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DOJ inspector general to investigate NSA ties

With a new Congress forming, Department shows a newfound interest in scrutinizing NSA spying involvement.

The Justice Department's inspector general is investigating the department's connection to the NSA domestic spying program, but the probe won't touch on the constitutionality of the program, The Washington Post reports.

The "program review" will examine how the Justice Department has used information obtained from the NSA program, as well as whether Justice lawyers complied with the "legal requirements" that govern it, according to Fine's letter. Officials said the review will not examine whether the program itself is legal.

The probe comes amid a dramatically changed political environment. Democrats who have been sharply critical of the surveillance program will soon control the Judiciary and intelligence committees, which oversee Justice and the NSA. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called Fine's investigation "long overdue."

But other Democrats wonder whether the department's new spirit of investigation is an attempt to appease Democrats.

Fine has previously declined requests from lawmakers to conduct a broader probe into the legality of the NSA program, arguing that such an inquiry is beyond his jurisdiction. Those requests were referred to the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, which was forced to abandon its effort after President Bush refused to grant security clearances to lawyers who needed them.

At the same time, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which was established by Congress and whose five members were appointed by Bush, received its first briefings recently.

One member, Lanny J. Davis, a White House lawyer in the Clinton administration, said in an interview that he was "pleasantly surprised" by the privacy protections built into the program. He declined to discuss the program in detail because of secrecy restrictions.

"I was astonished at the extent to which they are all concerned about the legal and civil liberties and privacy implications of what they were doing," Davis said. "It was a constant theme of concern, awareness and training way beyond what I expected."

Davis said the briefings convinced him that the program had been carefully constructed from the start. "It was clear that as they thought about it, they put it together in a way that minimized problems to the best extent that they could," he said.