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Intelligence agencies to face 'cleanup agenda'

From Bob Costantini
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The incoming chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says he will have a "cleanup agenda" ready when Democrats take power in January.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia said the agenda will include reviews of the Bush administration's warrantless eavesdropping and the CIA's secret prisons.

Rockefeller said he wants to correct what he called a "lack of oversight" by the committee that gave free rein to the Bush administration in the war on terror.

"It's not understandable to me, but the majority party sort of didn't want to do a lot of oversight," Rockefeller said in an interview aired Thursday on CNN Radio.

Rockefeller said the committee, which oversees U.S. intelligence operations, should be "holding people accountable, and what I hope to do is be aggressive on that."

The four-term Democrat will be taking over the chairmanship of the committee from Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas.

Rockefeller has criticized Roberts' handling of the committee's probe into the faulty intelligence underpinning the administration's arguments for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

He said he wants the committee to finish that contentious review, which has been delayed since before the 2004 elections.

Rockefeller expressed concern over the warrantless domestic surveillance program to Vice President Dick Cheney soon after the National Security Agency launched the effort following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

He said he plans to resist allowing the NSA to continue its eavesdropping program, which the Bush administration calls a "terrorist surveillance program."

The program allows the NSA to listen in on international communications involving people suspected of having ties to terrorists without a court's approval first, as a 1978 law requires.

Some legal scholars have called the program an illegal intrusion on Americans' privacy, but the Bush administration defended it as a necessary tool in the battle against the al Qaeda terrorist network.

In August, a federal judge in Michigan overturned the program and ordered it ended.

The government appealed, and President Bush has urged Congress to give him the power to continue the program, but the legislation has stalled and appears unlikely to pass in the current lame-duck session.

Bush signed a bill limiting the rights of prisoners designated "enemy combatants" to challenge their detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere.

Rockefeller led a fight to amend the legislation to be more favorable for challenges, but each time Democrats came up a few votes short in the Senate.

Rockefeller said he would revisit the issue and "the whole question of accountability, to know what's going on where and be informed, even if it's just the intelligence committees of the House and Senate."

He said his committee will likely take a hard look at the "secret prisons" being run by the CIA around the globe.

Bush acknowledged the existence of those facilities in September when he announced that top al Qaeda prisoners would be transferred to the U.S. prison camp at the Guantanamo Bay naval base for trial before military tribunals.


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Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller says he cannot understand why the previous committee leadership "didn't want to do a lot of oversight."

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