Bush prods Congress to extend domestic spying law

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FORT MEADE, Md., Sep 19 (Reuters) President George W Bush urged Congress today to expand the government's domestic spying powers permanently, saying a failure to do so would leave the country vulnerable to another terrorist attack.

The Democratic-led Congress in August temporarily expanded the Bush administration's authority to monitor phone calls and e-mails between people in the United States and suspected terrorists abroad.

But the powers expire in February and many lawmakers are wary of renewing them permanently, arguing that the Bush administration has abused Congress' trust by not properly informing members of its warrantless eavesdropping activities.

Bush said laws on surveillance were ''dangerously out of date'' and must be changed to give intelligence agencies the tools they need to prevent attacks on American soil.

''Without these tools it'll be harder to figure out what our enemies are doing to train, recruit and infiltrate operatives into America,'' Bush said during a visit to the National Security Agency, which conducts surveillance of electronic communications on targets around the world.

''Without these tools, our country will be much more vulnerable to attack,'' Bush added.

The debate over domestic spying was expected to surface in the confirmation hearings of retired federal Judge Michael Mukasey, who was nominated by Bush this week to replace Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Gonzales resigned after months of criticism for the firing of nine federal prosecutors, which Democrats said was politically motivated, and his handling of a warrantless spying program, which critics said was unlawful.

After the September 11 attacks, Bush authorized US intelligence agencies to intercept, without court approval, electronic ommunications between people in the United States and foreign targets overseas if one of them had suspected terrorism ties.

The revelation of that program caused an uproar, with critics charging it was unlawful and could collect the communications of law-abiding Americans in the surveillance net.

The eavesdropping program was put under court supervision earlier this year, and in August Congress temporarily expanded the government's power to eavesdrop on foreign conversations of an individual in the United States without a court order for six months.

Under the temporary measure, the administration has to submit to a secret court a description of the procedures used to determine that warrantless surveillance only targeted people outside the United States.

The court, created by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, would review the procedures and order changes, if needed, which the administration could appeal.

REUTERSGL ND2336

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