5
Jan
2006

Key Democrat Says Spying Violated Law

January 5th, 2006 2:28 am

By Scott Shane / New York Times

WASHINGTON, Jan. 4 - The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said on Wednesday that the limited Congressional briefings the Bush administration has provided on a National Security Agency eavesdropping program violated the law.

In a letter to President Bush, the representative, Jane Harman of California, said the briefings did not comply with the National Security Act of 1947. That law requires the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to be "kept fully and currently informed" about the spy agencies' activities.

The briefings on the program under which Americans and other people in the United States are selected for eavesdropping without court warrants were limited to the so-called Gang of Eight. That consists of the Republican and Democratic leaders of each house and of the Intelligence Committees. Because of turnover in those positions, 14 members of Congress attended one or more briefings.

Ms. Harman wrote in her letter that the law allowed briefings to be limited to the eight leaders only in cases of covert action. The National Security Agency program does not qualify as a covert action, which the law says does not include activities whose "primary purpose is to acquire intelligence," she wrote.

Asked about the letter, a spokesman for the National Security Council, Frederick Jones, said, "We believe Congress was briefed appropriately on this matter."

Unlike some Democrats, Ms. Harman has defended the eavesdropping, which focuses on people in the United States who officials believe have possible links to terror suspects overseas. In a statement on Dec. 21, she said she believed that the program was "essential to U.S. national security and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities."

She has also called for a full briefing and open hearings on N.S.A. activities.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan, has said the briefings made clear that Americans would be targets of some of the eavesdropping and that Democrats had offered at least tacit approval.

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Informant: John Calvert
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