Friday, January 19, 2007

Administration Digs Deeper Hole Over NSA CATCH ALL Program

The CATCH ALL sleight-of-hand continues:

A day after announcing that it had scrubbed a controversial warrantless surveillance program, the Bush administration refused to provide details to Congress of how a new court-review process for terror-related wiretaps would work, triggering a fresh round of complaints and suspicions from Democrats about what the administration was doing.

At the same time, President Bush and other administration officials indicated that little had changed in the electronic eavesdropping program, originally launched after the Sept. 11 attacks, other than the fact that a court had finally blessed it. ...

Bush said the approval vindicated his position that he was justified in launching the surveillance. "Nothing has changed in the program except the court has said we've analyzed it and it's a legitimate way to protect the country," Bush said in an interview with Tribune Broadcasting.

Pressed during a hearing Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales said the administration had changed the legal justification for the surveillance program but not the essential elements of the operation.

Disputing the suggestion that the warrantless program, run by the National Security Agency, had been "terminated," Gonzales said, "It took us a period of time to develop what we thought would be an acceptable legal argument that would be acceptable to the FISA court."

When asked to explain the legal argument, Gonzales refused. "I don't want to get into a public discussion about the deliberations and work of the court," he said. ...

Government officials familiar with the matter said the Bush administration's negotiations with the FISA court accelerated after Democrats won control of Congress in November.

The officials also said the negotiations centered on securing an agreement that would allow the administration to seek warrants on groups of people in certain circumstances, rather than being required to obtain separate court orders for every individual under suspicion.

One official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said this was the "innovative" new interpretation that Justice officials had described when briefing reporters on the new guidelines.

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