accused of not connecting dots prior to September
the 11th, and we're going to connect dots to protect the
American people, within the law," Bush said.

Republican and Democratic Senate aides said Hayden's
nomination appeared headed for approval in the Senate
Intelligence Committee, which will hold a hearing on Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican,
said he was confident Hayden would emerge from the confirmation
process "very well and will be able to serve in the capacity
for which he's nominated."

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, sent Bush a
letter asking whether the NSA's spying programs were targeting
journalists and their sources.

(Additional reporting by Vicki Allen)