- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

From combined dispatches

Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch said yesterday that at least two of the chief judges on the secretive court that approves warrants for intelligence surveillance had been informed since 2001 of the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program.

“None raised any objections, as far as I know,” said Mr. Hatch, a Republican member of a Select Committee on Intelligence panel appointed to oversee the NSA’s work.

Meanwhile, the White House, in an abrupt reversal, will allow the full Senate and House intelligence committees to review a surveillance program approved by President Bush, congressional officials said.

Two days before the program was expected to dominate Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden’s Senate hearing on his confirmation as CIA director, the Senate and House intelligence committee chairmen — Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, and Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican — said their full panels would be briefed for the first time on the terrorist surveillance program.

The program, which allows the NSA to eavesdrop on the international phone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens without obtaining warrants, has stirred an outcry among lawmakers, who think Mr. Bush may have overstepped his constitutional authority.

Gen. Hayden was the NSA director from 1999 until last year.

Mr. Hatch made his comment in response to a question in an interview about recent reports of the government compiling lists of Americans’ phone calls. He later suggested that he also was speaking broadly of the administration’s terror-related monitoring.

When asked whether the judges somehow approved the operations, Mr. Hatch said, “That is not their position, but they were informed.”

The court was set up under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act after Congress rewrote key laws in 1978 that govern intelligence collection inside the United States. The 11 members of the court are chosen by the chief justice of the United States.

The FISA court is charged with secretly considering individual warrants for physical searches, wiretaps and traces on phone records when someone is suspected of being an agent of a foreign power and when making the request to a regular court might reveal highly classified information.

Since September 11, the court has been led by U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth and then by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

Mr. Bush was asked yesterday about the reported lists of calls.

“We do not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval,” he said.

Verizon, meanwhile, called into question key points of a USA Today story that has led to wide coverage by other news organizations in the past week.

“Contrary to the media reports, Verizon was not asked by NSA to provide, nor did Verizon provide, customer phone records,” the New York-based phone company said in an e-mail.

A day earlier, BellSouth Corp. said NSA had never requested customer call data, nor had the company provided any.

A story in USA Today on Thursday said Verizon, AT&T; Inc. and BellSouth had complied with an NSA request for tens of millions of customer phone records after the 2001 terror attacks.

USA Today spokesman Steve Anderson said the paper is confident in its coverage but will review the complaints.

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