Specter Wants More Debate on Spying
Friday, April 28, 2006
New expressions of frustration over how little information the administration has shared about the National Security Agency's warrantless eavesdropping on Americans flared yesterday in the Senate, one day after House Republicans barred amendments that would have expanded oversight of the controversial program.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said yesterday that he will file an amendment to block the NSA program's funding -- but said he will not seek a vote on it at this time -- in hope of stirring greater debate on the warrantless surveillance, part of the agency's monitoring of alleged terrorists.
"Where is the outrage?" asked Specter, who has chaired hearings that questioned the NSA program's constitutionality.
Questions about the legality of the NSA program and the Bush administration's refusal to brief the full intelligence panel on it led Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, for the first time on Wednesday to vote against the annual intelligence authorization bill, which passed the House.
Harman, one of the few House members to receive briefings on the NSA program, said she believes in the program's approach but argued unsuccessfully on the floor Wednesday for a measure requiring greater congressional review.
"I do not support violating the law or the Constitution," she said. "Enhanced security without respect for law gives away the very values we are fighting to defend, and I believe that the program . . . can and must fully comply with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and with our Constitution."
The version of the fiscal 2007 Intelligence Authorization bill that passed the House contained no language on the NSA program. But lawmakers added provisions that could have an impact on the estimated $44 billion to be spent next year by the 16 agencies that make up the intelligence community, as well as the operations of Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte and his growing, one-year-old organization. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Congress created Negroponte's office to oversee and improve coordination of the intelligence agencies.
Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chairman of the House intelligence committee, said Wednesday that his panel will be monitoring Negroponte's progress in restructuring the intelligence community and that "we would all like it to go faster because of the significant threats that we face as a nation." Although Hoekstra has been critical of the DNI in the past, he said the office "is beginning to bear fruit" and "incremental but real improvements have been made since the standup."
Harman expressed a gloomier view. She said Negroponte "has not taken command yet" of the intelligence community, "giving away authority to the Pentagon, which is happy to receive it, as it expands its own role in intelligence gathering abroad and here at home."
She added that "the CIA is in free fall," and that "300 years of experience have either been pushed out or left in frustration, and morale is dangerously low."
The committee took a step toward reining in Pentagon domestic intelligence activities. The Defense Department inspector general was directed to audit the activities of the Pentagon's newest and fastest-growing intelligence agency, the Counterintelligence Field Activity. Created four years ago, CIFA has been increasing authority to coordinate and direct intelligence collection involved in protection of Defense Department facilities at home and abroad.
An amendment by Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.) that was approved goes after the increasing practice of agencies, particularly at the Pentagon, to contract out analysis and collection of intelligence.
CIFA officials, for example, have said they spend 70 percent of their budget -- the amount of which is classified -- on contractors. Under Price's amendment, the DNI would set regulations for the hiring and training of contractors, and provide an annual report of contracts above $1 million with a description of the activities and whether they are classified or unclassified programs.
Specter's concerns about the NSA program were also reflected in much of the House debate on the intelligence bill.
Harman and other Democrats were angry that Republicans on the House Rules Committee prevented a bipartisan amendment that would have required classified briefings on the NSA surveillance program, which includes listening to U.S. citizens, to all members of the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees. That proposal is similar to the one that Specter said he may soon introduce, although he would also include the parallel Senate panels.
At present, lawmakers on a limited number of House and Senate intelligence committees are briefed on the NSA program along with top leaders of the House and Senate.
At the White House yesterday, spokeswoman Dana Perino said: "The appropriate members of Congress have been and continue to be informed with respect to the terrorist surveillance program."