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Bush Urges Action on Terrorist Surveillance Legislation

01 August 2007

President Bush is urging the U.S. Congress to move quickly to rewrite rules for terrorist surveillance. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports the White House wants to see action before lawmakers adjourn later this week for a month-long recess.

White House Spokesman Tony Snow says reforming the current terrorist surveillance law, the 30-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) - is a top priority for the administration.

"Prior to recess, probably the most important short-term goal for Congress, a requirement really, is to reform the FISA law," he said.

Under current law, the government must get a warrant from a special court before it can conduct surveillance on communications between people in the United States and contacts abroad believed to have terrorist ties.

Snow argues the law was drafted decades before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, and predated the advent of cellphones and e-mail. He says it is time to reduce constraints on the government's ability to conduct wiretaps without prior court approval.

"It is absolutely vital at the time of a heightened threat environment to realize the present system simply is not as responsive as it needs to be in terms of providing the flexibility and speed in acting on actionable intelligence," he said.

The president personally made the case for change to congressional leaders Wednesday during a private meeting at the White House.

After the session, the top Democrats told reporters they will do all they can to bring the issue up for a vote as soon as possible.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned that the fate of the surveillance program has become intertwined with the controversy surrounding Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He indicated many members will be reluctant to support reform legislation that is seen as giving Gonzales power to order warrantless wiretaps.

"The hang up as I see it now is what the involvement of the attorney general would be," he said.

Gonzales is already under fire on Capitol Hill from some senators who believe he has given misleading testimony about support for the surveillance program within the Justice Department. Some senior Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have called for an independent inquiry into allegations the attorney general committed perjury.

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