- The Washington Times - Friday, February 17, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A federal judge yesterday ordered the Bush administration to release documents about its warrantless surveillance program or spell out what it is withholding, a setback to efforts to keep the program under wraps.

Meanwhile yesterday, the Republican chairman of the Senate intelligence committee said he had worked out a deal with the White House to consider legislation and provide more information to Congress on the program.

U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy ruled that a private group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, will suffer irreparable harm if the documents it has been seeking since December are not processed promptly under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

He gave the Justice Department (DOJ) 20 days to respond to the group’s request.

“President Bush has invited meaningful debate about the wireless surveillance program,” Judge Kennedy said. “That can only occur if DOJ processes its FOIA requests in a timely fashion and releases the information sought.”

Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said the department has been “extremely forthcoming” with information and “will continue to meet its obligations under FOIA.”

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers also have been seeking more information about the program that lets the National Security Agency eavesdrop on international calls and e-mails that it suspects are linked to al Qaeda.

After a two-hour closed-door session, Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, said the committee adjourned without voting on whether to open an investigation.

Instead, he and the White House confirmed that they had an agreement to give lawmakers more information on the nature of the program.

The White House also has committed to make changes to the current law, said Mr. Roberts and White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino.

“I believe that such an investigation at this point … would be detrimental to this highly classified program and efforts to reach some accommodation with the administration,” Mr. Roberts said.

Still, he promised to consider the Democratic request for a vote in a March 7 meeting.


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