National Intelligence Director John Negroponte declassified a list of 30 congressional briefings the Bush administration says have been held since the National Security Agency began its no-warrant surveillance program after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Half of the briefings took place between Oct. 25, 2001, and the public disclosure of the program this past December, according to a document provided to The Associated Press on Wednesday. The remaining 15 occurred over the past five months and included an expanded group of lawmakers who were told of the program’s operational details.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has pushed for the list’s disclosure because the administration repeatedly has said that the appropriate lawmakers were briefed. Just who was included in those sessions was previously unknown.
The Bush administration will brief the full House and Senate Intelligence Committees in Congress on the National Security Agency’s controversial surveillance activities, reversing course after five months.
The sessions scheduled for Wednesday afternoon on Capitol Hill were to be led by the NSA’s director, Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, and were sure to focus on the ultra-secret agency’s efforts to monitor domestic calls when one party is overseas and suspected of terrorism, as well as the agency’s efforts to collect records on ordinary Americans’ calls.
Hayden before Senate panel Thursday
The briefings were coming less than 24 hours ahead of the opening of confirmation hearings for Gen. Michael Hayden, nominated to head the CIA. He was set to appear Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, said it became apparent that his entire committee needed to understand the NSA program in advance of having a full hearing on Hayden, who headed the NSA from 1999 until 2005.
“There was no way we could fulfill our collective constitutional responsibilities without that knowledge,” Roberts said.
Previously, only select members of the House and Senate intelligence committees were briefed in detail on the program. Democrats have been pressing the White House to provide the information to the full committees since December, saying that to do otherwise was a violation of the 1947 National Security Act.
“The White House, for the first time, is showing signs that they are serious about oversight of this program,” said West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the intelligence committee’s top Democrat.
Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., Rockefeller’s House counterpart, said: “It’s a shame that it took an endangered nomination to make this happen.”