Feinstein Launches Probe on NSA Wiretapping

Posted April 16, 2009 at 10:16am

The Senate Intelligence Committee is launching an investigation into a New York Times report that the National Security Agency overstepped its authority to conduct surveillance of U.S. citizens through the use of domestic wiretaps.

Committee Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced the inquiry Thursday morning to investigate allegations that NSA’s activities have gone beyond what Congress intended to intercept citizens’ phone calls, e-mails and other communications. The allegations, first reported by the New York Times, also include charges that in at least one instance NSA attempted to wiretap the phone call of an unidentified Member of Congress traveling abroad.

“These are serious allegations, and we will make sure we get the facts,— Feinstein said, adding that “The Committee is looking into this, and we will hold a hearing on this subject within one month.—

According to the report in Thursday’s New York Times, the NSA attempted to conduct a wiretap on an unidentified lawmaker’s telephone conversations without a court order during a trip to the Middle East in 2005 or 2006. The NSA claimed the Member may have been in contact with “an extremist who had possible terrorist ties and was already under surveillance,— according to the newspaper.

Although the plan to conduct surveillance on the lawmaker was ultimately dropped, the allegations highlight the controversy of the George W. Bush administration’s wiretapping program. The latest report is almost certain to reignite the contentious debate over the scope of the nation’s surveillance activities.

The revelation of the attempted wiretapping of a lawmaker brought quick condemnations from privacy advocates, as well as calls for changes to the nation’s domestic and international spying laws.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), a member of the Intelligence Committee and leading supporter of privacy rights, called for swift action to roll back provisions of federal wiretapping laws and called on the Obama administration to declassify documents detailing how these laws have been implemented.

“Congress must get to work fixing these laws that have eroded the privacy and civil liberties of law-abiding citizens. In addition, the administration should declassify certain aspects of how these authorities have been used so that the American people can better understand their scope and impact,— Feingold said.