Ad­min­is­tra­tion re­as­sures Hill on FISA and per­sonal lib­er­ties

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Jon Ward

Pres­i­dent Bush’s top intelligence ad­viser de­fended the re­cently up­dated For­eign Intelligence Sur­veil­lance Act in a let­ter to con­gres­sional lead­ers re­leased Aug. 7, say­ing the law sets strict guide­lines to guard against civil lib­er­ties abuses by the gov­ern­ment.

“Th­ese pro­ce­dures have worked well for decades and elim­i­nate from intelligence re­ports in­ci­den­tally ac­quired in­for­ma­tion con­cern­ing U.S. per­sons that does not con­sti­tute for­eign intelligence,” said Di­rec­tor of Na­tional Intelligence Michael McCon­nell, in a let­ter to Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat, and Mi­nor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can.

The FISA bill, which was pushed through Congress in its last week be­fore the sum­mer re­cess and signed by Mr. Bush on Aug. 5, re­moves civil lib­er­ties pro­tec­tions for non-U.S. cit­i­zens whose phone or e-mail com­mu­ni­ca­tions come into or through the U.S.

The White House has said the up­date of the bill sim­ply takes into ac­count the ad­vent of e-mail and fiber op­tics and re­moves the need for a war­rant to mon­i­tor ter­ror­ist sus­pects.

Some Democrats and civil lib­er­ties groups have raised ob­jec­tions to the bill, say­ing it will al­low the gov­ern­ment ex­ces­sive pow­ers to spy on Amer­i­cans’ phone and e-mail con­ver­sa­tions.

Mr. McCon­nell’s let­ter, how­ever, said the gov­ern­ment will po­lice it­self and has mea­sures in place to pre­vent snoop­ing on U.S. cit­i­zens.

“There will be in­tense over­sight of ac­tiv­i­ties con­ducted un­der the act. There are ex­ten­sive train­ing, com­pli­ance and other pro­ce­dures in place at agen­cies to en­sure our ac­tiv­i­ties are con­ducted ac­cord­ing to law. The rel­e­vant agen­cies have in­spec­tors gen­eral staffs with the ap­pro­pri­ate clear­ances, train­ing and tech­ni­cal back­ground to en­sure that ac­tiv­i­ties are re­viewed and au­dited,” Mr. McCon­nell wrote.

Mr. Reid’s of­fice was un­moved by Mr. McCon­nell’s as­sur­ances.

The let­ter, said Reid spokesman Jim Man­ley, “does not clar­ify any­thing nor does it put any con­cerns to rest.”

One fac­tor that has led to distr ust of the gov­ern­ment’s prom­ises was the dis­clo­sure ear- lier this year that the FBI had abused its na­tional se­cu­rity let­ter pow­ers, which en­able the gov­ern­ment to ob­tain per­sonal records of U.S. cit­i­zens from busi­nesses or or­ga­ni­za­tions with­out the knowl­edge of the intelligence tar­get.

The abuse was dis­closed by the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral, and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Al­berto R. Gon­za­les said the abuse was ac­ci­den­tal and not ma­li­cious.

Democrats, who have been crit­i­cal of Mr. Gon­za­les on sev­eral fronts in­clud­ing his han­dling of the U.S. at­tor­neys fir­ings, have scoffed at the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s ex­pla­na­tion.

An of­fi­cial with the Of­fice of Na­tional Intelligence would not con­firm whether the FBI will be in­volved in sur­veil­lance ac­tiv­i­ties un­der FISA.

“We’re still work­ing on a lot of im­ple­men­ta­tion. A lot of that is still be­ing worked out,” said the of­fi­cial, who asked not to be named.

Con­gres­sional Democrats passed a FISA up­date that ex­pires af­ter 180 days and have ob­jected to plac­ing the pro­gram un­der the at­tor­ney gen­eral for the long term.

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U.S. Di­rec­tor of Na­tional Intelligence Michael McCon­nell sent a let­ter to the Se­nate lead­ers re­spond­ing to con­cerns about the new law.

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