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Bush Doesn't Confirm NSA Data Collection

 

May 11, 1:07 PM (ET)

 

 

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush did not confirm or deny a newspaper report Thursday that the National Security Agency was collecting records of tens of millions of ordinary Americans' phone calls.

 

"Our intelligence activities strictly target al-Qaida and their known affiliates," Bush said. "We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans."

 

USA Today, based on anonymous sources it said had direct knowledge of the arrangement, reported that AT&T Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ), and BellSouth Corp. (BLS) began turning over records of Americans' phone calls to the NSA shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

 

Bush said any domestic intelligence-gathering measures he's approved are "lawful," and he says "appropriate" members of Congress have been briefed.

 

The disclosure could complicate Bush's bid to win confirmation of former NSA director Gen. Michael Hayden as CIA director.

 

Congressional Republicans and Democrats demanded answers from the Bush administration Thursday about a government spy agency secretly collecting records of ordinary Americans' phone calls to build a database of every call made within the country.

 

The top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee said he was shocked by the revelation about the NSA.

 

"It is our government, it's not one party's government. It's America's government. Those entrusted with great power have a duty to answer to Americans what they are doing," Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

 

The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said he would call the phone companies to appear before the panel in pursuit of what had transpired.

 

"We're really flying blind on the subject and that's not a good way to approach the Fourth Amendment and the constitutional issues involving privacy," Specter said of domestic surveillance in general.

 

The companies said Thursday that they are protecting customers' privacy but have an obligation to assist law enforcement and government agencies in ensuring the nation's security. "We prize the trust our customers place in us. If and when AT&T is asked to help, we do so strictly within the law and under the most stringent conditions," the company said in a statement, echoed by the others.

 

Bush said that U.S. intelligence targets terrorists and that the government does not listen to domestic telephone calls without court approval and that Congress has been briefed on intelligence programs.

 

He vowed to do everything in his power to fight terror and "we will do so within the laws of our country."

 

On Capitol Hill, several lawmakers expressed incredulity about the program, with some Republicans questioning the rationale and legal underpinning and several Democrats railing about the lack of congressional oversight.

 

"I don't know enough about the details except that I am willing to find out because I'm not sure why it would be necessary to keep and have that kind of information," said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

 

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Fox News Channel: "The idea of collecting millions or thousands of phone numbers, how does that fit into following the enemy?"

 

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said bringing the telephone companies before the Judiciary Committee is an important step.

 

"We need more. We need to take this seriously, more seriously than some other matters that might come before the committee because our privacy as American citizens is at stake," Durbin said.

 

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., argued that the program "is not a warrantless wiretapping of the American people. I don't think this action is nearly as troublesome as being made out here, because they are not tapping our phones."

 

The program does not involve listening to or taping the calls. Instead it documents who talks to whom in personal and business calls, whether local or long distance, by tracking which numbers are called, the newspaper said.

 

The NSA and the Office of National Intelligence Director did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

 

NSA spokesman Don Weber said in an e-mailed statement that given the nature of the agency's work, it would be "irresponsible to comment on actual or alleged operations issues." He added, "the NSA takes its legal responsibilities seriously and operates within the law."

 

NSA is the same spy agency that conducts the controversial domestic eavesdropping program that had been acknowledged earlier by Bush. The president said last year that he authorized the NSA to listen, without warrants, to international phone calls involving Americans suspected of terrorist links.

 

The report came as Hayden - Bush's choice to take over leadership of the CIA - had been scheduled to visit lawmakers on Capitol Hill Thursday. However, the meetings with Republican Sens. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska were postponed at the request of the White House, said congressional aides in the two Senate offices.

 

The White House offered no reason for the postponement to the lawmakers. Other meetings with lawmakers were still planned.

 

Hayden already faced criticism because of the NSA's secret domestic eavesdropping program. As head of the NSA from March 1999 to April 2005, Hayden also would have overseen the call-tracking program.

 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who has spoken favorably of the nomination, said the latest revelation "is also going to present a growing impediment to the confirmation of Gen. Hayden."

 

The NSA wants the database of domestic call records to look for any patterns that might suggest terrorist activity, USA Today said.

 

Don Weber, a senior spokesman for the NSA, told the paper that the agency operates within the law, but would not comment further on its operations.

 

One big telecommunications company, Qwest, has refused to turn over records to the program, the newspaper said, because of privacy and legal concerns.

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Bush is doing is deny, deny, deny then spin, spin, spin number, but on TV this afternoon he was wearing a distinctly "shit, caught!" expression. Even Republicans on the Hill sound like they're becoming alarmed at how out-of-control the administration is. It's about time, but I still hope they all get turned out of office in November. The chances seem to improve; it's not going to get any easier for the R's in the next few months. They've already been caught lying about the number of Abramoff visits to the White House. Karl Rove might get indicted for perjury. The slightest misstep can send gasoline back over $3/gallon, or higher. Bodies keep coming back from Iraq, and today's paper says the military isn't allowing officers in the reserves who've met their commitments to resign. Good patriotic types being screwed by the government they're supposed to be defending. It's taken far too long, but the R's finally seem to be on the road to hell they paved for themselves, and they're picking up speed as they head down, down, down. . .

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Guest ReturnOfS

It would be OK if it was only the Republicans going down that road to hell, but unfortunately, they're doing everything they can to take us with them.

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Well, maybe there's finally a real chance of regaining control of Congress in November. Even right-wing talk show hosts tonight are expressing outrage about the phone number data thing. Bush may have finally fallen into a tar pit he can't escape. They're pointing out that Qwest told NSA they'd provide the data if they could get an authorization from the FISA Court, or a letter from the attorney-general's office saying it's legal. NSA said they didn't want to do that, and backed away. Hello? If they couldn't even get a letter from Bush's cringing attorney general saying it's legal, they HAD to know they were breaking the law!!! The cracks had been appearing in the Republican façade for a while now, but now they're starting to look like fault lines, and at least some Republicans seem to be madly looking for the lifeboats now that Bush has driven the Titanic onto the iceberg. This story is going to have legs. There will undoubtedly be class action suits. It's not going to go away, and it touches virtually everyone. And the bad news for Bush is just going to keep on coming -- everywhere you look there are mines ahead! The fun part is that the Bushies sowed those mines themselves!

 

Here's a scenario to wish for: The Democrats win back Congress in November, impeach and convict Bush AND Cheney (because they're both guilty, guilty, guilty) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi becomes President. I don't know how she'd be as President, but there's no possible way she could be as bad as BushCo. And she turned out to be a very pleasant surprise as a Member of Congress. When she was elected in San Francisco she was mainly known as a socialite Democratic fundraiser who gave great parties. Obviously there is more to her than that -- you don't become Minority Leader and a potential future Speaker of the House just because you throw great parties! And even though she hasn't been perfect, she's taken some very principled stands on issues that weren't popular issues at the time, like human rights in China. It doesn't hurt that she dresses superbly and isn't an embarassment everytime she opens her mouth, unlike the current incumbent!

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In a way, we’re lucky that some of this administration’s power grabs are so outrageous. The headlines may wake people up.

 

I was glad to see Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) comments on Thursday on the NSA warrantless wiretaps: "I happen to believe we are on our way to a major constitutional confrontation on 4th amendment guarantees of unreasonable search and seizure and I think this is also going to present a growing impediment to the confirmation of General Hayden."

 

Also on Thursday, seventy-two members of Congress joined the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights in filing court briefs to end the NSA warrantless wiretaps. Unfortunately, neither House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) nor House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) signed the brief.

 

Right now is the time to speak up and remind folks that “use ‘em or lose ‘em” definitely applies to our hard-won civil liberties.

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