Specter and McCain Call for Investigation of NSA Spying

To the surprise of perhaps no one, Senators Arlen Specter and John McCain have jumped on this morning’s reports of NSA spying within the United States as another opportunity to grab the limelight.

Report of NSA Spying Prompts Call for Probe (AP)

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter put the Bush administration on notice Friday that his panel would hold hearings into a report that the National Security Agency eavesdropped without warrants on people inside the United States. “There is no doubt that this is inappropriate,” said Specter, R-Pa., calling hearings early next year “a very, very high priority.” He wasn’t alone in reacting harshly to the report. Sen. John McCain R-Ariz., said the story, first reported in Friday’s New York Times, was troubling.


“This is Big Brother run amok,” declared Sen. Edward Kennedy (news, bio, voting record), D-Mass. Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., called it a “shocking revelation” that “ought to send a chill down the spine of every senator and every American.”

But, as the NYT story made clear, the Senate has long ago been apprised of the practice. Even Democrats like Jay Rockefeller knew about it. Indeed, the AP brings this up several paragraphs into the story:

The administration had briefed congressional leaders about the NSA program and notified the judge in charge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret Washington court that handles national security issues. Aides to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte and West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, declined to comment Thursday night.

So, if this was “inappropriate,” “troubling,” and “shocking,” why wait until it hits the front page of the Times to say something about it? Couldn’t they have held private hearings on this a year ago?

Update: An informed source e-mails and DC Loser comments below taking me to task for writing “the Senate has long ago been apprised of the practice” when, in fact, all I know for sure is that the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence had been apprised. A fair point. I was operating on the presumption, perhaps incorrect, that the leadership of the Judiciary Committe, which would have oversight responsibility on FISA, and the Armed Services Committee, which has oversight over NSA, would have been similarly briefed.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. McGehee says:

    So, if this was “inappropriate,” “troubling,” and “shocking,” why wait until it hits the front page of the Times to say something about it?

    I love these rhetorical questions.

  2. Davod says:

    Strange that this appears the day after the elections in Iraq. The author has just written a book about the same subject allthough no mention is made of this in the article.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Davod: Malkin makes the same point. Your commentary would be more appropriate in the post on the story, though, than on this one.

  4. Barney says:

    Who cares if Bush broke the law?? I mean, he’s doing it to protect us from terrorists. You gotta break eggs if you wanna have omelets. Clinton broke the law to cover up his rape of Monica. Bush is breaking the law to save us from terrorism.

    It is clear that Bush is breaking the law for good reasons.

  5. DL says:

    Is Kennedy calling Bush guilty before he’s been tried? Why that’s worse than calling Tom Delay innocent before he’s been tried – isn’t it?

    I can’t wait for the media firestorm against Kennedy’s actually convicting aomeone before trial. SURE!

  6. DC Loser says:

    Rockefeller knew about it as he’s the Ranking Democrat on the Senate SubCommitee on Intelligence. He would have got the classified briefings that perhaps only he and the subcommittee chairman would have received, not even the rest of the committee members would have been privy to the briefings. If McCain and Specter weren’t members of the committee then they would have been totally in the dark about the activities.

  7. Sgt Fluffy says:

    In the immortal words of Billy the Kid as portrayed by Emilio Estevez, They can go to Hell, Hell, Hell

  8. Anderson says:

    Even Democrats like Jay Rockefeller knew about it.

    Right, Democrats who are completely useless at standing up to the Republicans. He & Lieberman should move to Massachusetts and get married.

  9. James Joyner says:

    DCL: Fair point, although I would think Specter would have been briefed as head of the Judiciary Committee. FISA is mostly implented through the Attorney General, so Specter’s committee is the natural oversight venue.

  10. Fersboo says:

    So, if this was “inappropriate,” “troubling,” and “shocking,” why wait until it hits the front page of the Times to say something about it? Couldn’t they have held private hearings on this a year ago?

    McCain is a media-whore?

  11. RA says:

    Collecting information about suspected fifth columns is a good thing. Maybe some of it is not admisable in court. This is rather typical of the “ACLU” mentality that is the Ace in the hole for terrorists. Once again these leftwingers would protect terrorists under the osspises of protecting grandma and grandpa from a fascist state.

    I believe you call that anti-Americanism. These are the people who empower those who will kill us so we can safeguard our library cards!

  12. Herb says:

    McCain and Specter should be investigated. Both of these guys are a disgrace to the US and the World.
    To even think of either of these guys running for President, let alone being elected, sends chills down my spine.

    I would never cast my vote for either of them. They are the scum of our country.

  13. anjin-san says:

    Bush v. Freedom. The story continues…

  14. Barney says:

    McCain and Specter should be investigated. Both of these guys are a disgrace to the US and the World.

    There are already House and Senate members talking about impeachment. Given the immanence of Congressional sedition, it might be useful for Bush to dissolve Congress immediately. There is nothing to stop him from doing this and it would be especially important to do this swiftly before the MSM gets too fixated on the story.

    He could dispatch the Secret Service to restrict access to the office buildings on the Hill until these traitors change their tune. He could also force special elections in some key districts and states to get rid of some of the more obstreperous distractors.

    If a special election were called today in Wisconsin, Tommy Thompson would crush Feingold. In Arizona, he could force McCain to run against JD Hayworth. It may be extreme, but I don’t think he has much choice at this point.

  15. Anderson says:

    Barney’s trolling is spooking me … has Herb been pulling our legs, & is really a Democrat?

    I just don’t know who’s real any more ….

  16. Herb says:


    You Wish

    I will tell you Anderson, that I would vote for a Democrat if he weren’t a Liar.

    The problem is that there are NO democrats who are not LIARS.

    And, You don’t have a clue on what is real because you follow the democrat line of hate, discontent, and whining about losing in 2000 and 2004.

    Now, you can add that your buddies in the Senate have retreated to pre 9/11 mentality in the fight against terror.

    I suppose you will be happy when you see the next few thousand Americans die because your kind are “protecting our rights”. Yeahhhh

  17. Biff says:

    Boy do these right wingers whine alot.

  18. Anderson says:

    Herb is right: the Democrats lied to the American people about how 9/11 was completely unforeseeable, about how Saddam was a threat to the U.S., about how Saddam was working with al-Qaeda, about how Saddam had a nuclear program, about how the U.S. doesn’t torture its prisoners …

    Fortunately the Republicans told the truth about all those things.

    It becomes easier every day to understand how Hitler and Stalin were so popular with their own people.

  19. Butterball says:

    Wait a second. Since when did receiving oral sex from a women constitute rape????

    If that’s true I’ve got to make a run for Mexico. Who’s with me?