Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wiretapping ... No Longer Illegal Under New Administration

The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee came to the defense of the National Security Agency today, saying that the federal agency didn’t commit flagrant abuses in its program to intercept American’s phone calls and emails — but stopped short of denying that the agency had overstepped its bounds or broken the law.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) responded to comments made by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), chair of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, in a New York Times story, that he was ”increasingly troubled by the agency’s handling of domestic communication.”

The Times reported that the NSA’s “recent intercepts of the private telephone calls and e-mail messages of Americans are broader than previously acknowledged,” and that that there are “legal and logistical difficulties” with the Agency’s monitoring of domestic communications.

The NSA has the “ability to collect and read domestic e-mail messages of Americans on a widespread basis,” the Times said — even though the agency’s mandate is to monitor communications between the U.S. and foreign points.

“Some actions are so flagrant that they can’t be accidental,” Holt told the newspaper.

In a hearing today, Sen. Feinstein said: “Everything that I know so far indicates that the thrust of this story — that there are flagrant actions to collect content of this collection [sic] — just simply is not true to the best of my knowledge.”

According to the Associated Press, Holt is standing by his remarks to the Times. His spokesperson, Zach Goldberg, confirmed today that the House Representative had “nothing to add or retract.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) of the Senate Judiciary Committee criticized Attorney General Eric Holder, for refusing to declare that the warrantless wiretapping program started under the Bush administration is against the law. Holder testified before the committee today.

“I was disappointed by Attorney General Holder’s unwillingness to repeat what both he and President Obama had stated in the past – that President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program was illegal,” Feingold said in a statement. “For an administration that has repeatedly stated its intention to restore the rule of law, this episode was a step backward.

“While the Attorney General restated his belief that the program was inconsistent with the FISA statute, his testimony today, and the administration’s delay in withdrawing the Bush Administration’s legal justifications for the program, are troubling,” Feingold said.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department said it had limited the NSA’s practice of monitoring domestic communications.

Update: In an interview Wednesday with MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, New York Times reporter James Risen expressed doubts as to whether Feinstein is correct in her belief that the NSA is following the law.


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