- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2006

Two Republican senators intend this week to propose competing bills to bring the National Security Agency’s program of warrantless surveillance within the law and under external oversight.

The proposals — from Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Mike DeWine of Ohio — reflect different approaches to the program, but both have been criticized by civil-liberties advocates.

Spokesmen for both senators said yesterday that the bills likely would be published this week.

According to a draft, the bill proposed by Mr. Specter would hand both authorization and day-to-day oversight of the program to the secret court established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which would rule on the constitutionality of the program and review it every 45 days to check that the government has been conducting the surveillance as it said it would.

Administration officials have said the program monitors international electronic communications — such as phone calls, faxes and e-mails — into and out of the United States involving a suspected member or supporter of al Qaeda or an affiliated terrorist group.

The secret court can authorize such surveillance under the 1978 act. But officials have said that the procedures required for a warrant under that law are too cumbersome and that the president has authority to conduct such surveillance under his inherent powers as commander in chief and under the provisions of a congressional resolution in September 2001 authorizing the use of military force against al Qaeda.

Under the National Security Surveillance Act, as Mr. Specter dubs his bill, if the FISA court finds that the spy program is unconstitutional, officials can modify the program and resubmit their application.

Mr. Specter says his bill gives the authority to review the program to the people best qualified to do so — the judges of the FISA court.

“They are experts,” he said yesterday. “Unlike the Congress and the White House, they do not leak.”

The existence of the NSA program was disclosed by the New York Times in December.

The DeWine proposal authorizes the kind of surveillance officials have said is conducted under the program, providing what supporters of the administration see as a statutory framework for the president’s inherent constitutional powers.

But the proposal, according to a fact sheet issued by Mr. DeWine’s office, also would require the administration to seek a warrant under FISA “for any individual target who meets the requirements” for such a warrant.

The DeWine measure would establish a five-year sunset for the program and set up subcommittees of the House and Senate intelligence committees to oversee the program.

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