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NSA Domestic Spying Report Roils Washington

JOHN YDSTIE, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

The furor is causing new problems for General Michael Hayden, the former NSA director who's been tapped as the new chief of the CIA. Here's NPR's Mary Louise Kelly with more on the story.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: But Bryan Cunningham, a former lawyer for both the National Security Council and the CIA, says there are a number of reasons why Americans should not be worried.

BRYAN CUNNINGHAM: First, and probably most importantly, it does intercept the content of anybody's communications. So they're not listening to what I'm saying, they're not reading my e-mails.

LOUISE KELLY: President George W. Bush: The privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities. We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESIDENTIAL PRESS CONFERENCE)

LOUISE KELLY: The president also defended U.S. spy activities as legal. Jim Harper, an expert on privacy issues at the Cato Institute, says the program may be technically within legal limits.

JIM HARPER: But it, at least, violates the principles of the Fourth Amendment, that investigations should be focused. They require either probable cause or reasonableness. And almost by definition, an investigation of all Americans' phone calls is not going to be a reasonable investigation.

LOUISE KELLY: Harper says he's also uncomfortable that administration officials who've publicly defended NSA surveillance activities in recent months never mentioned this wider effort. And he wonders what else we don't yet know about.

HARPER: I have the feeling that we will learn again about some additional program that may include content of conversations. So the other shoe has yet to drop. I don't think we've learned all that there is to learn about these programs yet.

LOUISE KELLY: On Capitol Hill, both Republicans and Democrats say they're to get to the bottom of the administration's surveillance efforts. They see their big chance to do so coming next week with the confirmation hearings of General Michael Hayden. Hayden ran the NSA from 1999 to 2005. He's now up for the top job at the CIA. But Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was one of several lawmakers warning these new revelations may damage Hayden's chances.

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: I happen to believe we're on our way to a major Constitutional confrontation on Fourth Amendment guarantees of unreasonable search and seizure. And I think this is also going to present a growing impediment to the confirmation of General Hayden, and I think that is very regretted.

LOUISE KELLY: Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.