Peoria Journal Star

May 12, 2006

Lawmakers call for action
LaHood, others want hearings on NSA program


By Dori Meinert
of Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood said Thursday he is "bothered and concerned" about a report that the National Security Agency has been secretly collecting phone records of tens of millions of Americans.

The Peoria Republican and other Illinois lawmakers of both parties are calling for hearings to find out more about the program, reported in Thursday's USA Today.

A member of the House Intelligence Committee, LaHood said he had no knowledge of the program before reading the newspaper report.

"I am very bothered and concerned about this program," LaHood wrote in an e-mail. "I believe the House Intelligence Committee should be briefed on the extent of the program and its value to our efforts to track down terrorists in the U.S. I hope a hearing can be held as soon as next week so we can get answers to our questions and express our concerns."

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier Thursday, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said the committee should bring in the telephone companies for questioning.

"We're talking about the most fundamental issue of privacy for America and its citizens," Durbin said. "We need to take this seriously, more seriously than some other matters that might come before the committee because our privacy as American citizens is at stake.

"Currently, most members of Congress are somewhere between benign neglect and blissful ignorance when it comes to this administration's overreaching," Durbin said.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., also called for an investigation.

"We all agree that the president should have every tool he needs to fight terrorism. But the White House has some explaining to do," Obama said in a statement issued by his office. "Why is the government collecting and keeping the phone records of millions of innocent Americans? And who are they accountable to?

"Congress should investigate these new revelations, and Republicans and Democrats should agree that this surveillance program needs to be brought under legal oversight so that someone is watching the watchers and protecting the privacy of innocent Americans."

LaHood voiced concern about the reach of the program described by USA Today. Last year, he generally was supportive of President Bush's decision to allow warrantless eavesdropping on international phone calls and e-mails of people in the United States.

But on Thursday, LaHood said the phone record collection program described by USA Today "includes many more citizens than the wiretap program disclosed in December."

Dori Meinert can be reached at (202) 737-7686 or dori.meinert@copleydc.com.