New info provided by NSA

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WASHINGTON (AP) – After five months of resistance, the Bush administration provided new information to Congress on the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping Wednesday, hoping to help the architect of the controversial operations secure a new job as CIA chief.

Gen. Michael Hayden, who ran the NSA before becoming the nation’s No. 2 intelligence official last year, faces what will undoubtedly be the toughest public questioning of his 37-year government career at Thursday’s Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing.

President Bush chose Hayden earlier this month to replace Porter Goss as director of the beleaguered CIA.

Hayden has come under fire in recent months for his stewardship of surveillance programs that he and others in the Bush administration say have helped stop terror attacks. Democrats and privacy advocates have questioned the price to civil liberties.

For the first time on Wednesday, the administration briefed the full House and Senate intelligence committees on the NSA’s no-warrant surveillance program. National Intelligence Director John Negroponte also declassified a list of 30 congressional briefings that have been held since NSA began the program after Sept. 11, 2001.

Until Wednesday, the sessions had never included more than a dozen members at any given meeting, with 31 members briefed in all since the surveillance program began in October 2001, according to the newly declassified list.

The Senate committee chairman, Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said it had become apparent that his entire committee needed to understand the NSA program before holding the hearing on Hayden, the NSA head from 1999 until 2005. “There was no way we could fulfill our collective constitutional responsibilities without that knowledge,” Roberts said.

Wednesday’s classified briefings were certain to have focused on efforts to monitor domestic calls when one participant is overseas and suspected of terrorism. But new questions also have emerged in the past week about the NSA’s efforts to analyze records of the telephone calls of ordinary Americans.

USA Today reported last week that three of the four major phone companies provided information on the calling records of millions of Americans. Two of the companies – Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. – have since disputed key assertions that they provided vast amounts of customer data to the NSA.

In an interview, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., a former FBI agent and intelligence committee member, said: “I can assure you there are no customer records involved. None.” But he would not elaborate on the briefings he received.

“I think it was inaccurately reported and completely overblown about what is and what isn’t available to the NSA,” he said.

A former official familiar with NSA procedures, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that since the 1970s the agency has made sure that when its systems collect information that is not relevant to foreign intelligence investigations no person can access it or use it in an inappropriate way.

The official said any information used by the agency would have been traced back to terror suspects or their associates, not information about Americans making doctor appointments or ordering pizzas.

Suggesting computers do the analysis, the official said, “No human being would ever look at the record.”

Democrats, however, aren’t yet sure. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said this week there are serious privacy concerns about the program. If the government maintains a database of Americans’ calls, he said, “that has got to be addressed.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said his Wednesday session gave “new meaning to the concept known as a cram course.”

West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the intelligence committee’s top Democrat, wrote Hayden Wednesday to lay out concerns regarding the general’s independence from the Bush administration, given his aggressive defense of the decision to conduct the warrantless monitoring.

“It is of the utmost importance that officials of the intelligence community avoid even the appearance of politicization, and that its senior leaders set an example,” wrote Rockefeller, who will miss Hayden’s hearing while recovering from back surgery.

He said he hoped Hayden would also explain how he plans to repair the CIA, which is struggling to find its footing after the 2004 overhaul law to reorganize the spy community. Rockefeller wants to be sure the Pentagon and CIA are adequately coordinating their classic spy operations, in which the Defense Department is taking an increasingly large role.

And Rockefeller wants better Iran intelligence. “The CIA, and the intelligence community as a whole, needs to be better positioned,” he said.



Associated Press writer Elizabeth White contributed to this report.

AP-ES-05-17-06 1729EDT


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