Monday, August 06, 2007

Democrats back eavesdropping bill

Democrats back eavesdropping bill
By Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: August 5 2007 18:45 | Last updated: August 5 2007 18:45

Democrats in the House of Representatives reluctantly handed the Bush administration a victory this weekend with the passage of a bill that expands the government’s ability to eavesdrop on foreign suspects without warrants.

Nancy Pelosi, House speaker, had said the bill contained “unacceptable” provisions, but it was passed 227-183 after a campaign by the White House and congressional Republicans who argued that failure to pass the bill, which expires in six months, would leave the US vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Democrats are wary of being perceived as weak on national security.

The bill updates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a law that requires the White House to seek approval from a special court to eavesdrop on Americans. It allows intelligence agencies to intercept telephone calls and e-mails of foreign terror suspects routed through the US, without a warrant.

It passed after the Republican minority leader John Boehner disclosed that a secret court decision had made such intercepts illegal, in effect leaving intelligence agencies “blinded”, according to Republican congressman Peter Hoekstra. Some Democrats, including Jane Harman of California, condemned the “fear tactics” deployed to ensure its approval.

Separately Newsweek magazine reported on Sunday that the FBI last week searched the home of a former Justice Department lawyer, Thomas Tamm, as part of an investigation into the leak of the administration’s warrantless surveillance programme. Mr Tamm did not respond to a message left for him at his home.

Mr Tamm appears to have been a critic of the administration. In an online post on the website MediaMatters, Mr Tamm, who said he was a “former DOJ lawyer”, criticised the White House for being “guilty of taking the blindfold off lady justice” in connection to the controversy over the firing of US attorneys.


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