The White House stood by its nominee for CIA director, Gen. Michael Hayden, amid new controversy over the surveillance programs he piloted as head of the National Security Agency. Hayden was to meet with senators on Friday, his fifth day of face-to-face sessions on Capitol Hill since a Monday morning breakfast with Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan. "We're full steam ahead on his nomination," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Thursday.The going got tougher with the disclosure that the NSA has been secretly collecting millions of Americans' phone records, said Sen. Joe Biden, who blasted the surveillance program but called Hayden "a first-rate guy." "He's caught right in the middle of this," the Deleware Democrat told CBS' "The Early Show" on Friday. "I think it's going to make it difficult." Lawmakers have been demanding information from the Bush administration about the NSA's database of telephone records, begun while Hayden was in charge of the spy agency.The disclosure, reported in Thursday editions of USA Today, could complicate President Bush's bid to win Hayden's confirmation. It also renewed concerns about civil liberties and questions about the legal underpinnings for the government's actions. Sen. Wayne Allard (news, bio, voting record), R-Colo., said the NSA was using the data to analyze calling patterns in order to detect and track suspected terrorist activity, according to information provided to him by the White House. "Telephone customers' names, addresses and other personal information have not been handed over to NSA as part of this program," Allard said. The president on Thursday sought to assure Americans their civil liberties were "fiercely protected.""The government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval," said Bush, without confirming the NSA program. "We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans." "Everything that NSA does is lawful and very carefully done," Hayden said Thursday as he made the rounds on Capitol Hill. "The appropriate members of the Congress — the House and Senate — are briefed on all NSA activities." Several lawmakers expressed incredulity about the program, with some Republicans questioning its rationale and several Democrats railing about a lack of congressional oversight."I'm not sure why it would be necessary to keep and have that kind of information," said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, who wanted more details. House Democrats called for a special counsel to investigate the NSA's activities. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he would call the phone companies to appear before the panel in pursuit of what had transpired. "We're really flying blind on the subject and that's not a good way to approach the Fourth Amendment," Specter said of domestic surveillance in general. Sen. Ron Wyden (news, bio, voting record), D-Ore., an intelligence committee member, said the reports also raise questions about Hayden's credibility. "He is the architect of the program. He comes to the intelligence committee, says how concerned he is about privacy," Wyden said. "This is not what the public thought this program was all about."The NSA is the same spy agency that conducts the controversial domestic eavesdropping program that had been acknowledged earlier by Bush. The president said last year he authorized the NSA to listen, without warrants, to international phone calls involving Americans when terrorism is suspected. Hayden would have overseen that program and any efforts to collect phone records of millions of Americans as NSA head from March 1999 to April 2005, when he became the top deputy to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte. AT&T Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. telephone companies began turning over to the government records of tens of millions of their customers' phone calls shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said USA Today, citing anonymous sources it said had direct knowledge of the arrangement. The companies said Thursday they were protecting customers' privacy but also had an obligation to assist government agencies in ensuring the nation's security. NSA spokesman Don Weber said he could not comment, but said the agency "operates within the law." Claims about the existence of the program emerged earlier this year. In January, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based privacy rights group, alleged in a federal lawsuit that AT&T Inc. had given the NSA direct access to the records of the more than 300 million domestic and international calls and a huge volume of Internet data traffic. The lawsuit asked a court to halt the collection. The Justice Department told the court late last month it would seek to dismiss the case under the state secrets privilege, but said that effort "should not be construed as a confirmation or denial" of the alleged surveillance activities.
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