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Deal okays review of spy program

The White House reaches an agreement on a bill that could open the program to a constitutional test.

Published July 14, 2006

WASHINGTON - President Bush has agreed conditionally to let a court review his eavesdropping operations under a deal that, for the first time, would open an important part of his once-secret terrorism surveillance to a constitutional test.

The disclosure of the agreement on Thursday came as the White House sought to end an impasse over a 6-month-old dispute with Congress on the National Security Agency's program. It monitors the international calls and e-mails of Americans when terrorism is suspected.

Breaking with historic norms, the president had authorized the monitoring without a court warrant.

Under a deal with the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Bush has agreed to support a bill that could submit the program to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for a constitutional review.

"You have here a recognition by the president that he does not have a blank check," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who has been a critic of the program.

Specter said the White House agreed to the review after weeks of negotiations that concluded late Wednesday. "And the upshot of it is that there is a bill," Specter said.

He said Bush had reserved the right to approve any changes.

When the program was disclosed in December, it was criticized by Democrats, who alleged that Bush had overstepped his authority. On Thursday, some advocacy groups claimed the judicial review was a sham.

"This new bill would codify the notion that the president is not bound by the laws passed by Congress or the Constitution," said Anthony Romero of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Congress must approve the bill. Yet lawmakers have written at least a half dozen competing proposals and more are coming.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the administration supports Specter's bill, which would allow the government to continue to collect information intended to protect the country. "My understanding from the president is that the legislation could be very helpful," Gonzales said.

The administration initially resisted efforts to write a new law, saying no legal changes were needed. But after months of pressure, officials have grown more open to legislation.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the agreement with Specter recognizes the president's constitutional authorities and updates the 1978 law to meet current threats.

"What is happening today is that the president and Congress are coming together to codify the capacity for future presidents to take action to protect our country," she said.

Information from the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.

[Last modified July 14, 2006, 02:39:41]

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