Times Reporter

May 12, 2006

Area lawmakers mixed in reaction to NSA program

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON – Area lawmakers reacted with a mix of concern, outrage and reluctance to say very much about revelations Thursday that the federal government has collected records of tens of millions of phone calls made by Americans as part of the war on terrorism.

Several called for congressional hearings on the program.

Rep. Bob Ney, R-Heath, said he was “very concerned” by reports that the National Security Agency has been collecting information on phone calls since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack. But Ney added that he didn’t want to rush to judgment without further information.

“I fully expect both the administration and the phone companies, who are apparently turning over this customer information to the NSA, to be forthcoming to the American people about what precisely is going on here and I would support a review of this program by the Congress as some have already called for,” Ney said in a statement released by his office.

Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, did not return a phone call seeking comment on the program.

“I find it outrageous,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles. “This is just another example of the administration believing that they’re above the law. If it’s justified, go before Congress and get approval.”

Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, had no comment on the reported program, which the White House has declined to confirm or deny. Aides said that as a member of the committee, DeWine receives classified briefings on intelligence programs and is limited in what he can say. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, released a statement saying he was “very concerned” and supported Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter’s plan to hold hearings on the program.

Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, who is challenging DeWine in the Senate race this fall, said he was shocked by revelations of the program in USA Today. Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Lisbon, the Democratic nominee for governor in Ohio, expressed “great concern.”

Brown and Strickland also said hearings were needed.

The newspaper report, quoting unidentified sources, said the NSA has been collecting the records from the nation’s major telecommunications companies and sifting through them in search of patterns that could locate terrorists.

While records of calls are analyzed, the government is not eavesdropping on phone conversations without a warrant, the story said.

Ryan was most vociferous in his opposition. Accusing Congress of being “derelict” in its oversight of the executive branch, Ryan said, “We’re losing the essence of America with this stuff now.”

“These are hard-fought liberties that our forefathers won,” he said. “There is something special about being an American, having a divided government, and the executive doesn’t have the power to creep into our personal lives.”

Ryan said he remains convinced that another NSA domestic surveillance program, which includes warrantless eavesdropping on international calls to suspected terrorists, is illegal. The administration argues the Constitution permits the wiretaps without a court order.

Brown said he wanted an explanation for the collection of phone records. “I want the president to answer why he wants a secret database that includes two-thirds of Americans,” he said.

Strickland said the effort could undermine citizens’ rights.

“Not only is this information being collected, but a huge database of these records has been created,” he said. “What use does the administration have for this information, and why have most congressional representatives found out about this through the media?”

Though the White House declined to comment on the reported program, Bush on Thursday reacted to the story by saying the government “does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval.”

He added that “the intelligence activities I authorized are lawful and have been briefed to appropriate members of Congress.”

Bush also criticized the leaking of “sensitive intelligence,” which he said “hurts our ability to defeat this enemy.