For Some, Spying Controversy Recalls a Past Drama

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As the Senate prepares to hold hearings on Monday on domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, old Washington hands see a striking similarity to a drama that unfolded three decades ago in the capital.

In 1975, a Senate committee led by Senator Frank Church of Idaho revealed that the N.S.A. had intercepted the phone calls and telegrams of Americans. Then, as now, intelligence officials insisted that only international communications of people linked to dangerous activities were the targets, and that the spying was authorized under the president's constitutional powers. Then, as now, some Republicans complained that the government's most sensitive secrets were being splashed on the front pages of newspapers, while Democrats emphasized the danger to civil liberties.

Both in 1975 and today, officials defending the N.S.A. operation said it had prevented terrorist attacks. And Dick Cheney, who as vice president has overseen secret briefings for selected members of Congress on the N.S.A. program, was in the White House then, too, serving as a deputy to President Gerald R. Ford before succeeding Donald H. Rumsfeld as chief of staff.

The recent debate about the security agency "does bring back a lot of memories," said Walter F. Mondale, the former vice president, who served on the Church Committee as a Democratic senator from Minnesota. "For those of us who went through it all back then, there's disappointment and even anger that we're back where we started from."

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Lisa Kazmier - 2/9/2006

What term would you like to use? Isn't this "calling a spade a spade" rather than employings some wishy-washy euphemism? What, is the GOP wishing now they promoted PC for themselves?

Vernon Clayson - 2/8/2006

I would have thought that neutral observers would use a word less pointed for the controversy, spying?? But then I realized it did come from the New York Times and they print nothing without putting a negative spin on this administration. I can imagine that the present editors and staff of this yellow sheet would have found the WWII warning that loose lips sink ships was a government plot to limit what the public should know.