Senators To Probe Government Use of Phone Records
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
WASHINGTON – Lawmakers of both American political parties vowed to demand more details about a Bush administration surveillance program, and Senator Specter said he expected to get at least part of the story from telephone company executives.
Mr. Specter, fellow Republican Senator Hagel of Nebraska, and Democratic Representative Jane Harman said President Bush’s advisers owe Congress a full briefing on the scope of the National Security Agency’s collection of telephone records and eavesdropping on calls to suspected terrorists overseas.
Mr. Specter, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he’ll ask executives from AT&T Inc., BellSouth Corporation, and Verizon Communications at hearings about what records they turned over to the NSA and their legal justification for doing so. That may be one way around administration refusals to provide information on the program, he said.
“The advantage of having them in is they can’t claim executive privilege,” Mr. Specter, of Pennsylvania, said yesterday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We may get some answers, which would be a pleasant change.”
Congressional questions about the reach of government surveillance efforts after the attacks of September 11, 2001, were renewed last week after USA Today reported that the three telephone companies provided the NSA with call records of millions of Americans as part of a project to detect patterns that might provide clues of another attack. The data doesn’t include names or information about the content of the calls.
The national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, while refusing to confirm or deny the USA Today report, defended the NSA’s intelligence gathering, saying it complies with laws and court rulings and doesn’t jeopardize privacy.
“It is very important that if we’re going to protect the country against terrorists, the government be able properly, lawfully, consulting appropriately with Congress, to be able to pursue secret programs,” Mr. Hadley said on CBS.
The Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, a Republican of Tennessee, said such intelligence gathering has made America safer.
“I absolutely know that it is legal,” Dr. Frist, who was briefed on the program as a member of the congressional leadership, said on CNN’s “Late Edition.” He said he agreed with Mr. Hadley that public disclosures were harmful.
Messrs. Specter and Hagel said they don’t have enough information to judge whether the phone record collection and surveillance operation are legal.