Re­new na­tional se­cu­rity laws

The Republican Herald - - COMMENTARY -

In the days af­ter the Sept. 11, 2001, at­tacks, Amer­ica pur­sued two wars. One was a ma­jor mil­i­tary cam­paign to rout al-Qaida from Afghanistan and kill ter­ror­ists ev­ery­where. The other was covert: a dra­mat­i­cally ramped-up elec­tronic sur­veil­lance pro­gram to fer­ret out ex­trem­ists and thwart their plots.

Congress ap­proved key laws for both. Now Congress is again de­bat­ing whether, and how, those laws should be re­newed.

The first, and most cru­cial, has a mouthful of a name: Sec­tion 702 of the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Amend­ments Act. It ex­pires at year’s end if Congress doesn’t act.

Un­der 702, U.S. au­thor­i­ties work with tele­com com­pa­nies to se­cretly gather phone and elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ca­tions of for­eign­ers out­side the United States. In do­ing so, some emails, phone calls and texts of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens may also be in­ci­den­tally swept into the net.

Pri­vacy ad­vo­cates want Congress to re­quire gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to ob­tain war­rants in order to search for and ac­cess the con­tent of Amer­i­cans’ phone calls and emails ob­tained un­der the law. Those who fa­vor pri­vacy re­forms say they will help shield the com­mu­ni­ca­tions of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens from fed­eral pry­ing.

Those who fa­vor leav­ing the law largely as is, in­clud­ing the FBI and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, counter that these re­forms would cre­ate more hur­dles for au­thor­i­ties and ham­per ter­ror in­ves­ti­ga­tions. They say that cur­rent safe­guards to pre­vent abuses are suf­fi­cient.

In the past, we’ve ar­gued against any­thing that threat­ens to slow or de­rail ter­ror in­ves­ti­ga­tions. We’ll stand by that. We like the out­lines of a bi­par­ti­san bill that would re­new 702; it’s called the USA Lib­erty Act, which re­cently ad­vanced from the U.S. House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, be­cause it pre­serves the gov­ern­ment’s max­i­mum lat­i­tude to pur­sue con­spir­a­tors.

There’s wide­spread agree­ment that this pro­gram has been vi­tal in pro­tect­ing Amer­ica. In one in­stance, in­tel­li­gence col­lected un­der Sec­tion 702 helped pre­vent alQaida’s Na­jibul­lah Zazi from launch­ing a sui­cide bomb­ing on the New York City sub­way, ac­cord­ing to Thomas Bossert, White House home­land se­cu­rity ad­viser. Sec­tion 702 is too im­por­tant to be crip­pled by pol­i­tics or fear of po­ten­tial abuses. We urge Congress to re­new the law and en­sure that these in­ves­ti­ga­tions are not im­peded.

The other na­tional se­cu­rity law Congress should re­new: Just af­ter 9/11, Congress au­tho­rized the pres­i­dent to use mil­i­tary force against na­tions, groups or in­di­vid­u­als in re­sponse to the at­tacks. This is known as the AUMF — Au­tho­riza­tion for Use of Mil­i­tary Force. Even though law­mak­ers may have thought they were green­light­ing a lim­ited use of force against spe­cific ene­mies, three pres­i­dents have in­voked its au­thor­ity to jus­tify bat­tling ter­ror­ists around the globe.

In 2015, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama asked Congress to ap­prove a new res­o­lu­tion au­tho­riz­ing the use of force against Is­lamic State. Law­mak­ers failed to act, but the ear­lier AUMF re­mains in force.

Ear­lier this year, law­mak­ers ob­jected when Pres­i­dent Trump car­ried out an act of war — a U.S. mis­sile strike on a Syr­ian mil­i­tary air­field — with­out con­gres­sional con­sent. Con­gres­sional ac­tion in re­sponse: None. A move to re­peal the AUMF stalled quickly.

Now the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee be­gins a de­bate over a re­newal of the law. The lat­est flash­point: four Amer­i­can troops killed in Niger in a fight against Is­lamic ter­ror­ists.

We’ve watched Congress duck a vote on this is­sue for years. Law­mak­ers know that mil­i­tary ac­tions can be messy and un­pop­u­lar. They fig­ure if things go well, they can al­ways cheer. If things go poorly, well, the pres­i­dent gets the blame for reck­less­ness and poor planning, don’t you see?

We don’t think Congress should re­strict the pres­i­dent’s pow­ers, but we do be­lieve law­mak­ers should weigh in on vi­tal mat­ters of na­tional de­fense. A more lim­ited AUMF also could re­strain a pres­i­dent who has a tweet-first, think-later ap­proach to for­eign pol­icy.

Sen. Bob Corker, the Ten­nessee Repub­li­can who heads the com­mit­tee, re­cently said he feared that Trump’s reck­less threats against other na­tions could set the U.S. “on the path to World War III.” What bet­ter rea­son for Congress to act now?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.