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Spy chief reveals classified details about surveillance to EP Times

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  • Greg Cannon
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    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 22 9:05 PM
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      Spy chief reveals classified details about
      surveillance
      By Katherine Shrader / Associated Press Writer
      Article Launched: 08/22/2007 02:27:42 PM MDT

      WASHINGTON -- National Intelligence Director Mike
      McConnell pulled the curtain back on previously
      classified details of government surveillance and of a
      secretive court whose recent rulings created new
      hurdles for the Bush administration as it tries to
      prevent terrorism.

      During an interview with the El Paso Times last week,
      McConnell made comments that raised eyebrows for their
      frank discussion of previously classified
      eavesdropping work conducted under the Foreign
      Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA.

      A transcript was posted online on Wednesday:

      # McConnell confirmed for the first time that the
      private sector assisted with President Bush's
      warrantless surveillance program. AT&T, Verizon and
      other telecommunications companies are being sued for
      their cooperation. "Now if you play out the suits at
      the value they're claimed, it would bankrupt these
      companies," McConnell said, arguing that they deserve
      immunity for their help.

      # He provided new details on court rulings handed down
      by the 11-member Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
      Court, which approves classified eavesdropping
      operations and whose proceedings are almost always
      entirely secret. McConnell said a ruling that went
      into effect May 31 required the government to get
      court warrants to monitor communications between two
      foreigners if the conversation travels on a wire in
      the U.S. network. Millions of calls each day do,
      because of the robust nature of the U.S. systems.

      # McConnell said it takes 200 hours to assemble a FISA
      warrant on a single telephone number. "We're going
      backwards," he said. "We couldn't keep up."

      # Offering never-disclosed figures, McConnell also
      revealed that fewer than 100 people inside the United
      States are monitored under FISA warrants. However, he
      said, thousands of people overseas are monitored.

      Even as he shed new light on the classified
      operations, McConnell asserted that the current debate
      in Congress about whether to update the Foreign
      Intelligence Surveillance Act will cost American lives
      because of all the information it revealed to
      terrorists.

      "Part of this is a classified world. The fact that
      we're doing it this way means that some Americans are
      going to die," he said.

      McConnell was in El Paso, Texas, last week for a
      conference on border security hosted by House
      Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas. The
      spy chief joined Reyes for an interview at his local
      paper.

      McConnell appeared days after Congress passed a
      temporary law to expand the government's ability to
      monitor suspects in national security investigations
      -- terrorists, spies and others -- without first
      seeking court approval in certain cases. The highly
      contentious measure expires in six months.

      After Sept. 11, Bush authorized the terrorist
      surveillance program to monitor conversations between
      people in the United States and others overseas when
      terrorism is suspected. Until January, no warrants
      were required. But as the Democratic Congress took
      over, the Bush administration decided to bring the
      program under the oversight of the FISA court.

      McConnell said the court initially ruled that the
      program was appropriate and legitimate. But when the
      ruling had to be renewed in the spring, another judge
      saw the operations differently. This judge, who
      McConnell did not identify, decided that the
      government needed a warrant to monitor a conversation
      between foreigners when the signal traveled on a wire
      in the U.S. communications network.

      McConnell said the government got a temporary stay on
      the ruling, but it expired at the end of May. "After
      the 31st of May, we were in extremis because now we
      have significantly less capability," he said.

      At the same time, the intelligence community was
      wrapping up years of work on a National Intelligence
      Estimate on threats to the homeland -- an analysis
      that is considered its most comprehensive judgment. It
      found the threat was increasing, McConnell noted.

      Because he sees FISA as a major tool to keep
      terrorists out of the country, McConnell said he
      pressed Congress to change the law.

      McConnell's interview raised concerns at the Justice
      Department, where senior officials questioned whether
      the intelligence chief had overstepped in discussing
      the secret FISA court.

      Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse referred
      questions to McConnell's office, where his spokesman
      Ross Feinstein declined to comment.

      In a phone interview, Michigan Rep. Peter Hoekstra
      said he never felt at liberty to discuss some of the
      information that McConnell did, including the FISA
      court rulings, but the executive branch gets to decide
      what is classified. "What I think it tells you is how
      important they believe it is to get this FISA thing
      done right," said Hoekstra, the top Republican on the
      House Intelligence Committee.

      He said McConnell is hurt by the personal attacks on
      him during the FISA recent debate. Among them,
      Democrats have alleged that he negotiated in bad faith
      and was too beholden to the White House.

      In addition, Hoekstra said he thinks McConnell wanted
      to push back on accusations that the legislation gave
      the attorney general unprecedented new powers. "I
      think they felt they had to become more public," he
      said.

      Associated Press Writer Lara Jakes Jordan contributed
      to this report.
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