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Bush: Congress Must Update US Foreign Surveillance Provisions


President Bush is urging Congress to update the law governing U.S. intelligence services when they eavesdrop on suspected terrorists. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from the White House.

President Bush has again called on Congress to approve legislation overhauling the 1970s era Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to reflect new technological realities as well as today's national security threats.

"The act needs to be modernized, so that all of us engaged in protecting the American people can say 'we have the tools we need to protect you," said Mr. Bush.

Mr. Bush was speaking at FBI headquarters after a meeting with his intelligence and counterterrorism team. He said that Congress, which is preparing for its annual August vacation, must remain in session until it approves the FISA legislation.

Administration officials say that FISA, which requires a secret court to review and approve certain forms of surveillance, was crafted prior to today's era of instant global communications via cell phones and the Internet. In addition, they say it imposes bureaucratic roadblocks that impede the collection of vital national security information.

Of particular concern are instances of eavesdropping on telephone conversations involving non-U.S. citizens that are routed through America's telecommunications network. The administration says that surveillance of conversations involving foreigners, even if transmitted through U.S. networks, should not require review by the FISA court.

On Thursday, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell said the administration would agree to a court review of such surveillance, but only after the eavesdropping had begun.

Opposition Democrats, who control both houses of the U.S. Congress, agree that FISA needs to be updated. But they have expressed reservations about expanding surveillance authority for a president they believe has trampled on basic civil liberties since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Some Democrats have objected to an administration proposal to grant expanded surveillance approval authority to the U.S. attorney general, temporarily sidestepping the need for a FISA court warrant.

The president says, whether he signs legislation will depend on the response he gets to a question he will pose to his director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell.

"Does this legislation give you what you need to prevent an attack on the country? That is the question I am going to ask. And if the answer is yes, I will sign the bill. And if the answer is no, I am going to veto the bill," he added.

Earlier Friday, President Bush signed a bill to implement recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission that examined pitfalls in America's national security exposed by the terrorist attack.

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