Pressure continues to build in Congress for changes to a three-decade-old law that critics accuse President Bush of violating when he approved efforts to spy on communications between people in the United States and those abroad. The president approved the spy operations in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
In testimony before Congress this week, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez defended what the Bush administration calls the Terrorism Surveillance Program, its effort to prevent any more terrorist attacks against the United States.
The attorney general said the program is necessary, lawful, and respects civil liberties.
But many lawmakers continue to have deep reservations about the justifications President Bush and others have provided for the program, particularly its wiretapping, without court authorization, of some communications between the United States and overseas.
Republican Congresswoman Heather Wilson says it's time for the House Intelligence Committee to conduct an investigation into the Terrorist Surveillance Program. "I believe, as I have believed all along, we have to start from the facts, and the place to get those facts is in the House Intelligence Committee. The checks and balances in our system of government are very important, and it is those checks and balances that are going on and being executed now," he said.
Heading a subcommittee of the House intelligence panel, Wilson says she will not draw any conclusions about the legality of the program until all the facts are known.
In a published interview with the New York Times, she said she had serious concerns based in part on the administration's withholding of information from lawmakers.
Until now, only eight key members of the House and Senate intelligence committees had received briefings from the administration about the effort to tap communications between suspected radicals in the United States and those overseas.
Now, additional members of both committees are meeting with Attorney General Gonzales and General Michael Hayden, a former head of the National Security Agency.
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Peter Hoekstra, said [Wednesday] the briefings cover legal aspects of the program.
However, Congresswoman Wilson said the White House later agreed to expand the scope of the briefings to include some operational details.
There is also accelerating momentum for revising the 1978 law called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which critics accuse President Bush of violating when he approved the wiretapping on the communications overseas after the September 11 (2001) attacks.
Congresswoman Wilson says the 1978 law has become dated, due to technological changes such as the Internet, and may not provide authorities waging the war on terrorism the kind of flexibility they require. "We need to make sure that our statute keeps pace with technology so that our intelligence agencies have the ability to do their job and keep us safe. Our committee, the Intelligence Committee will review the FISA act, look at what needs to be updated, and introduce legislation to make changes," he said.
Congresswoman Wilson responded in the negative when asked if she has been able to determine from briefings so far if the surveillance program has been successful in preventing new terrorist attacks.