From the Los Angeles Times:
WASHINGTON — A day after warning that potentially critical terrorism intelligence was being lost because Congress had not finished work on a controversial espionage law, the U.S. attorney general and the national intelligence director said Saturday that the government was receiving the information — at least temporarily.
On Friday evening, Atty. Gen. Michael B. Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence J. Michael McConnell had said in an unusually blunt letter to Congress that the nation “is now more vulnerable to terrorist attack and other foreign threats” because lawmakers had not yet acted on the administration’s proposal for the wiretapping law.
But within hours of sending that letter, administration officials told lawmakers on the House and Senate intelligence committees that they had prevailed upon all of the telecommunications companies to continue cooperating with the government’s requests for information while negotiations with Congress continue.
The episode appeared to be another round in the battle between the White House and congressional Democrats over provisions of the proposed new Protect America Act, which would replace one that has expired.
On Friday evening, administration officials told reporters in a conference call that at least one telecommunications company was refusing to provide information that could help track newly suspected terrorists.
But two hours later, administration officials notified congressional officials that the company had agreed to cooperate, according to the Democratic congressional official. As a result, all of the nation’s telecommunications companies are now providing all of the intelligence requested by the administration, even without the new law.
In his Saturday radio address, Bush called on Congress to quickly pass the wiretapping legislation when it returns Monday from a recess, saying telecommunications companies need the law to help the government monitor foreign terrorists and to protect them from class-action lawsuits.
The comments by Mukasey, McConnell and Bush were criticized by civil rights and privacy advocates, including Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“In an attempt to get sweeping powers to wiretap without warrants, Republicans are playing politics with domestic surveillance legislation,” Fredrickson said.