Administration Seeks to Expand Surveillance Law
Saturday, April 14, 2007
The Bush administration yesterday asked Congress to make more non-citizens subject to intelligence surveillance and to authorize the interception of foreign communications routed through the United States.
Currently, under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, individuals have to be associated with a foreign terrorism suspect or a foreign power to fall under the auspices of the FISA court, which can grant the authority to institute federal surveillance. The White House proposes expanding potential targets to include non-citizens believed to possess, transmit or receive important foreign intelligence information, as well as those engaged in the United States in activities related to the purchase or development of weapons of mass destruction.
The proposed revisions to FISA would also allow the government to keep information obtained "unintentionally," unrelated to the purpose of the surveillance, if it "contains significant foreign intelligence." Currently such information is destroyed unless it indicates threat of death or serious bodily harm.
And they provide for compelling telecommunications companies and e-mail providers to cooperate with investigations while protecting them from being sued by their subscribers. The legal protection would be applied retroactively to those companies that cooperated with the government after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The White House draft offered the first specifics of the proposal, which Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said Tuesday is needed to respond to "dramatic" changes in communications technology used by intelligence targets in this country.
The proposed changes do not address the controversial intelligence program, initiated in October 2001 and first disclosed in December 2005, that monitors communications between people in the United States and other countries when one party is suspected of having terrorist connections, according to senior administration officials.
The White House also threatened to veto a Senate version of the annual intelligence authorization bill, primarily over provisions that require a response within 15 days to Senate intelligence committee requests for particular documents, and reports to all committee members upon the initiation of extraordinarily sensitive activities, under threat of withholding funds. Under current practice, only committee chairmen and vice chairmen are told of such activities.
The White House, in a "statement of administration policy" sent to the Senate on Thursday, questioned the 4 percent reduction in funding that the intelligence committee applied to national intelligence programs and its threat of prohibiting funding for several classified projects pending reports to the panel.
Saying such provisions are "inconsistent with the need for the effective conduct of intelligence activities . . . and legislative-executive comity and cooperation," the policy document said Bush's "senior advisers would recommend he veto the bill" if it retains the provisions.