Questions for Tony Snow

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, May 12, 2006; 3:39 PM

Tony Snow's first on-camera press briefing Tuesday will now very appropriately be taken up with a grilling about the government's previously secret monster database of domestic phone calls. (An earlier version of this column said Snow's first briefing would be Monday, but he has since postponed it a day.)

Among the innumerable compelling questions surrounding this program: Why was this being kept secret? So the terrorists wouldn't find out -- or so the American people wouldn't find out?

And: Would we know if the government were using this database for more nefarious purposes, such as tracking calls to reporters or political dissenters -- or are we just supposed to trust them?

There are, of course, other topics the media needs to ask the new press secretary about in the coming days. And after I asked for your help in my Tuesday column , you readers provided some excellent suggested questions. I've selected some of my favorites to publish today, further down in the column.

But first, the news.

Trust Them?

Barton Gellman and Arshad Mohammed write in The Washington Post: "Fresh disclosures yesterday in USA Today about the scale of domestic surveillance -- the most extensive yet known involving ordinary citizens and residents -- touched off a bipartisan uproar against a politically weakened President Bush. . . .

"Bush made an unscheduled appearance before White House reporters and sought to shape perceptions about the surveillance while declining to acknowledge that it is taking place. He said that 'the intelligence activities I authorized are lawful,' but specified no source of statutory or constitutional authority. He denied forcefully that his administration is 'mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans,' saying, 'Our efforts are focused on links to al-Qaeda and their known affiliates.' "

Eric Lichtblau and Scott Shane write in the New York Times: "Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike demanded answers from the Bush administration on Thursday about a report that the National Security Agency had collected records of millions of domestic phone calls, even as President Bush assured Americans that their privacy is 'fiercely protected.' . . .

"[M]any Democrats and civil liberties advocates said they were disturbed by the report, invoking images of Big Brother and announcing legislation aimed at reining in the N.S.A.'s domestic operations. Fifty-two members of Congress asked the president to name a special counsel to investigate the N.S.A.'s domestic surveillance programs.

"Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who heads the Judiciary Committee, said the reported data-mining activities raised serious constitutional questions. He said he planned to seek the testimony of telephone company executives."

Susan Page writes in USA Today: "Among the controversies over the database . . . is that it was built without court warrants or the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a panel of federal judges established to issue secret warrants, according to people with direct knowledge of the arrangement. . . .

"Harold Koh, dean of Yale Law School and author of The National Security Constitution, called the scope of the database 'quite shocking.'


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