WASHINGTON -- After weeks of insisting it would not reveal details of its domestic eavesdropping, the White House reversed course yesterday and provided a House committee with highly classified information about the program.
The White House has been under heavy pressure from lawmakers who wanted more information about the National Security Agency's monitoring. Democrats and many Republicans rejected the administration's implicit suggestion that they could not be trusted with national security secrets.
The shift came after Representative Heather Wilson, a Republican from New Mexico and chairwoman of a House Intelligence Committee subcommittee, broke with the Bush administration and called for a full review of the NSA's program, along with legislative action to update the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
''I think we've had a tremendous impact today," Wilson said at a news conference as Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and General Michael Hayden, the nation's No. 2 intelligence official, briefed the House panel on technical and tactical intelligence.
When asked what prompted the move to give lawmakers more details, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the administration stated ''from the beginning that we will work with members of Congress, and we will continue to do so regarding this vital national security program."
One Democrat left the four-hour House session saying he had a better understanding of legal and operational aspects of the antiterrorist surveillance program being conducted without warrants, but that he still had a number of questions.
''It's a different program than I was beginning to let myself believe," said Representative Bud Cramer of Alabama, the senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee's oversight subcommittee.
''This may be a valuable program," Cramer said, adding that he didn't know if it was legal. ''My direction of thinking was changed tremendously."
Lawmakers leaving the briefing said it covered the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Justice Department papers outlining legal justifications for the operations, limited details on success stories, and some highly sensitive details.
The White House has insisted that it has the legal authority to monitor terror-related international communications in cases in which one party to the call is in the United States. For more than 50 days, senior officials have argued that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were within the law when they chose to brief only the eight lawmakers who lead the House and Senate and its intelligence committees.