By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee are complaining that the National Security Agency has played politics in support of the secret program to intercept phone calls between alleged terrorists in the United States and abroad.
On July 27, shortly after most members of the committee were briefed on the controversial surveillance program, the NSA supplied the panel's chairman, Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), with "a set of administration approved, unclassified talking points for the members to use," as described in the document.
Among the talking points were "subjective statements that appear intended to advance a particular policy view and present certain facts in the best possible light," Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) said in a letter to the NSA director.
The cleared statements included "I can say the program must continue" and "There is strict oversight in place . . . now including the full congressional intelligence committees," as well as "Current law is not agile enough to handle the threat posed by sophisticated international terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda" and "The FISA should be amended so that it is technologically neutral." FISA refers to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the current law.
Rockefeller and six Democrats on the panel wrote Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the NSA's director, on Aug. 29 that they believed those statements "appear intended to advocate particular policies rather than provide guidance on classification." The letter added: "We believe that it is inappropriate for the NSA to insert itself into this policy debate."
Alexander had earlier told Rockefeller that the talking points were in response to requests from more than one committee Democrat for guidance as to what could be said publicly as the policy debate began over what should be done with the program.
One element particularly troubling to the Democrats was the statement that there was "strict" congressional oversight of the program, because, as one senior Democrat said yesterday, committee members are still awaiting requested documents such as the original authorization by President Bush that initiated the program.
In a recent letter to Rockefeller, Alexander said he regretted that the NSA talking points were "misperceived as political." Rockefeller is planning to expand on the Democrats' concerns about their attempts to conduct oversight on the program in a speech today on the Senate floor.