by Mark Silva
With a day-trip to the secretive National Security Agency in Maryland, less than an hour up the road from the White House, President Bush and his senior team of advisers today hope to make the case for a permanent extension of the federal law on wiretapping of terrorism suspects.
Back at the White House, Bush plans to sit down this afternoon with several invited conservative columnists for a "roundtable'' conversation.
Congress approved an updating of the 1978-vintage Foreign Intelligence Security Act in hastily approved legislation before recess for Labor Day, but that compromise carried a six-month expiration.
“We believe the bill should be made permanent,’’ said Dana Perino, the White House press secretary. “Al Qaeda doesn’t work on a six-month extension. None of our enemies do.’’
Is that NSA facility where all the “warrant-less wiretapping’’ of foreign terrorism suspects communicating with people inside the United States is carried out? Perino was asked this morning. “Wow, that’s a loaded question,’’ she said. “I don’t know all that they do there.. But you can imagine that if they are implementing the FISA reforms, they have some measure of operational responsibility for that.’’
The White House has two demands for a permanent bill – one, that it be made permanent, and two, that telecommunication companies that helped the government on security after Sept. 11, 2001 be granted retroactive immunity for any legal liability in their cooperation with surveillance.
Bush will be accompanied by Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, National Security Adviser Steve Hadley, Counsel Fred Fielding, Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend and others, and plans a statement there.
Bush also plans a roundtable with several conservative columnists, including Michael Barone, David Brooks, Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Tony Blankley, Kate O'Bierne and others.
“We regularly meet with conservative columnists,’’ Perino said.
Bush, however, has no plans to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations next week.
Bush will address the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Tuesday. Ahmadinejad, sharply at odds with the administration over nuclear power development, involvement in the Iraq war and conflict with Israel, also has been given a visa to attend, though the White House says it played no role – the State Department handled it.
"There are not plans for the president to meet with him,'' Perino said.