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February 9, 2006
Stalemate On NSA Program Abating

The standoff between Congress and the White House has apparently started to slowly subside, as members in both houses assuage themselves by drafting new legislation to broaden Congressional oversight on the agency's actions. Meanwhile, a key Democrat admits that the program's reality did not match the hyperbole spouted by its opponents after a White House briefing yesterday:

Responding to congressional pressure from both parties, the White House agreed yesterday to give lawmakers more information about its domestic surveillance program, although the briefings remain highly classified and limited in scope.

Despite the administration's overture, several prominent Republicans said they will pursue legislation enabling Congress to conduct more aggressive oversight of the National Security Agency's warrantless monitoring of Americans' phone calls and e-mails. Recent disclosure of the four-year-old program has alarmed civil libertarians and divided the GOP, with many Republicans defending the operation and others calling for more information and regulation.

Yesterday, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and former NSA director Michael V. Hayden briefed the House intelligence committee, behind closed doors, for nearly four hours. The panel "was given some additional procedural information to provide a fuller understanding of how carefully tailored and monitored this program is," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

The Democrats, of course, initially wanted to hanh Bush from a yardarm over this program, but quickly ran into a problem: the White House had kept key Democratic leaders abreast of the program since its 2001 inception. They then wanted to get the public irate over what they kept calling "domestic spying," but eventually realized that the public thought it reasonable to check on international calls from suspected al-Qaeda terrorists during a war against them. Now they have settled for the most reasonable position yet -- that Congress should have some method of weighing the risk/benefit ratio of warrantless wiretaps, even in a time of war. It may still not meet the terms of the Constitution, but politically it's the most resonant message that Democrats can make.

The White House knows this, which is why they changed their position and decided to fully brief both Intelligence Committees in full, rather than just the leadership as they have done throughout the program. It has already paid dividends, although this hasn't received much attention from the media so far. The AP reported that the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Oversight Committee has publicly stated that the program doesn't represent the Big Brother nightmare that its critics have painted it:

At least one Democrat left saying he had a better understanding of legal and operational aspects of the anti-terrorist surveillance program. But he said he still had a number of questions.

"It's a different program than I was beginning to let myself believe," said Alabama Rep. Bud Cramer, the senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee's oversight subcommittee.

Expect Congress to pass legislation, either through FISA or a new structure, that deals with the collection of intelligence in wartime. As long as impeachment talk stays off the table and Democrats continue exercising a more reasonable tone on the subject, then the White House may play along as long as possible without actually signing it. My prediction will be that in two months, people will have to dig through the archives to even recall why intelligence collection during wartime caused such a stink in the first place.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 9, 2006 7:05 AM

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» Admin briefs Congress on NSA surveillance from Sister Toldjah
Via the WaPo: Responding to congressional pressure from both parties, the White House agreed yesterday to give lawmakers more information about its domestic surveillance program, although the briefings remain highly classified and limited in scope. ... [Read More]

Tracked on February 9, 2006 8:27 AM

» Would You Trust Hillary With the NSA Program? from Stop The ACLU
DNR Online Prior to her talk at Bridgewater College, scheduled for Thursday night, ACLU President Nadine Strossen questioned elements of the Bush administration’s surveillance program by posing an intriguing question. “If Hillary Clinton were p... [Read More]

Tracked on February 9, 2006 8:49 AM

» More Leaks To Come from Flopping Aces
So now it appears Bush has agreed to brief the full Intelligence Committee on the NSA wiretap program: Reversing course, the White House has agreed to brief congressional intelligence committees on highly classified details of President Bush’s co... [Read More]

Tracked on February 9, 2006 2:19 PM


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