U.S. says missed intelligence after spy act expired

Other News Materials 23 February 2008 03:30 (UTC +04:00)

( Reuter )- U.S. spy agencies have missed intelligence in the days since terrorism surveillance legislation expired, officials told Congress on Friday, but a top Democrat accused the administration of "fear mongering."

U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell, battling with Congress to obtain new legislation, also said some communications firms have reduced surveillance cooperation due to legal uncertainty after the law expired last weekend.

"We have lost intelligence information this past week as a direct result of the uncertainty created by Congress' failure to act," the two officials told House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes in a letter.

They urged Reyes, a Texas Democrat, to reconsider his opposition to legislation passed last week by the Senate.

That measure would provide retroactive lawsuit immunity to telecommunications firms who cooperated with warrantless wiretaps that President George W. Bush authorized after the September 11 attacks.

Disagreement over the provision, which is opposed by civil-liberties advocates, led to the collapse of efforts to pass a permanent overhaul of a 1978 surveillance bill that the administration says is obsolete.

Congress passed a six-month temporary law last August in response to urgent administration warnings of gaps in its intelligence capabilities.

The 1978 bill remains in effect, as do one-year wiretap authorizations made under the temporary law. But administration officials say the old bill is dangerously obsolete and their ability to collect new intelligence is hampered.

Mukasey and McConnell gave no details of the missed intelligence. They told Reyes, however, some communications firms "have delayed or refused compliance with our requests to initiate new surveillance of foreign intelligence targets."

Most companies intend to cooperate for the time being but have "deep misgivings" about continuing, they said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said Bush had failed to negotiate and was "crying wolf" over letting the surveillance legislation expire.

"No amount of fear mongering will change the fact that our intelligence collection capabilities have not been weakened since last week," Reid said.