Senior Bush administration officials spent weeks insisting they would not provide the program's details to more than a select group of eight lawmakers. Briefing the full intelligence committees, Vice President Dick Cheney said in a recent PBS interview, is "not a good way to keep a secret."
But the administration changed direction, offering new operational details to the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. A comparable Senate briefing was scheduled for Thursday.
The shift came as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., announced he was drafting legislation that would require the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to review the constitutionality of the administration's monitoring of terror-related international communications when one party to the call is in the United States.
It also came as Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., chairwoman of a House intelligence subcommittee that oversees the NSA, 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.
She and others also wanted the full House Intelligence Committee to be briefed on the program's operational details. Although the White House initially promised only information about the legal rationale for surveillance, administration officials broadened the scope Wednesday to include more sensitive details about how the program works.
"I don't think the White House would have made the decision that it did had I not stood up and said, 'You must brief the Intelligence Committee,"' Wilson said at a news conference as Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Gen. Michael Hayden, the nation's No. 2 intelligence official, briefed the full Intelligence Committee.
When asked what prompted the move to give lawmakers more details, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the administration has 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."