Bush Administration Spent $30 Million Last Year On Illegally Obtained Personal Data

June 21, 2006

From the AP, Via Yahoo! News:

Federal and local police across the country — as well as some of the nation's best-known companies — have been gathering Americans' phone records from private data brokers without subpoenas or warrants.

These brokers, many of whom market aggressively across the Internet, have broken into customer accounts online, tricked phone companies into revealing information and sometimes acknowledged that their practices violate laws, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

Legal experts and privacy advocates said police reliance on private vendors who commit such acts raises civil liberties questions.

Those using data brokers include agencies of the Homeland Security and Justice departments — including the FBI and U.S. Marshal's Service — and municipal police departments in California, Florida, Georgia and Utah. Experts believe hundreds of other departments frequently use such services.

"We are requesting any and all information you have regarding the above cell phone account and the account holder … including account activity and the account holder's address," Ana Bueno, a police investigator in Redwood City, Calif., wrote in October to PDJ Investigations of Granbury, Texas.

An agent in Denver for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Anna Wells, sent a similar request on March 31 on Homeland Security stationery: "I am looking for all available subscriber information for the following phone number," Wells wrote to a corporate alias used by PDJ.

Congressional investigators estimated the U.S. government spent $30 million last year buying personal data from private brokers. But that number likely understates the breadth of transactions, since brokers said they rarely charge law enforcement agencies.

A lawmaker who has investigated the industry said Monday he was concerned about data brokers.

"There's a good chance there are some laws being broken, but it's not really clear precisely which laws, said Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., head of the House Energy and Commerce investigations subcommittee that plans to begin hearings Wednesday.

Documents gathered by Whitfield's committee show data brokers use trickery, impersonation and even technology to try to gather Americans' phone records. "They can basically obtain any information about anybody on any subject," Whitfield said.

James Bearden, a Texas lawyer who represents four such data brokers, likened the companies' activities to the National Security Agency, which reportedly compiles the phone records of ordinary Americans.

"The government is doing exactly what these people are accused of doing," Bearden said. "These people are being demonized. These are people who are partners with law enforcement on a regular basis."

Many of the executives summoned to testify before Congress this week plan to refuse to answer questions, invoking their Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination.

Larry Slade, PDJ's lawyer, said no one at the company violated laws, but he acknowledged, "I'm not sure that every law enforcement agency in the country would agree with that analysis."

PDJ always provided help to police for free. "Agencies from all across the country took advantage of it," Slade said.

The police agencies told AP they used the data brokers because it was quicker and easier than subpoenas, and their lawyers believe their actions did not violate the Fourth Amendment's guarantee against unlawful search and seizure.

Some agencies, such as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, instructed agents to stop the practice after congressional inquiries. Police in Orem, Utah, likewise plan to end the practice because of concerns about "questionable methods" used by the data brokers, Lt. Doug Edwards said.

The records also list some of America's most famous corporate names — from automakers to insurers to banks — as purchasing information on private citizens from data brokers, which often help companies track down delinquent customers.

For instance, a 2003 customer list for data broker Universal Communications Company listed Ford Motor Credit Co., the automaker's lending arm, as the single largest purchaser of phone toll records, paying $17,435 to buy such data that year. In all, Ford's lending arm spent more than $50,000 with that data broker that year. Ford also paid $9,000 to another such company, Global Information Group, in 2004, the records state.

Also on UCC's or Global Information's paying client list was the insurer State Farm's banking arm, Chrysler's consumer lending arm, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and banking giants Wells Fargo and Wachovia Financial Services.

At least 50 departments of Wachovia made data requests in 2004, accumulating thousands of dollars in charges. Most of the companies could not provide an immediate explanation when called for comment Tuesday.

Ford Motor Credit spokeswoman Meredith Libby said Tuesday her company used the vendors in the past to help locate customers who weren't paying and had disappeared but the companies "are no longer on our approved vendor lists."

Asked why Ford would need phone toll records, Libby said her company "did not necessarily say (to the vendor), `Give us this specific piece of data, but rather help us to find this person,'" and the charges for phone records were part of the process.

None of the police agencies interviewed by AP said they researched their data brokers to determine how they gather sensitive information like names associated with unlisted numbers, records of phone calls, e-mail aliases — even tracing a person's location using their cellular phone signal.

"If it's on the Internet and it's been commended to us, we wouldn't do a full-scale investigation," Marshal's Service spokesman David Turner said. "We don't knowingly go into any source that would be illegal. We were not aware, I'm fairly certain, what technique was used by these subscriber services."

At Immigration and Customs Enforcement, spokesman Dean Boyd said agents did not pay for phone records and sought approval from U.S. prosecutors before making requests. Their goal was "to more quickly identify and filter out phone numbers that were unrelated to their investigations," Boyd said.

Targets of the police interest include alleged marijuana smugglers, car thieves, armed thugs and others.

The data services also are enormously popular among collection agencies, bails bondsmen, private detectives and suspicious spouses. Customers included:

– A U.S. Labor Department employee who used her government e-mail address and phone number to buy two months of personal cellular phone records of a woman in New Jersey.

– A buyer who received credit card information about the father of murder victim Jon Benet Ramsey.

– A buyer who obtained 20 printed pages of phone calls by pro basketball player Damon Jones of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"I'm very disappointed," Jones told AP on Tuesday. "I paid for a service and that service is being violated. I've been an upstanding guy, never been in any trouble or anything like that. I was shocked, and I really want to get to the bottom of this."

Privacy advocates bristled over data brokers gathering records for police without subpoenas.

"This is pernicious, an end run around the Fourth Amendment," said Marc Rotenberg, head of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center which advocates tougher federal regulation of data brokers. "The government is encouraging unlawful conduct; it's not smart on the law enforcement side to be making use of information obtained improperly."

Legal experts said law enforcement agencies would be permitted to use illegally obtained information from private parties without violating the Fourth Amendment as long as police did not encourage crimes to be committed.

"If law enforcement is encouraging people in the private sector to commit a crime in getting these records, that would be problematic," said Mark Levin, a former top Justice Department official under President Reagan. "If, on the other hand, they are asking data brokers if they have any public information on any given phone numbers, that should be fine."

Levin said he nonetheless would have advised federal agents to use the practice only when it was a matter of urgency or national security and otherwise to stick to a legally bulletproof method like subpoenas for everyday cases.

Congress subpoenaed thousands of documents from data brokers describing how they collected telephone records by impersonating customers.

"I was shot down four times," data broker employee Michele Yontef complained in an e-mail in July 2005 to a colleague. Yontef was among those ordered to appear at this week's hearing.

Another company years ago even acknowledged breaking the law.

"We must break various rules of law in acquiring all the information we achieve for you," Touch Tone Information Inc. of Denver wrote to a law firm in 1998 that was seeking records of calls made on a calling card.

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Bush Administration Invoking State Secrets More and More

June 4, 2006

From The NY Times:

Facing a wave of litigation challenging its eavesdropping at home and its handling of terror suspects abroad, the Bush administration is increasingly turning to a legal tactic that swiftly torpedoes most lawsuits: the state secrets privilege.

In recent weeks alone, officials have used the privilege to win the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a German man who was abducted and held in Afghanistan for five months and to ask the courts to throw out three legal challenges to the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program.

But civil liberties groups and some scholars say the privilege claim, in which the government says any discussion of a lawsuit's accusations would endanger national security, has short-circuited judicial scrutiny and public debate of some central controversies of the post-9/11 era.

The privilege has been asserted by the Justice Department more frequently under President Bush than under any of his predecessors — in 19 cases, the same number as during the entire eight-year presidency of Ronald Reagan, the previous record holder, according to a count by William G. Weaver, a political scientist at the University of Texas at El Paso.

While the privilege, defined by a 1953 Supreme Court ruling, was once used to shield sensitive documents or witnesses from disclosure, it is now often used to try to snuff out lawsuits at their inception, Mr. Weaver and other legal specialists say.

"This is a very powerful weapon for the executive branch," said Mr. Weaver, who has a law degree and is a co-author of one of the few scholarly articles examining the privilege. "Once it's asserted, in almost every instance it stops the case cold."

Robert M. Chesney, a law professor at Wake Forest University who is studying the recent use of the privilege, said the administration's legal strategy "raises profound legal and policy questions that will be the subject of intense debate for the foreseeable future."

Some members of Congress also have doubts about the way the privilege has been used. A bill approved by the House Government Reform Committee would limit its use in blocking whistle-blowers' lawsuits.

"If the very people you're suing are the ones who get to use the state secrets privilege, it's a stacked deck," said Representative Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut, who proposed the measure and has campaigned against excessive government secrecy.

Yet courts have almost always deferred to the secrecy claims; Mr. Weaver said he believed that the last unsuccessful assertion of the privilege was in 1993. Steven Aftergood, an expert on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said, "It's a sign of how potent the national security mantra has become."

Under Mr. Bush, the secrets privilege has been used to block a lawsuit by a translator at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sibel Edmonds, who was fired after accusing colleagues of security breaches; to stop a discrimination lawsuit filed by Jeffrey Sterling, a Farsi-speaking, African-American officer at the Central Intelligence Agency; and to derail a patent claim involving a coupler for fiber-optic cable, evidently to guard technical details of government eavesdropping.

Such cases can make for oddities. Mark S. Zaid, who has represented Ms. Edmonds, Mr. Sterling and other clients in privilege cases, said he had seen his legal briefs classified by the government and had been barred from contacting a client because his phone line was not secure.

"In most state secrets cases, the plaintiffs' lawyers don't know what the alleged secrets are," Mr. Zaid said.

More recently the privilege has been wielded against lawsuits challenging broader policies, including the three lawsuits attacking the National Security Agency's eavesdropping program — one against AT&T by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco and two against the federal government by the American Civil Liberties Union in Michigan and the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York.

In a filing in the New York case, John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, wrote that allowing the case to proceed would "cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States" because it "would enable adversaries of the United States to avoid detection." Mr. Negroponte said he was providing more detail in classified filings.

Those cases are still pending. Two lawsuits challenging the government's practice of rendition, in which terror suspects are seized and delivered to detention centers overseas, were dismissed after the government raised the secrets privilege.

One plaintiff, Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, was detained while changing planes in New York and was taken to Syria, where he has said he was held in a tiny cell and beaten with electrical cables. The other, Khaled el-Masri, a German of Kuwaiti origin, was seized in Macedonia and taken to Afghanistan, where he has said he was beaten and injected with drugs before being released in Albania.

The United States never made public any evidence linking either man to terrorism, and both cases are widely viewed as mistakes. Mr. Arar's lawsuit was dismissed in February on separate but similar grounds from the secrets privilege, a decision he is appealing. A federal judge in Virginia dismissed Mr. Masri's lawsuit on May 18, accepting the government's secrets claim.

One frustration of the plaintiffs in such cases is that so much information about the ostensible state secrets is already public. Mr. Arar's case has been examined in months of public hearings by a Canadian government commission, and Mr. Masri's story has been confirmed by American and German officials and blamed on a mix-up of similar names. The N.S.A. program has been described and defended in numerous public statements by Mr. Bush and other top officials and in a 42-page Justice Department legal analysis.

In the A.C.L.U. lawsuit charging that the security agency's eavesdropping is illegal, Ann Beeson, the group's associate legal director, acknowledged that some facts might need to remain secret. "But you don't need those facts to hear this case," she said. "All the facts needed to try this case are already public."

Brian Roehrkasse, a Justice Department spokesman, said he could not discuss any specific case. But he said the state secrets privilege "is well-established in federal law and has been asserted many times in our nation's history to protect our nation's secrets."

Other defenders of the administration's increasing use of the privilege say it merely reflects proliferating lawsuits.

In all of the N.S.A. cases, for instance, "it's the same secret they're trying to protect," said H. Bryan Cunningham, a Denver lawyer who served as a legal adviser to the National Security Council under Mr. Bush. Mr. Cunningham said that under well-established precedent, judges must defer to the executive branch in deciding what secrets must be protected.

But critics of the use of the privilege point out that officials sometimes exaggerate the sensitivities at risk. In fact, documents from the 1953 case that defined the modern privilege, United States v. Reynolds, have been declassified in recent years and suggest that Air Force officials misled the court.

An accident report on a B-29 bomber crash in 1948 was withheld because the Air Force said it included technical details about sensitive intelligence equipment and missions, but it turned out to contain no such information, said Wilson M. Brown III, a lawyer in Philadelphia who represented survivors of those who died in the crash in recent litigation.

"The facts the Supreme Court was relying on in Reynolds were false," Mr. Brown said in an interview. "It shows that if the government is not truthful, plaintiffs will lose and there's very little chance to straighten it out."


NSA Whistleblower To Testify Before Senate

May 14, 2006

NSA Whistleblower To Expose More Unlawful Activity: ‘People…Are Going To Be Shocked’

CongressDaily reports that former NSA staffer Russell Tice will testify to the Senate Armed Services Committee next week that not only do employees at the agency believe the activities they are being asked to perform are unlawful, but that what has been disclosed so far is only the tip of the iceberg. Tice will tell Congress that former NSA head Gen. Michael Hayden, Bush’s nominee to be the next CIA director, oversaw more illegal activity that has yet to be disclosed:

A former intelligence officer for the National Security Agency said Thursday he plans to tell Senate staffers next week that unlawful activity occurred at the agency under the supervision of Gen. Michael Hayden beyond what has been publicly reported, while hinting that it might have involved the illegal use of space-based satellites and systems to spy on U.S. citizens. …

[Tice] said he plans to tell the committee staffers the NSA conducted illegal and unconstitutional surveillance of U.S. citizens while he was there with the knowledge of Hayden. … “I think the people I talk to next week are going to be shocked when I tell them what I have to tell them. It’s pretty hard to believe,” Tice said. “I hope that they’ll clean up the abuses and have some oversight into these programs, which doesn’t exist right now.” …

Tice said his information is different from the Terrorist Surveillance Program that Bush acknowledged in December and from news accounts this week that the NSA has been secretly collecting phone call records of millions of Americans. “It’s an angle that you haven’t heard about yet,” he said. … He would not discuss with a reporter the details of his allegations, saying doing so would compromise classified information and put him at risk of going to jail. He said he “will not confirm or deny” if his allegations involve the illegal use of space systems and satellites.

Tice has a history for blowing the whistle on serious misconduct. He was one of the sources that revealed the administration’s warrantless domestic spying program to the New York Times.


Bush Administration Attempts To Intimidate Those Who Expose It’s “Secrets”

May 11, 2006

From The NY Times:

Scared of Scoops

WHILE tensions between the federal government and the press are as old as the Republic itself, presidential administrations have never been inclined to criminally prosecute the news media for publishing information they would rather keep secret. In recent weeks, however, the Bush administration and its advocates, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, have spoken of prosecuting The Washington Post and The New York Times for publishing Pulitzer Prize-winning exposés of the administration's secret prisons in Eastern Europe and secret National Security Agency surveillance of Americans.

Specifically, the president and some of his supporters say reporters and publishers have violated a provision of the 1917 Espionage Act, which provides in part that anyone in unauthorized possession "of information relating to the national defense, which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States" who willfully communicates it to any person not entitled to receive it "shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both."

But for at least three reasons, such threats are largely empty. First, the provision was never intended to be used against the press. When the Espionage Act was proposed by President Woodrow Wilson, it included a section that would expressly have made it a crime for the press to publish information that the president had declared to be "of such character that it is or might be useful to the enemy." Congress overwhelmingly rejected that proposal, with members of both parties characterizing it as "un-American" and "an instrument of tyranny."

Second, if the 1917 act were meant to apply to journalists, it would unquestionably violate the First Amendment. Laws regulating speech must be precisely tailored to prohibit only speech that may constitutionally be proscribed. This requirement addresses the concern that overbroad laws will chill the willingness of individuals to speak freely.

Not surprisingly, because the act was drafted before the Supreme Court had ever interpreted the First Amendment in a relevant manner, it does not incorporate any of the safeguards the court has since held the Constitution requires. For example, the provision of the act is not limited only to published accounts that pose a "clear and present danger" to the nation. For this reason, it seems clear, any prosecution of the press under it would be dismissed out of hand by the judiciary.

Third, if Congress today enacted legislation that incorporated the requirements of the First Amendment, it could not apply to articles like those published by The Times and The Post. Such a statute would have to be limited to articles that, first, do not disclose information of legitimate and important public interest and, second, pose a clear and present danger. Nobody could deny that articles like those on secret prisons and electronic surveillance of Americans clearly concerned matters of legitimate and important public interest; nor could the administration show that such disclosures created a clear and present danger of serious harm to the national security.

I do not mean to suggest that the government has no interest in keeping military secrets or that it may never punish the press for disclosing classified information. To the contrary, the government may take many steps to keep such information secret, including (in appropriate circumstances) firing and even prosecuting public employees who unlawfully leak such information.

Moreover, in narrowly defined circumstances, the government may prosecute the press for disclosing classified national security information. Such a prosecution might be consistent with the First Amendment, for example, if a newspaper revealed that the government had secretly broken an important Qaeda code, thus causing that group to change its cipher. But revelations like those in The Times and Post revealed significant government wrongdoing and therefore are essential to effective self-governance; they are at the very core of the First Amendment.

Although the threats of the White House are largely bluster, they must nonetheless be taken seriously. Not because newspapers are really in danger of being prosecuted, but because such intimidation is the latest step in this administration's relentless campaign to control the press and keep the American people in the dark.


Porter Goss, Criminal?

May 7, 2006

From Sploid:

Porter Goss: Fall of an American Criminal

The shameful resignation of CIA director Porter Goss is just the latest outrage for the monstrous spook who has cheapened and dirtied the United States for a half-century.

There is so much blood on Goss' hands and so many skeletons in his closets that it's impossible to guess what particular crime finally ended his odious career. But the growing "Hookergate" scandal connected to convicted criminal Duke Cunningham and CIA executive director Dusty Foggo may have finally wrapped its whorish tentacles around Goss' neck.

"Something happened," neo-conservative magazine editor William Kristol said on Fox News this afternoon. "It's going to be a bad few days. We're going to discover something … It will be something not good for the Bush Administration."

Fox News actually got a phone call from a "top White House official" during Kristol's damning comments, and Kristol was cut off so Bush mouthpiece Chris Wallace could say the Goss resignation is just a harmless part of the "White House shakeup." Sure.

If Hookergate is what ended Goss' long and terrible life of crime, it will once again prove that it's always some trivial little crime that brings down the evil ones.

His brief tenure as CIA director will be remembered for many crimes, but the most disgusting was his blunt refusal to investigate the pre-9/11 crimes of his agency.

His boss, the odious career criminal John Negroponte, fully backed Goss on this latest refusal to hold anyone in Washington accountable for the murder of 3,000 Americans or the wars launched in their name.

A life of crime

Porter Goss began his career as a spook at Yale, where he was member of "Book & Snake," a secret society dating back to 1863. (Former defense chief Les Aspin Jr. and White House storyteller Bob Woodward are also members of this bizarre club, said to be more secretive than Skull & Bones, which infamously produced the Bushes and John Kerry.)

Goss has been directly involved with almost every atrocity committed by the American government since the late 1950s. From the Bay of Pigs to the Death Squads of Central America, Goss was always on the job. His fingerprints can even be found on the JFK assassination coverup. Someone tried to kill him in London back in 1970, but the poison wasn't strong enough or maybe it just doesn't work on his kind.

He "retired" to Florida — specifically, to a colony of CIA agents in Sanibel, Florida. It was here that Goss would launch his "political" career in the 1970s and cement his partnership with Democrat Bob Graham. Goss represented this congressional district — Florida's 14th — for 16 years, in which the multimillionaire Republican did little more than shovel money to the CIA and other intelligence operations.

Oddly enough, in this same 20-mile stretch of Florida gulf coast, most of the named 9/11 hijackers settled (including, notoriously, Mohammed Atta in Naples). Odder still, Atta and his buddies supposedly trained to be pilots at shady CIA-financed pilot schools involved in the usual clandestine activities of money laundering and drug running. All the files and records from those flight schools were loaded onto a military cargo plane in the middle of the night of Sept. 12, 2001 — with Jeb Bush aboard, of all people — and flown to Washington, where they disappeared. So who really knows?!

All mathematical odds collapse in the presence of Porter Goss. He was in Pakistan weeks before the 9/11 attacks, planning a U.S. war in Afghanistan with Pakistani ISI chief Mahmoud Ahmad — the same Ahmad who directly funded the Taliban and worked directly with Osama bin Laden.

On the morning of the attacks, the Republican congressman and "former" CIA agent and lifelong Florida politician Bob Graham enjoyed breakfast with the same Mahmoud Ahmad, who was conveniently in Washington for high-level meetings on that infamous day.

It was Ahmad who arranged the transfer of $100,000 to alleged hijacker Mohammed Atta. This transfer was arranged in a top-secret conference room in the U.S. Capitol. The money passed through none other than Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the Pakistani intelligence agent and British "terrorist" and Afghanistan terror-camp administrator who reportedly killed Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. (The WSJ was the only major U.S. news organization pursuing the Ahmed-Sheikh-Atta connections, and Pearl was working on that very story when he was set up and kidnapped in Pakistan.)

Curiously enough, there is not a single mention of Goss and Graham's breakfast with Ahmad in the 868-page investigation chaired by … Goss and Graham.

And while Goss was fiercely against any investigation into the 9/11 attacks, once the investigation was in danger of becoming a reality, the lifelong spy Goss conveniently became the co-chairman of the Joint 9/11 Intelligence Inquiry … with none other than Bob Graham.

As busy as he was in the days before and after Sept. 11, 2001, he again showed remarkable personal strength by sponsoring the Patriot Act, a massive pile of new laws to strip Americans of civil and financial rights. This amazing collection of detailed new laws to return American intelligence to its pre-Watergate levels of domestic abuses was ready for Congress so quickly that a few have even suggested the entire thing was prepared in advance of the Sept. 11 attacks.

After finding no fault with the CIA, White House, Pentagon or any other intelligence agency, Goss must have been surprised when he was made the new CIA boss after the retirement of George Tenet — who did such a good job that the president gave him a medal!


Bush Administration Sued Over Fuel Economy Standards

May 4, 2006

From The Washington Post:

Nine states have sued the administration of President George W. Bush for lenient automotive fuel economy standards that they say worsen an energy crunch and contribute to air pollution and climate change.

The lawsuit says that the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has failed to meet federal laws requiring government to determine the impact of regulation on fuel conservation and the environment.

"At a time when consumers are struggling to pay surging gas prices and the challenge of global climate change has become even more clear, it is unconscionable that the Bush Administration is not requiring greater mileage efficiency for light trucks," said New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in a press release.

In March, the Bush administration approved a 1.9 mile-per-gallon increase in the standards for sport utility vehicles, minivans and pickups — all in the light truck class that includes big gas guzzlers — to 24.1 mpg between 2008 and 2011. It also rewrote the rules for calculating how far light trucks must go on a gallon of gasoline.

But the lawsuit, joined by the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont, says the move included language that could "create incentives to build larger, less fuel-efficient models" and attempts to pre-empt a California law requiring a reduction of greenhouse gas tailpipe emissions.

Bush said last week he is also seeking authority from Congress to allow him to boost fuel-efficiency standards for passenger cars. Bush proposed no specific figure for increasing mileage standards for cars for the first time in 16 years, but officials said they wanted broad changes.

Environmentalists have long urged a substantial increase in fuel-economy standards, which they view as one of the most effective means of reducing the U.S. appetite for foreign oil.

The attorney general of the District of Columbia and the corporate counsel for New York City have also joined.


GOP Senator Comes Out Of The Rabbit Hole?

May 4, 2006

From The Boston Globe:

Hearing vowed on Bush's powers
Senator questions bypassing of laws

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, accusing the White House of a ''very blatant encroachment" on congressional authority, said yesterday he will hold an oversight hearing into President Bush's assertion that he has the power to bypass more than 750 laws enacted over the past five years.

''There is some need for some oversight by Congress to assert its authority here," Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said in an interview. ''What's the point of having a statute if . . . the president can cherry-pick what he likes and what he doesn't like?"

Specter said he plans to hold the hearing in June. He said he intends to call administration officials to explain and defend the president's claims of authority, as well to invite constitutional scholars to testify on whether Bush has overstepped the boundaries of his power.

The senator emphasized that his goal is ''to bring some light on the subject." Legal scholars say that, when confronted by a president encroaching on their power, Congress's options are limited. Lawmakers can call for hearings or cut the funds of a targeted program to apply political pressure, or take the more politically charged steps of censure or impeachment.

Specter's announcement followed a report in the Sunday Globe that Bush has quietly asserted the authority to ignore provisions in 750 bills he has signed — about 1 in 10.

Over the past five years, Bush has stated that he can defy any statute that conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution. In many instances, Bush cited his role as head of the executive branch or as commander in chief to justify the exemption.

The statutes that Bush has asserted the right to override include numerous rules and regulations for the military, job protections for whistle-blowers who tell Congress about possible government wrongdoing, affirmative action requirements, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.

Bush made the claims in ''signing statements," official documents in which a president lays out his interpretation of a bill for the executive branch, creating guidelines to follow when it implements the law. The statements are filed without fanfare in the federal record, often following ceremonies in which the president made no mention of the objections he was about to raise in the bill, even as he signed it into law.

Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman, said via e-mail that if Specter calls a hearing, ''by all means we will ensure he has the information he needs." She pointed out that other presidents dating to the 19th century have ''on occasion" issued statements that raise constitutional concerns about provisions in new laws.

But while previous presidents did occasionally challenge provisions in laws while signing them, legal scholars say, the frequency and breadth of Bush's use of that power are unprecedented.

Bush is also the first president in modern history who has never vetoed a bill, an act that gives public notice that he is rejecting a law and can be overridden by Congress. Instead, Bush has used signing statements to declare that he can bypass numerous provisions in new laws.

The statements attracted little attention in Congress or the media until recently, when Bush used them to reserve a right to bypass a new torture ban and new oversight provisions in the Patriot Act.

''The problem is that you have a statute, which Congress has passed, and then the signing statements negate that statute," Specter said. ''And there are more and more of them coming. If the president doesn't like something, he puts a signing statement on it."

Specter added: ''He put a signing statement on the Patriot Act. He put a signing statement on the torture issue. It's a very blatant encroachment on [Congress's constitutional] powers. If he doesn't like the bill, let him veto it."

It was during a Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on the FBI that Specter yesterday announced his intent to hold a hearing on Bush's legal authority. Another committee member, Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, also questioned Bush's assertions that he has the authority to give himself an exemption from certain laws.

''Unfortunately, the president's signing statement on the Patriot Act is hardly the first time that he has shown a disrespect for the rule of law," Feingold said. ''The Boston Globe reported on Sunday that the president has used signing statements to reserve the right to break the law more than 750 times."

Feingold is an outspoken critic of Bush's assertion that his wartime powers give him the authority to set aside laws. The senator has proposed censuring Bush over his domestic spying program, in which the president secretly authorized the military to wiretap Americans' phones without a warrant, bypassing a 1978 surveillance law.

At the hearing yesterday, Feingold pressed FBI director Robert Mueller to give assurances that the bureau would comply with provisions in the Patriot Act and to tell Congress how agents are using the law to search homes and secretly seize papers.

Mueller said he saw no reason that the bureau couldn't share that information with Congress. But he also said that he was bound to obey the administration, and declined to promise that he would ''go out there and fight" on behalf of Congress if Bush decided to override the Patriot Act's oversight provision and ordered the FBI not to brief Congress.

Feingold also said Bush's legal claims have cast a cloud over a host of rules and restrictions that Congress has passed, using its constitutional authority to regulate the executive branch of government.

''How can we know whether the government will comply with the new laws that we passed?" Feingold said. ''I'm not placing the blame on you, obviously, or your agents who work to protect this country every day, but how can we have any assurance that you or your agents have not received a secret directive from above requiring you to violate laws that we all think apply today?"

Mueller replied: ''I can assure with you with regard to the FBI that our actions would be taken according to appropriate legal authorities."

Specter said that challenging Bush's contention that he can ignore laws written by Congress should be a matter of institutional pride for lawmakers. He also connected Bush's defiance of laws to several Supreme Court decisions in which the justices ruled that Congress had not done enough research to justify a law.

''We're undergoing a tsunami here with the flood coming from the executive branch on one side and the judicial branch on the other," Specter said. ''There may as well soon not be a Congress. . . . And I think that most members don't understand what's happening."