Terrorism Wiretap Numbers Disclosed

The nation’s top intelligence official has revealed new details about the government’s terrorism wiretap programs in an interview with the El Paso Times.

The newspaper says revelations by Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell “raised eyebrows for their frank discussion of previously classified eavesdropping work conducted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA.”

McConnell said the government is wiretapping fewer than 100 terrorism suspects in the United States, but is monitoring electronic communications of thousands of people overseas.

The government obtained warrants for surveillance of the U.S. targets from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, created under the FISA law. A new temporary law allows warrantless surveillance of overseas suspects.

McConnell gave new details on a secret ruling by the FISA court that may have spurred lawmakers to enact the new wiretap law. He said the opinion, effective May 31, required warrants to monitor communications between two foreigners if the conversation travels on a wire in the U.S. network.

McConnell also confirmed that private companies assisted with the warrantless surveillance program and said they deserved immunity for their cooperation, the newspaper reports. He said suits claiming privacy violations against companies such as AT&T and Verizon could lead to their bankruptcies.

The Washington Post, which summarized the interview, was unable to get further details about the number of wiretaps from McConnell’s office.

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