Good morning. At this moment, somewhere in the world, terrorists are planning new attacks on our country. Their goal is to bring destruction to our shores that will make September the 11th pale by comparison.–George W. Bush, February 13, 2008
From the Christian Science Monitor:
Washington – The White House and Democrats on Capitol Hill each had a hand in letting a temporary wiretapping law expire this weekend, but most of the political fallout is landing on Congress.
President Bush had pledged to veto any bill that merely extended the temporary law without resolving the matter of immunity for telecommunications firms that helped the government with its secret eavesdropping program after 9/11. A “patchwork extension” wouldn’t give the security needed to protect the nation, Mr. Bush said, and he urged Republican lawmakers to vote against it.
House Democratic leaders said they would not be “jammed” by the White House into accepting the Senate version of the bill – which includes the immunity provision – and wanted more time to work out differences with the Senate.
As a result, at the stroke of midnight Saturday, the Protect America Act expired.
Bush said Thursday that failure to update the Protect America Act will “harm our ability to monitor new terrorist activities and could reopen dangerous gaps in our intelligence.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in response, dubbed such talk fear-mongering. The president has authority to continue needed eavesdropping under another law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), she said. Moreover, the authorities granted under the temporary law enacted in August will carry on for a year, she added.
“This is the Democratic allegiance to the plaintiff’s bar,” Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday on CNN’s “Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer.” “They’re more interested in seeing [telecom] companies in court than they are seeing terrorists in jail.”
On Sunday, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said on “Fox News Sunday” that “a warrant means probable cause, which is a very time-consuming process to go through.” Moreover, he said, the telecom companies “might be unwilling to cooperate with the lawful requests from the government in the future, without unnecessary court involvement and protracted litigation.”
Democrats say that if a previously unknown terrorist group must be surveilled, the administration can use existing authorities under FISA. “Under FISA, the attorney general can approve surveillance in minutes. Surveillance can begin immediately, and approval of the FISA court can be obtained within three days,” says Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami. Unlike last summer, when Congress first passed the Protect America Act, no backlog of cases exists to slow the process of obtaining surveillance approvals.
So who is correct? Let’s see….
From the Washington Times:
Many intelligence scholars and analysts outside the government say that today’s expiration of certain temporary domestic wiretapping laws will have little effect on national security, despite warnings to the contrary by the White House and Capitol Hill Republican leaders.
The original FISA law, these experts say, provides the necessary tools for the intelligence community to eavesdrop on suspected terrorists.
Who are these lefty pinko liberals?
Timothy Lee, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, said the last time Congress overhauled FISA — after the September 11 terrorist attacks — President Bush praised the action, saying the new law “recognizes the realities and dangers posed by the modern terrorist.”
“Those are the rules we’ll be living under after the Protect America Act expires this weekend,” Mr. Lee added. “There’s no reason to think our nation will be in any more danger in 2008 than it was in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, or 2006.”
Ben Wittes of the Brookings Institution said because existing warrantless surveillance begun under the temporary laws could continue for up to a year, the “sky is not falling at all.”
Mr. Wittes also said he was “somewhat bewildered by the apocalyptic rhetoric” of the White House.
The issue won’t be resolved until at least Feb. 25, when Congress is scheduled to return from its February recess.