Intelligence and National Security Alliance chairman and former National Counterterrorism Center director and current foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama John Brennan told National Journal last week:
I do believe strongly that [telecoms] should be granted that immunity. They were told to [cooperate] by the appropriate authorities that were operating in a legal context. I know people are concerned about that, but I do believe that’s the right thing to do.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV) told the Los Angeles Times:
At the end of the day, it was clear to us that the companies believed their cooperation was necessary, legal and would help stop future terrorist attacks. Whether you agree or not with the president’s legal rationale is a separate issue.
The Senate has passed a bipartisan bill that updates 1978’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that brings our nation’s intelligence legal framework into the 21st century. The House has had 216 days since Congress knew a permanent fix to FISA was needed, and they have had 24 days since the last time they asked for an extension to pass legislation that could be reconciled with the Senate bill. Yesterday the House introduced and tomorrow they will pass a completely new FISA bill that is not intended to conference with the bipartisan Senate bill at all. House Democrats wrote their bill without any input from congressional Republicans or the White House. Yesterday the White House stated the obvious: the bill is dead on arrival.
As the Office of the Director of National Intelligence noted yesterday, the House bill has two huge flaws which will severely hamper the capabilities of U.S. intelligence services to protect us. First, the House bill would require prior court approval before allowing surveillance targeting on foreign terrorists located outside the U.S. This new requirement will result in the loss of vital intelligence by delaying intelligence collection. Intelligence missed through such delays is intelligence lost forever. Second, the House bill still does not provide the protections for telecommunications companies necessary to ensure the future cooperation of the private sector in the protection of U.S. national security.
The abject scaremongering by the left on “the NSA’s warrantless domestic spying” is not supported by any facts. The details of the program in question have not, and should not, be revealed. But from what we can piece together from the public record, the program in question touched domestic communications only incidentally and there is zero evidence anywhere that anyone innocent Americans have had their telephone calls listened to or their emails read.
FISA experts have made it clear the NSA program in question was probably targeted at electronic communications like email. Due to the complexity and interconnectedness of modern communications, it is impossible for telecommunication companies, or the NSA, to instantly determine whether a single packet of information traveling through a wire in the U.S. is purely foreign in nature (someone in Baghdad e-mailing someone in Riyadh) or purely domestic. The NSA uses complex algorithms to determine if a communication if foreign or domestic, but they first require cooperation from a telecommunication company to keep that data.
The temporary FISA bill passed in August allows the NSA to continue to apply these algorithms but if the NSA wants to make any changes to their process (and we want them to be improving their sorting abilities all the time) then the FISA court would have to approve them. When House liberals went on vacation and let the temporary FISA changes expire, they made it impossible for the FISA court to sign off on any NSA changes to their program. This is why the passage of permanent FISA reform is so time sensitive: every day that passes under the 1978 FISA rules is another day U.S. intelligence cannot improve out intelligence gathering capabilities.