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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Democrats say they never approved NSA domestic spying program
Jeannie Shawl at 8:39 AM ET

[JURIST] Top Senate Democrats have said that they never approved or were fully briefed on the National Security Agency's post-September 11th domestic surveillance program [JURIST report]. President Bush has vigorously defended the program, which monitors international communications of people in the US with known links to al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations, and in a press conference [transcript] Monday, Bush said that "Leaders in the United States Congress have been briefed more than a dozen times on this program." In a handwritten letter [PDF text] to Vice President Cheney following a Senate Intelligence Committee [official website] briefing in July 2003, vice chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) wrote that he felt "unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse, these activities." Rockefeller wrote that the briefing "exacerbat[ed] my concern regarding the direction the Administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveillance." Former Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), who also sat on the Intelligence Committee, has said he didn't recall briefings on program spying on US residents. Both former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle and his successor, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), have both said they had been briefed on the NSA program, but that key details about the program's scope were not shared.

Reid has called for a congressional investigation [JURIST report] into the NSA program, and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website], has said that his committee will hold hearings next year. Bush and other top administration officials have insisted that the program is legal and that Bush's authority to authorize the domestic wiretaps without a warrant is derived both from his inherent powers as commander-in-chief and a 2001 congressional resolution [PDF text] authorizing the use of force against al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Gen. Michael Hayden, director of the NSA when the program began, held a press briefing [transcript] Monday further elaborating the administration's legal justifications for the program. AP has more.

1:48 PM ET - Both Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday called for an immediate joint investigation [press release] with the Senate Judiciary Committee into whether the NSA and government officials acted "without appropriate legal authority." Reuters has more.

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