A senior FBI agent is charging that the National Security Agency under the Bush administration considered wiretapping a member of Congress without a warrant, according to The New York Times.
The allegation, buried in a story discussing allegedly illegal surveillance of American domestic phone calls, sparked a guessing game in Washington Thursday because the article only hints at the identity of the lawmaker.
The reason the NSA considered tapping the lawmaker is made clear in the article: the congressman -- part of a delegation to the Middle East in 2005 or 2006 -- was in contact with an extremist already on the agency's watch list.
Apparently the idea was nixed when agency officials decided it might not be a great idea to spy on a member of Congress, particularly without court oversight.
So far, though, no one has identified the member of Congress, though many blogs are combing through itineraries to come up with a short list of candidates.
The Justice Department says it has modified electronic surveillance by the NSA after discovering the agency had accessed American domestic phone calls and e-mails improperly, according to a report in the Associated Press and other news sources.
According to the Times, some intelligence officials revealed that the NSA had been engaged in “over-collection” of domestic communications of Americans. They went on to describe the practice as “significant and systemic -- although one official said it was believed to have been unintentional,” according to the Times.
That issue of whether the trespasses were intentional or not hinged on technical problems in the NSA’s ability to consistently distinguish between communications inside the U.S. and those overseas -- as it tapped U.S. telecommunications companies’ fiber-optic lines, as well as its own fleet of spy satellites to intercept millions of calls and e-mails.
In its statement released Wed. night, the Justice Department said it has taken “comprehensive steps to correct the situation and bring the program into compliance.” The agency, however, did not reveal any details of the overhaul.
The Justice Department further stated that issues with the NSA program were uncovered as Justice and NSA were conducting routine oversight of intelligence activities to ensure compliance with laws and court orders, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
After reportedly instituting new safeguards, Attorney General Eric Holder has sought court approval to renew the NSA program.
Meanwhile, the House intelligence committee, which has oversight over the NSA was informed of the compliance issues and is conducting an inquiry, a House congressional official told the Times.
In 2005, the New York Times revealed that for years following 9/11, the NSA intercepted international phone conversations and e-mails involving U.S. citizens without a warrant.
That aggressive program was halted in 2007. The following year Congress passed legislation requiring the NSA to get court approval to monitor the purely domestic communications of Americans who came under suspicion.
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