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Negroponte: Al-Qaida biggest terror threat
Updated: 2006-02-03 09:49

Al-Qaida is the leading terrorism threat to the United States followed by the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, the nation's intelligence chief said Thursday in a forum that turned into a debate on government eavesdropping.

National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, left, with CIA Director Porter Goss, testifies before the U.S. Select Committee on Intelligence hearing to examine the world threat, on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2006 in Washington. Negroponte said Thursday that the al-Qaida terror network remains the 'top concern' of the U.S. intelligence community, followed closely by nuclear activities of Iran and North Korea. [AP]

US National Intelligence Director John Negroponte tried to focus on terrorist threats, but lawmakers repeatedly returned to the uproar surrounding the National Security Agency's surveillance program.

West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the Intelligence Committee's senior Democrat, called the operations the largest NSA program within the United States in history. He accused the Bush administration of using the program politically while keeping the vast majority of Congress "in the dark."

Negroponte and his top deputy, Gen. Michael Hayden, fiercely defended President Bush's authorization allowing the NSA to eavesdrop — without first obtaining warrants — on international communications of people on U.S. soil who may be linked to al-Qaida.

"This was not about domestic surveillance," Negroponte said in his first public words on the subject. It was also his first public appearance before Congress since he got his job in April. "It was about dealing with the international terrorist threat in the most agile and effective way possible."

Neither Negroponte nor Hayden would say publicly how many people have been monitored. Nor wood they offer details on attacks that have been averted.

Hayden called the process used to determine whether someone is linked to al-Qaida "a science" — not an art — and asserted that the information that is subsequently revealed is handled lawfully. Sen. Ron Wyden (news, bio, voting record), D-Ore., told him his answer wasn't good enough.

As Democratic lawmakers argued for more details, CIA Director Porter Goss lamented the leak of classified information on a variety of ongoing intelligence operations.
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