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[infowar.de] SFG 11.04.07: McConnell Seeks to Boost U.S. Spy Powers
McConnell Seeks to Boost U.S. Spy Powers
By KATHERINE SHRADER, Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
(04-11) 04:55 PDT WASHINGTON, (AP) --
President Bush's spy chief is pushing to expand the government's
surveillance authority at the same time the administration is under attack
for stretching its domestic eavesdropping powers.
National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell has circulated a draft bill
that would expand the government's powers under the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act, liberalizing how that law can be used.
Known as "FISA," the 1978 law was passed to allow surveillance in espionage
and other foreign intelligence investigations, but still allow federal
judges on a secretive panel to ensure protections for U.S. citizens at
home or abroad and other permanent U.S. residents.
The changes McConnell is seeking mostly affect a cloak-and-dagger category
of warrants used to investigate suspected spies, terrorists and other
national security threats. The court-approved surveillance could include
planting listening devices and hidden cameras, searching luggage and
breaking into homes to make copies of computer hard drives.
McConnell, who took over the 16 U.S. spy agencies and their 100,000
employees less than three months ago, is signaling a more aggressive
posture for his office and will lay out his broad priorities on Wednesday
as part of a 100-day plan.
The retired Navy vice admiral recently met with leaders at the National
Security Agency, Justice Department and other agencies to learn more about
the rules they operate under and what ties their hands, according to
officials familiar with the discussions and McConnell's proposals. The
officials described them on condition that they not be identified because
the plans are still being developed.
According to officials familiar with the draft changes to FISA, McConnell
_Give the NSA the power to monitor foreigners without seeking FISA court
approval, even if the surveillance is conducted by tapping phones and
e-mail accounts in the United States.
"Determinations about whether a court order is required should be based on
considerations about the target of the surveillance, rather than the
particular means of communication or the location from which the
surveillance is being conducted," NSA Director Keith Alexander told the
Senate last year.
_Clarify the standards the FBI and NSA must use to get court orders for
basic information about calls and e-mails such as the number dialed,
e-mail address, or time and date of the communications. Civil liberties
advocates contend the change will make it too easy for the government to
access this information.
_Triple the life span of a FISA warrant for a non-U.S. citizen from 120
days to one year, allowing the government to monitor much longer without
checking back in with a judge.
_Give telecommunications companies immunity from civil liability for their
cooperation with Bush's terrorist surveillance program. Pending lawsuits
against companies including Verizon and AT&T allege they violated privacy
laws by giving phone records to the NSA for the program.
_Extend from 72 hours to one week the amount of time the government can
conduct surveillance without a court order in emergencies.
McConnell, Alexander and a senior Justice Department official will appear
at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on April 17 to discuss whether
to amend the FISA law. Chad Kolton, McConnell's spokesman, declined to
comment on the director's proposals.
Government officials have been publicly and privately discussing changes to
FISA since last year. A senior intelligence official said the goal is to
update the law to ensure Americans' constitutional protection against
unreasonable search and seizure, while improving use of government
resources to pursue threats against U.S. interests.
Critics question whether the changes are needed and worry about what the
Bush administration has in store, given a rash of allegations about
domestic surveillance and abuse of power. "Congress should certainly be
very skeptical about proposals to give this government greater powers to
spy on its own citizens," said Caroline Fredrickson, the Washington
legislative office director for the American Civil Liberties Union.
The proposed changes to domestic surveillance would be so broad that "you
have basically done away with the protections of the FISA," said Kate
Martin, head of the Center for National Security Studies.
Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., who unsuccessfully sponsored legislation last
year to update FISA, said Congress must act because current court orders
bolstering the president's terrorist surveillance program are legally
shaky. She wants the law to be rewritten to ensure the NSA can continue the
Bush has faced months of criticism for his 2001 decision to order the NSA
to monitor the international calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens when
terrorism is suspected. More recently, the Justice Department and FBI have
been sharply rebuked for bad bookkeeping and other mistakes involving their
powers under the USA Patriot Act to secretly demand Americans' e-mail,
financial and other personal records through so-called national security
letters. Top government officials have tried to dampen the outrage by
promising accountability and have argued that the letters are essential
tools to protect against terror threats.
McConnell hinted at his discomfort with current laws last week during a
speech before an audience of government executives, saying he worries that
current laws and regulations prevent intelligence agencies from using all
of their capabilities to protect the nation.
"That's the big challenge going forward," he said, acknowledging changes
would require significant congressional debate.
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