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Bush pushes hard on domestic spying programme

Latest update : 2008-02-15

U.S. president George W. Bush ratcheted up pressure on Congress on Thursday to pass new rules for his domestic spying programme before it expires this weekend, saying he was prepared to delay a trip to Africa to help advance the measure.

WASHINGTON, Feb 14 (Reuters) - U.S. President George W.
Bush ratcheted up pressure on Congress on Thursday to pass new
rules for his domestic spying program before it expires this
weekend, saying he was prepared to delay a trip to Africa to
help advance the measure.

"If we have to delay, we'll delay," Bush said in his latest
maneuver to prod lawmakers to favor a new law granting legal
immunity to telephone companies that cooperated in his
warrantless eavesdropping program.

"There really is no excuse for letting this critical
legislation expire," he said.

Bush urged the House of Representatives to pass a White
House-backed bill approved by the Senate on Tuesday, saying a
failure to act would jeopardize national security by
undermining intelligence agencies' ability to monitor
communications between terrorism suspects.

Democrats, however, accused Bush of fear-mongering as he
and his fellow Republicans seem intent on using the spying
debate to score points in a presidential election year by
painting the Democrats as weak on counterterrorism.

The current legislation expires on Saturday. Bush has vowed
to veto any further temporary extensions and is demanding a
long-term fix to solidify the government's expanded powers to
conduct domestic surveillance without court orders.

Bush was due to fly to Africa on Friday. He said he was
prepared to delay his departure "if it will help them complete
their work on this critical bill."


Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell told
the Senate Intelligence Committee that if the law expires "it
will do grave damage to our capabilities to protect the

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, wrote
Bush a letter accusing him of a "reckless attempt to
manufacture a crisis."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat,
said the president's comments "implying that any one of us is
less focused on the security of our nation were wrong, divisive
and harmful."

The House Democrats' chief objection to the Senate bill is
that it would grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications
companies that cooperated with the program and could now face
potentially billions of dollars in civil damages.

About 40 civil lawsuits have been filed accusing AT&T Inc.,
Verizon Communications Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp. of
violating Americans' privacy rights by helping the warrantless
domestic spying program that Bush authorized shortly after the
hijacked airliner attacks in 2001.

Senior Democrats said they planned to explore possible
solutions to the stalemate as early as Friday.

Hoyer said, however, there was no urgency in passing a new
bill without proper review and that even if the current law
expired, operations approved under it could continue for a year
and others could be approved with a court order.

The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requires
that the government receive the approval of a secret FISA court
to conduct surveillance in the United States of suspected
foreign enemy targets.

But after the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush authorized warrantless
surveillance of contacts between people in the United States
and others overseas if one had suspected ties to terrorists.

Date created : 2008-02-15