Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) Reps. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) and John Conyers (D-MI) took to the Washington Post today to accuse President Bush of resorting “to scare tactics and political games” designed to divide Democrats. Nothing could be further from the truth. If the President was placing politics above our nation’s security he would not have agreed to many of the Democratic amendments that helped the Protect America Act in strong 68-29 bipartisan passage in the Senate. It is trial lawyers and anti-Bush activists that are placing special interest gain above national security and a close examination of the Rockefeller et al. letter shows why.
The letter rightly points out that all of the current government surveillance orders already approved under the updated FISA framework will continue until at least August of this year. And the letter then goes onto admit that surveillance for new terrorist organizations would have to be done under FISA’s old 1978 framework. The letter states: “Those who say that FISA is outdated do not appreciate the strength of this powerful tool.” But if FISA is so powerful in its 1978 version, than why did it need to be updated int the first place? The very FISA reforms that virtually everyone agrees must be made permanent underscore how insufficient the old FISA framework is. So no matter how “powerful” the letter says the old FISA system is, all the letter’s authors have already admitted it is an insufficient framework to use going forward. If they didn’t believe this, they wouldn’t have passed the rest of the changes in the Protect America Act.
The only issue holding up a permanently reformed FISA is protection for companies that cooperated with U.S. intelligence services after 9/11. The letter very coyly addresses this issue in two separate sentences: “The Senate bill also contains a provision to grant retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies that assisted the executive branch in conducting surveillance programs after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. … Companies that provide lawful assistance to the government in surveillance activities should be legally protected for doing so.”
But the letter takes no position on what kind of legal protection for companies would best protect our national security. Meanwhile, The Washington Post quotes sources that confirm Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell’s claim that intelligence information was lost last week due to reduced cooperation from telecoms. From the Post:
“The skittishness and concern is the companies are already spending a great deal of money on a number of suits pending that they don’t have the ability to defend against because of the State Secrets Act,” said one source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. “That’s why the companies are saying, ‘We just can’t put ourselves in the position of having another round of suits against us because there’s no law in place at the moment that will protect us from litigation.’ “