By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
The Bush administration plans to leave oversight of its expanded foreign eavesdropping program to the same government officials who supervise the surveillance activities and to the intelligence personnel who carry them out, senior government officials said yesterday.
The law, which permits intercepting Americans' calls and e-mails without a warrant if the communications involve overseas transmission, gives Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales responsibility for creating the broad procedures determining whose telephone calls and e-mails are collected. It also gives McConnell and Gonzales the role of assessing compliance with those procedures.
The law, signed Sunday by President Bush after being pushed through the Senate and House over the weekend, does not contain provisions for outside oversight -- unlike an earlier House measure that called for audits every 60 days by the Justice Department's inspector general.
In a conference call with reporters yesterday, officials familiar with the program said they had not worked out all the details of internal oversight, noting that the law was only a day old. But the officials, who spoke to reporters on the condition that they not be identified, said surveillance activities would require a sworn certificate and affidavit, which would be reviewed for accuracy by inspectors general from the Justice Department or intelligence agencies.
Congress would be briefed on the activities, said the officials, who noted that the House and Senate intelligence committees have been given repeated classified briefings on the controversial eavesdropping program, commonly referred to as the terrorist surveillance program. "We're going to want to make sure the committees are kept informed," one official said.
The controversial changes to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act were approved by both chambers of the Democratic-controlled Congress despite privacy concerns raised by Democratic leaders and civil liberties advocacy groups. The measure must be renewed in 180 days or the changes will expire.
Central to the new program is the collection of foreign intelligence from "communication service providers," which the officials declined to identify, citing secrecy concerns. During congressional debates last week, however, both Republicans and Democrats referred to global communication networks that route foreign phone calls and e-mails through wires, cables and switching stations owned by U.S. companies and located on U.S. soil.
Under the new law, the attorney general is required to draw up the governing procedures for surveillance activity, for approval by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which supervises the warrantless collection of eavesdropping inside the United States when it involves foreign intelligence.
Once the procedures are established, the attorney general and director of national intelligence will formally certify that the collection of data is authorized -- a determination based on affidavits from intelligence officials. But the certification will be placed under seal "unless the certification is necessary to determine the legality of the acquisition," according to the law signed by Bush.
It is left to the director of national intelligence and the attorney general to "assess compliance with such procedures" and report their assessments to the House and Senate intelligence panels, the statute states.
Gonzalez is also required to provide semiannual reports to the House and Senate intelligence and Judiciary committees, which are to include any accounts of abuse or noncompliance that Justice and intelligence officials discover in their internal reviews.
Staff writer Joby Warrick contributed to this report.