A letter sent to Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., from the current DNI Mike McConnell noted of the program, "Shortly after 9/11, the president authorized the National Security Agency to undertake various intelligence activities designed to protect the United States from further terrorist attack. …The details of the activities changed in certain respects over time, and I understand from the Department of Justice these activities rested on different legal basis.
"In early 2006, as part of the public debate that followed the president's acknowledgement, the administration first used the term 'terrorist surveillance program' to refer specifically" to the intercepting of al Qaeda communications, McConnell noted in the letter. "This is the only aspect of the NSA activities that can be discussed publicly … operational details even of the activity acknowledged and described by the president have not been made public and cannot be disclosed without harming national security. I understand that the phrase 'terrorist surveillance program' was not used prior to 2006 to refer to the activities authorized by the president."
Cindy Cohen, legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, sent a statement to ABC News, saying of the letter, "the administration has steadfastly maintained that courts may not review its dragnet surveillance activities unless the administration officially acknowledges their existence.
"With this letter, Adm. McConnell gives that official acknowledgment," Cohen continued.
ABC News obtained McConnell's letter just before a classified briefing the DNI provided to members of the Senate on FISA. The DNI and Justice Department sent proposed legislation to Capitol Hill in April to fix some of the loopholes in FISA about international calls, e-mails or other information going through U.S. communication channels. The administration has been asking for this legislation to be passed by Congress before they leave Washington for the August recess.