NSA Stymies Justice Dept. Spying Probe
By DEVLIN BARRETT, Associated Press Writer Thu May 11,
6:59 AM ET
WASHINGTON - The government has abruptly ended an
inquiry into the warrantless eavesdropping program
because the National Security Agency refused to grant
Justice Department lawyers the necessary security
clearance to probe the matter.
The Justice Department's Office of Professional
Responsibility, or OPR, sent a fax to Rep. Maurice
Hinchey (news, bio, voting record), D-N.Y., on
Wednesday saying they were closing their inquiry
because without clearance their lawyers cannot examine
Justice lawyers' role in the program.
"We have been unable to make any meaningful progress
in our investigation because OPR has been denied
security clearances for access to information about
the NSA program," OPR counsel H. Marshall Jarrett
wrote to Hinchey. Hinchey's office shared the letter
with The Associated Press.
Jarrett wrote that beginning in January, his office
has made a series of requests for the necessary
clearances. Those requests were denied Tuesday.
"Without these clearances, we cannot investigate this
matter and therefore have closed our investigation,"
Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the
terrorist surveillance program "has been subject to
extensive oversight both in the executive branch and
in Congress from the time of its inception."
Roehrkasse noted the OPR's mission is not to
investigate possible wrongdoing in other agencies, but
to determine if Justice Department lawyers violated
any ethical rules. He declined to comment when asked
if the end of the inquiry meant the agency believed
its lawyers had handled the wiretapping matter
Hinchey is one of many House Democrats who have been
highly critical of the domestic eavesdropping program
first revealed in December. He said lawmakers would
push to find out who at the NSA denied the Justice
Department lawyers security clearance.
"This administration thinks they can just violate any
law they want, and they've created a culture of fear
to try to get away with that. It's up to us to stand
up to them," said Hinchey.
In February, the OPR announced it would examine the
conduct of its own agency's lawyers in the program,
though they were not authorized to investigate NSA
Bush's decision to authorize the largest U.S. spy
agency to monitor people inside the United States,
without warrants, generated a host of questions about
the program's legal justification.
The administration has vehemently defended the
eavesdropping, saying the NSA's activities were
narrowly targeted to intercept international calls and
e-mails of Americans and others inside the U.S. with
suspected ties to the al-Qaida terror network.
Separately, the Justice Department sought last month
to dismiss a federal lawsuit accusing the telephone
company AT&T of colluding with the Bush
administration's warrantless wiretapping program.
The lawsuit, brought by an Internet privacy group,
does not name the government as a defendant, but the
Department of Justice has sought to quash the lawsuit,
saying it threatens to expose government and military
On the Net:
Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility:
National Security Agency: http://www.nsa.gov/home_html.cfm