Eavesdropping Legislation Gets White House Approval

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The New York Sun

WASHINGTON – The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, said the Bush administration and Congress may be close to an agreement on submitting a National Security Agency surveillance program to judicial review.

Mr. Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican who has been critical of the warrantless eavesdropping program instituted after the September 11, 2001, attacks, said White House officials have indicated they may be willing to accept oversight from a special court set up to handle intelligence wiretaps.

“There is an inclination to have it submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court,” Mr. Specter said on the “Fox News Sunday” program, “and that would be a big step forward for protection of constitutional rights and civil liberties.”

President Bush and Vice President Cheney have argued that current law and recent court cases give the president authority to order surveillance of telephone calls and e-mails from inside America to suspected terrorists overseas.

“The administration has long said that while we don’t believe additional legal authority is necessary that we are willing to listen to the ideas of members of Congress on possible legislation,” a White House spokesman, Ken Lisaius, said yesterday. “Discussions are ongoing and we will continue to work with Chairman Specter as well as the intelligence committee.”

Mr. Cheney, in a letter to Mr. Specter earlier this month, indicated the administration might accept legislation dealing with the issue. Mr. Specter and Senator Kyl, a Republican of Arizona, have submitted legislation designed to provide for court supervision of the surveillance program.

To gain support for the measure in his committee, Mr. Specter agreed to Mr. Kyl’s proposal to add language saying the law wouldn’t restrict the president’s authority “to gather foreign intelligence” about an enemy. That would give the president latitude to authorize wiretaps without a warrant in wartime. Mr. Specter has said he would seek to make the legislation more restrictive once it gets to the Senate floor.

“The vice president and I exchanged some letters, he said he was serious about discussions,” Mr. Specter said. “I’ve talked to ranking officials in the White House, and we’re close.”

The same requirements may not apply to post-September 11 initiatives to scrutinize international banking transactions to track terrorists, Mr. Specter said.

That program, disclosed June 22 by the New York Times and confirmed by the administration, uses data from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift, a Belgium-based cooperative that routes about $6 trillion daily between banks, brokerages, stock exchanges, and other institutions. It focuses on wire transfers and other means of moving money overseas or in and out of America.

“The tracing of the bank records is different,” Mr. Specter said. Based on legal research since last week, he said, the privacy concerns involving banking transactions are not the same as those for conversations or other private communications, Mr. Specter said.

Mr. Cheney in a speech June 23 called the scrutiny of financial transactions “absolutely essential in protecting America from terrorist attacks.”

The New York Sun

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