- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Members of the Senate intelligence panel spent hours behind closed doors yesterday getting details, some for the first time, on the Bush administration’s terrorist surveillance program.

The briefing was held in advance of today’s confirmation hearing for Central Intelligence Agency director nominee Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who was the architect of the politically explosive secret program of monitoring domestic communications for possible terrorism connections.

“The threat has changed, our technology has changed and even as we speak we have al Qaeda planning attacks on the United States,” said Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican. “The more people that know about the details of this program … the more helpful that will be in defense of the program.”

Senators would not disclose the particulars of the briefing, given by National Security Agency Director Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander. Mr. Roberts said the discussion allowed members to move past the “very awkward” position of having just half the committee familiar with the program.

Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan said informing all members leads to a more “rational” discussion at the hearings.

National Intelligence Director John D. Negroponte yesterday released a list of 30 congressional briefings that have been held since the NSA began the program after the September 11 terrorist attacks. It showed 31 of the 535 voting members of Congress have been “briefed in” to the program.

The House intelligence panel received the same NSA briefing.

Without getting into specifics, Mr. Roberts said newspapers have printed misinformation about the top-secret program, which he said has prevented terrorist attacks.

The briefings occurred in the week after a USA Today report that several major phone companies gave NSA information on calls made by millions of citizens. The program had previously been characterized as the monitoring of domestic calls made to terror suspects abroad.

Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, said he wants Gen. Hayden to reconcile statements he previously made in defense of the NSA program with the information senators learned yesterday.

“This is the time when credibility is going to be absolutely key,” he said. “The American people have got to know that when the CIA says something that you’re getting a full portrayal of what’s going on.”

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the panel, asked that Gen. Hayden address leaks of top secret information and his strategy for rebuilding the beleaguered CIA. Mr. Rockefeller also said he wants to make sure Gen. Hayden will act independently of the president.

In the weeks since his nomination, some panel members and congressional leaders have questioned whether a military man should be running the civilian agency.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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