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Rep. Reyes talks about surveillance rule changes

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.elpasotimes.com/ci_6961895 Rep. Reyes talks about surveillance rule changes By Chris Roberts / El Paso Times Article Launched: 09/21/2007 02:47:09
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 21, 2007
      http://www.elpasotimes.com/ci_6961895

      Rep. Reyes talks about surveillance rule changes
      By Chris Roberts / El Paso Times
      Article Launched: 09/21/2007 02:47:09 PM MDT

      Changes to a foreign surveillance act some say gives
      the Bush administration unchecked power to spy on U.S.
      citizens are now being considered by the House
      Intelligence Committee, the committee's chairman said
      today.

      In about two weeks, staff will make recommendations
      for changes to the Protect America Act, which was
      signed by President Bush in August, said Rep.
      Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, the committee chairman.

      Supporters of the act say it provides the proper
      protections to citizens' civil rights while making it
      easier to gather information on foreign terrorists who
      are plotting to attack the United States with the
      intention of creating mass casualties.

      Reyes said the legislation "alters the precious
      balance between liberty and security in an unnecessary
      and dangerous way," at the start of a Thursday hearing
      in Washington, D.C. It was the last in a four-month
      stretch of hearings that included testimony from such
      people as former attorneys general John Ashcroft and
      Alberto Gonzales.

      Reyes said the administration is essentially asking
      the U.S. public to trust that it won't abuse the power
      that was granted in the act. It requires very little
      outside oversight of actual surveillance, Reyes said.
      Administration officials have pointed to Justice
      Department opinions and presidential executive orders
      they say set a framework that will protect citizens'
      right to privacy.

      But those opinions and orders can quickly and
      unilaterally be changed, Reyes said. They don't "have
      to notify Congress, so it can be secretly done," he
      said.

      Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, who
      testified to the committee on Thursday, asked Congress
      to consider providing even broader powers, allowing
      more administration officials to sign foreign
      surveillance certifications and extending the time
      allowed between the initiation of surveillance and the
      need to get court approval from 72 hours to one week.

      Surveillance of communication from one foreign person
      to another requires no court action.

      McConnell also reiterated his opinion that using a
      technique called "reverse targeting" is illegal. He
      was referring to a practice - which some say is
      technically allowed by the act - that targets a
      foreign person but is actually aimed at getting
      information on a person contacted within the United
      States. He said the technique would be "ineffective"
      because it would restrict the intelligence community's
      ability to obtain the full range of information on
      that U.S. person.

      Regarding oversight of surveillance activity,
      McConnell said in his opening statement that the
      administration was "committed to conducting meaningful
      oversight of the authorities provided by the Protect
      America Act. ... Intelligence oversight and the
      responsibility to minimize U.S. person information is
      deeply ingrained in (the intelligence community's)
      culture."

      However, Reyes said today that he is not reassured.

      As an example, he points to the fact that he and
      Michigan Republican Peter Hoekstra, the committee's
      ranking member, asked for documents - including legal
      opinions and directives from the Justice Department,
      the White House and the Director National Intelligence
      - four months ago and the administration still has not
      complied.

      Reyes also said the administration has been "overly
      cautious" in the way it presents requests to the
      secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court, a
      group of federal judges who review surveillance
      requests involving people in the United States. He
      said the administration, in some cases, is creating
      its own problems and then blaming them on the Foreign
      Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, that preceded
      the Protect America Act.

      The Protect America Act was passed as lawmakers
      frantically negotiated revisions to FISA before a
      recess earlier this year. There was a consensus that
      certain things needed to be changed because of changes
      in technology, but the White House kept rejecting
      compromises, Reyes said. He said administration
      officials, including McConnell, "strong-armed" the
      White House's version of the act through Congress,
      whose members were concerned that leaving it as it was
      would make the country vulnerable.

      Chris Roberts may be reached at
      chrisr@...; 546-6136.
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