- The Washington Times - Monday, August 5, 2013

Even if the weekend’s intelligence warnings about the threat of terrorist attacks in the Middle East came from electronic eavesdropping abroad by the National Security Agency, that would not ease congressional opposition to the NSA’s mass collection of domestic phone records, lawmakers from both parties said Monday.

One Republican congressman said he doubts the NSA’s domestic program had anything to do with the warnings that shut down U.S. embassies in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

“As far as I understand, [the warnings] came from foreign sources, not from this huge [NSA] database of domestic phone records,” said Rep. H. Morgan Griffith, Virginia Republican.

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He accused the Obama administration of blurring the line between foreign eavesdropping, which has long been the NSA’s job, and domestic data-gathering that began after the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide hijackings, amid fears of terrorist sleeper cells and al Qaeda infiltration into the United States.

“The administration has tried to make it appear that these programs rely on one another,” Mr. Griffith said. “They don’t.”

Rep. Steve Cohen, Tennessee Democrat and another critic of the NSA’s domestic activities, said NSA defenders claimed the warnings justified the domestic spying program.

But Mr. Cohen said he doubted that the revelations would shift the political terrain, especially with Congress on a five-week summer recess.

“We’re gone for 40 days, and lot can happen before we get back,” he said.

Mr. Cohen said his constituents are concerned about the risk of abuse of domestic intelligence gathering.

“It’s the Nixons and Hoovers of the future” they were worried about, he said, referring to the secrecy-obsessed President Nixon and longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

Even before the intelligence warnings were disclosed over the weekend, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said last week that he was not convinced the program was effective.

“I’ve read all the classified material [and] they have not proven to me that it makes us safer,” he told C-SPAN TV’s “Newsmakers.”

A committee aide said in a statement that Mr. Leahy “continues to believe that Congressional review [of the programs] is necessary.”

Mr. Griffith said that in the six weeks since Edward Snowden revealed the existence of two vast data-gathering programs run by the NSA, he had written four times to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. In each letter, he asked to see various classified court documents outlining the legal reasoning underpinning the programs.

He was especially concerned about the legal basis for the NSA’s vast domestic database with records of every telephone call made in America for the past five years.

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