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GOP senators propose NSA spying bill

Measure would codify, oversee no-warrant surveillance program
Sen. Chuck Hagel, shown last month, said the bill has the support of the majority leader and the panel chairman.


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Four Senate Republicans have proposed a bill to provide what one called "very rigorous oversight" of President Bush's controversial no-warrant domestic surveillance program while also giving it the force of law.

Sens. Mike DeWine of Ohio, Olympia Snowe of Maine, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, all members of the Intelligence Committee, introduced the bill late Tuesday afternoon in an effort to address criticism of the program and reach a compromise.

The White House is "OK with this approach," a spokesperson said.

The measure would create terrorist surveillance subcommittees under both the Senate and House intelligence committees to oversee the surveillance program.

The panel, meanwhile, rejected a full investigation of the program, which was acknowledged by Bush in December after it surfaced in media reports.

Bush authorized the National Security Agency shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to eavesdrop on Americans suspected of communicating with al Qaeda members overseas -- without obtaining a warrant from a special court under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

According to DeWine, the bill would allow surveillance of international calls that involve a suspected terrorist but would require a program review every 45 days.

At that time, the administration would have three options: apply for a warrant, if there is enough information to justify one; stop the surveillance; or explain to Congress why it is in the national security interest to continue the surveillance and why officials cannot apply to the FISA court for a warrant.

"What this does is it provides for a case-by-case examination and oversight by the United States Congress ... of what the executive branch is doing," DeWine said.

Critics of the surveillance program, including some leading Republicans, have said it runs afoul of FISA. Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, has said that the 1978 law "flatly prohibits any kind of electronic monitoring without a court order."

The administration has defended the program, contending that it is legal under the president's inherent authority and under a 2001 congressional authorization of the use of force against al Qaeda.

A subcommittee of seven committee members will be fully briefed on the surveillance program while the legislation is pursued, the senators said.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the Intelligence Committee's ranking Democrat, objected to that plan Tuesday, arguing the entire committee should be involved.

"Our committee has to be fully informed if we are to guide the legislative debate on this program that is fast approaching," he said, adding that Democratic members of the panel had been excluded from negotiations with the White House.

Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican who chairs the panel, said his goal has been "to reach accommodation, not confrontation."

Specter: White House 'on notice'

In a closed meeting Tuesday, the committee voted to reject a request by Rockefeller for what he called "a careful and fact-based review of the National Security Agency's surveillance eavesdropping activities inside the United States."

"The committee is, to put it bluntly, basically under the control of the White House," he told reporters.

"This was an unprecedented bow to political pressure," Rockefeller said. "You can't legislate properly if we don't know what's going on."

Specter, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, on Tuesday threatened to limit funding for the NSA program if the Bush administration does not provide more details on the matter.

"We're having quite a time in getting responses to questions as to what has happened with the electronic surveillance program," he said.

"I want to put the administration on notice and this committee on notice that I may be looking for an amendment to limit funding as to the electronic surveillance program -- which is the power of the purse -- if we can't get an answer in any other way," he said.

In response to the bill proposed Tuesday, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, "We've said for several weeks we're committed to working with Congress on legislation to further codify into law the president's authority to intercept conversations between suspected al Qaeda members who are calling into or out of the U.S.

"And we believe that the legislation is generally sound, and we are eager to work with Congress.

"However, we have said before, and we remain committed to this principle, that we will not do anything that undermines the program's capabilities, or the president's authority. Generally, we are OK with this approach," Perino said.

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