July 13, 2006

Bush agrees to court review of spy program

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a reversal, the White House has
agreed to allow a secret federal court review of the National
Security Agency's warrantless domestic spying program, a top
U.S. Senate Republican announced on Thursday.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said he
had negotiated a bill with the White House to update
surveillance laws and clear the way for an examination of the
constitutionality of the program designed to track terrorists.

"We have structured a bill which is agreeable to the White
House and I think will be agreeable to this committee," Specter
told the panel, which will vote on it perhaps later this month
after members have had an opportunity to review it.

Specter's fellow Republicans voiced support for the deal
while some Democrats expressed reservations and said they
wanted to get the details.

Specter and other lawmakers had pressed Bush to seek
clearance from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
court for the spying program, implemented after the September
11 attacks and first disclosed last December by The New York

While the bill does not mandate a court review, Specter
said Bush agreed to submit the overall program to such an
examination -- provided the legislation is approved by Congress
or changed in a manner acceptable to the president.

Specter earlier said the administration may have broken the
law in allowing the NSA to monitor international phone calls
and e-mails of U.S. citizens without first obtaining warrants.

The 1978 act requires warrants from the court for
intelligence-related eavesdropping inside the United States.
But Bush had defended the NSA program, saying he had the power
and responsibility in wartime to protect the nation.

The proposed measure would give the government seven rather
than the current three days to obtain a warrant in an emergency
and grant the attorney general greater flexibility in
requesting such an emergency.

It would also provide for roving wiretaps that target
individuals rather than specific telephones.


Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Judiciary Committee's
ranking Democrat, raised concerns.

"The president ... is saying 'if you do every single thing
I tell you to do,' I will do what I should have done anyway,"
he said.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, "We've reached a
significant and very good deal for us with Senator Specter."

"The bill recognizes the president's constitutional
authority and modernizes FISA to meet the threats we face from
an enemy that knows no bounds, kills with abandon and
masquerades as they plot against us," Perino said.

Specter said that under the deal the court would determine
the program's constitutionality based, in part, on arguments
presented by the administration.

The court would also examine if the program is "reasonably
designed to ensure that the communications intercepted involve
a terrorist, agent of a terrorist or someone reasonably
believed to have communicated or associated with a terrorist."

(Additional reporting by Deborah Charles, David Morgan and
Caren Bohan)