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Attorney General Promises to Detail Spying Program

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Attorney General Promises to Detail Spying Program


Attorney General Promises to Detail Spying Program

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


I'm Robert Siegel.

And we're going to begin this hour with an ending, a two-week long standoff between the White House and Congress is over. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told Congress today that he will hand over some legal documents describing the administration's domestic surveillance program.

NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO: When Attorney General Gonzales suggested at a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that he might not be able to give Senators the documents they wanted, you could practically see smoke coming out of chairman Patrick Leahy's ears.

PATRICK LEAHY: Are you saying that you might object to the court, giving us decisions that you publicly announced? Little Alice in Wonderland here?

ALBERTO GONZALES: I'm not saying that I have objections it being released. What I'm saying is that not my decision to make. And let me just -

LEAHY: No, but it's the court's decision, isn't it?

SHAPIRO: Speaking on the Senate floor today, Leahy sounded much happier.

LEAHY: I believe in this case, the president has taken the right first step, and I commend him for it.

SHAPIRO: This controversy emerged after the Justice Department made a dramatic announcement two weeks ago. The attorney general said the National Security Agency's controversial domestic surveillance program would henceforth have court oversight. The irony is that justice officials thought the announcement would make Congress happy. After all, lawmakers had been demanding court oversight of the program for the last year.

But when Congress asked to see the court paperwork and the Justice Department resisted, lawmakers, including Pennsylvania Republican Senator Arlen Specter, were not happy. Specter called today's announcement a significant step forward for civil liberties.

ARLEN SPECTER: My own view is that there ought to be the maximum disclosure to the public, consistent with national security procedures.

SHAPIRO: Attorney General Gonzales says the documents contained classified information that cannot be released to the public. He told reporters today it's never been the case where we said we would never provide access. We obviously would be concerned about how the public disclosure may jeopardize the national security of our country. But we're working with Congress to provide the information that it needs.

Congress is going to get copies of the Justice Department's warrant applications to the court, and copies of the judges' opinion that let the spying program go forward. Privacy advocates hope that these documents can begin to answer some of the questions they have had.

For example, did the court grant blanket authorization for the wiretapping program as a whole, or did it grant permission to wiretap specific individuals? Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies says it looks to her like the Justice Department is just dribbling out as little as it can get away with.

KATE MARTIN: What the administration is doing is the kind of classic well, I give you a little piece of it, and now trying to get people to go away.

SHAPIRO: Senator Leahy gave no indication that he intends to go away. He said I look forward to reviewing the court's orders, and then deciding what further oversight or legislative action is necessary.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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