Dick Cheney- Corporate Criminal


U.S. Spying Plan Lacked Congress' Scrutiny, Leading Democrat Says

Sen. Rockefeller accuses the Bush administration of misleading the public in saying that lawmakers were kept informed on the wiretap program.

By Greg Miller and Maura Reynolds, Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — The leading Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee accused the Bush administration Monday of undercutting congressional scrutiny of a secret effort to eavesdrop on Americans, and of misleading the public regarding what it told Congress about the program.

Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) said that, contrary to White House claims in recent days, "the administration never afforded members briefed on the program an opportunity to either approve or disapprove" of the eavesdropping program, conducted by the National Security Agency.

Rockefeller also released a July 2003 handwritten letter to Vice President Dick Cheney in which he expressed serious misgivings about the domestic spying operation, as well as the restrictive conditions under which only a handful of lawmakers were told of it.

The exposure of the eavesdropping program has fueled debate not only over domestic spying limits, but also whether the Bush administration kept Congress adequately informed, as is required by law.

It was not clear how many members of Congress were briefed on the program since its inception in 2002, but it appeared to have been limited to the majority and minority leaders of both chambers and the chairman and ranking Democrat on each chamber's intelligence committee.

A spokesman for Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate minority leader, confirmed that he had been informed in the last six months — well after he had assumed a leadership position.

"I personally received a single, very short briefing on this program earlier this year prior to its public disclosure," Reid said. "That briefing occurred more than three years after the president said this program began."

He added that "based on what I have heard publicly since, key details about the program apparently were not provided to me."

Several lawmakers and congressional aides said Cheney often oversaw the briefings of lawmakers on intelligence activities, and that members were routinely barred from bringing senior aides from the intelligence committees or even consulting them later.

In many cases, staffers have been kept in the dark, even though they have the high-level security clearances required to receive such information. One senior aide on the Senate Intelligence Committee said staff members on the panel were unaware of the eavesdropping operation until it was reported last week.

In his 2003 letter, Rockefeller said the administration's restrictions prevented him from being able to judge the legality or potentially intrusive technical aspects of the eavesdropping program.

"As you know, I am neither a technician nor an attorney," Rockefeller wrote. "Given the security restrictions associated with this information, and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own, I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse, these activities."

Rockefeller's letter is dated July 17, 2003, which he said in a written statement Monday was the day he was briefed on the program. He pointed out in the 2003 letter that he intended to place a copy in a "sealed envelope in the secure spaces" of the Senate Intelligence Committee's offices to record his objections.

President Bush scoffed at the notion that Congress was not adequately informed of the operation.

"There is oversight," he said in a news conference Monday. "We're talking to Congress all the time…. We have briefed the United States Congress on this program a dozen times."

At a briefing for reporters on the legal aspects for the NSA program, Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales acknowledged that a decision was made to limit the number of Congress members who would be told about the policy.

Federal law requires the executive branch to "keep the congressional intelligence committees fully and currently informed of all intelligence activities," although it allows for limits in cases when there is concern for "unauthorized disclosure." In most cases, the law requires intelligence activities to be reported to the committees in writing.

Lawmakers who have attended the briefings conducted by Cheney and senior intelligence officials at the White House have not been provided written notification or allowed to share what they learned with other committee members.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who did not yet hold her leadership post but was the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee when the eavesdropping program was launched, has acknowledged that she was among four members from the intelligence panels who attended a briefing on the topic in the vice president's office.

She said that she, like Rockefeller, raised objections to the program.

"When I was advised of President Bush's decision to authorize these activities, I expressed my strong concerns verbally and in a classified letter to the administration," Pelosi said in a statement. "The Bush administration, however, made clear that it did not believe that congressional notification was required and it also did not believe that congressional approval was required to conduct these activities."

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and one of the Republicans who has raised concerns about the program, agreed that notifying a few members of Congress "does not constitute a check and balance."

"You can't have the administration and a select number of members alter the law," Specter said. "It can't be done."

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