Bush to visit NSA today amid spying dispute

October 24, 2008|By David Wood | David Wood,david.wood@baltsun.com

WASHINGTON - President Bush is to visit the National Security Agency headquarters at Fort Meade this morning amid continuing controversy about secret government eavesdropping on Americans.

The White House said Bush will meet with the NSA director, Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, and the director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, to discuss intelligence issues.

Bush will also meet with employees of the NSA to thank them for their service, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

The spy agency conducts global electronic eavesdropping of phones and e-mail by collecting and sifting signals carried by fiber-optic cable and satellite transmission. It is under public fire for allegedly having encouraged its analysts to listen to and record personal conversations between American troops, aid workers and journalists in Iraq and their families back home.

According to the allegations, first raised more than a year ago and then amplified in a new book on the NSA published last week, at least two NSA intercept operators monitored and recorded personal conversations in violation of presidential directives and NSA guidelines.

Based on the initial allegations, McConnell asked the NSA's inspector general more than a year ago to investigate them. The NSA did not respond to questions about whether an investigation had been conducted or what it may have found.

The agency also would not confirm the president's visit, which was routinely announced by the White House on Wednesday afternoon.

Since Bush's last visit to Fort Meade, in September 2007, the White House and Congress have wrangled bitterly over the proper balance between monitoring terrorists and invading the privacy of Americans.

Congress agreed in July to legislation that eases requirements for the government to justify eavesdropping on individuals and groups abroad. But the new law requires the government to obtain individual warrants from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court in order to spy on Americans, whether they are abroad or not.

The allegations detailed in the new book on the NSA, The Shadow Factory, by James Bamford, are that the NSA simply ignored such restrictions.

Signing the legislation in July, Bush said it would "allow our intelligence professionals to quickly and effectively monitor the communications of terrorists abroad while respecting the liberties of Americans here at home."

Over the past several weeks, Bush has been visiting government agencies in a sort of farewell tour, often stopping to chat with employees about why they decided on government service and what ideas they have on improving government services.

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