FISA and Bush De­range­ment Syn­drome

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

The sorry spec­ta­cle that took place on Capi­tol Hill in re­cent days was an out­break of Bush De­range­ment Syn­drome (Charles Krautham­mer’s term) that has threat­ened to crip­ple our abil­ity to in­ter­cept in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ist tele­phone calls. In the end, coali­tions of re­spon­si­ble Repub­li­cans in the House and Se­nate were able to pass leg­is­la­tion that met the min­i­mum rec­om­men­da­tions of Di­rec­tor of Na­tional Intelligence Adm. Mike McCon­nell: mod­ern­iz­ing the 1978 For­eign Intelligence Sur­veil­lance Act (FISA) to en­sure that our intelligence agen­cies can in­ter­cept ji­hadist tele­phone calls abroad with­out hav­ing to get ju­di­cial ap­proval. But it only hap­pened af­ter an ugly scorchedearth cam­paign by con­gres­sional Democrats who sug­gested that Adm. McCon­nell and the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion were ne­go­ti­at­ing in bad faith and that the changes they wanted would un­der­mine Amer­i­cans’ con­sti­tu­tional rights. Both as­ser­tions are false.

The crux of the prob­lem is this: Ear­lier this year, a judge with the spe­cial fed­eral intelligence court charged with over­see­ing FISA ruled part of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ter­ror­ist sur­veil­lance ef­forts in ef­fect since 2001 to be il­le­gal (the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion had op­er­ated the pro­gram sep­a­rately from FISA, but that changed af­ter the ex­is­tence of the sur­veil­lance pro­gram was leaked by the New York Times.) The prac­ti­cal re­sult of this rul­ing was to block the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency’s ef­forts to col­lect in­for­ma­tion gath­ered from for­eign tele­phone calls, e-mails and faxes which are routed through fiberop­tic con­nec­tions in the United States. Back in 1978 when Congress passed FISA, tele­phone calls from Pak­istan to Egypt or from Afghanistan to Great Bri­tain weren’t routed through servers in this coun­try; to­day, the odds are such mes­sages would come through the United States. The fail­ure to mod­ern­ize the law has two pri­mary per­verse re­sults: 1) the NSA cuts back on sur­veil­lance of ter­ror­ist tar­gets, and 2) phone com­pa­nies be­come re­luc­tant to re­spond to intelligence agen­cies’ re­quests for help for fear of law­suits from “pri­vacy rights” ad­vo­cates.

For close to five months, Adm. McCon­nell has been try­ing to per­suade Congress to clar­ify that U.S. intelligence agen­cies can mon­i­tor ter­ror­ist sus­pects they rea­son­ably be­lieve to be abroad with­out hav­ing to lose valu­able time get­ting war­rants. But the Demo­cratic lead­er­ship stonewalled. In the past few weeks, as warn­ings have mounted that al Qaeda might be pre­par­ing to strike the United States again, Adm. McCon­nell has made nu­mer­ous trips to Capi­tol Hill to brief Congress on the threat and work out a com­pro­mise with a Demo­cratic con­gres­sional lead­er­ship that has an ACLU mind­set to­ward ter­ror­ism and an in­tense dis­like of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. In the end, the Se­nate passed by a 60 to 28 mar­gin a FISA com­pro­mise au­thored by Repub­li­can Sens. Mitch McCon­nell and Kit Bond that would serve as a tem­po­rary six-month fix per­mit­ting ter­ror­ist sur­veil­lance to go for­ward; the mea­sure was passed by the House on the evening of Aug. 4 by a 227 to 183 vote, as 41 Democrats broke with their party’s lead­er­ship to give our intelligence agen­cies the tools they need to mon­i­tor for­eign ter­ror­ist cells.

As the House voted, how­ever, the at­mos­phere was down­right poi­sonous, with Mrs. Pelosi’s spokesman sug­gest­ing Adm. McCon­nell had acted in bad faith dur­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions. Democrats were fu­ri­ous that the ad­min­is­tra­tion op­posed a “com­pro­mise” of­fered by House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man John Cony­ers that would have re­quired FISA court ap­proval to wire­tap for­eign tar­gets call­ing the United States.

One bizarre trend dur­ing the floor de­bate on the evening of Aug. 4, was the ob­ses­sive na­ture of Demo­cratic crit­i­cism of the role that the McCon­nell-Bond mea­sure would give to At­tor­ney Gen­eral Al­berto Gon­za­les in over­see­ing sur­veil­lance. (He would share this with Adm. McCon­nell.) At times it sounded as if many law­mak­ers are more pre­oc­cu­pied with bash­ing Mr. Gon­za­les and the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion than in pre­vent­ing al Qaeda from strik­ing the home­land once again.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.