Friday, February 15, 2008

President Bush and DNI Mike McConnell Urge Passage of the Protect America Act

"Today, we face some of the greatest threats that any generation will ever know, and we must not be slow in confronting them. We must continue to emphasize integration across the Community to better serve our customers, provide frank, unencumbered analysis, and strengthen collection capabilities that continue to penetrate the seemingly impenetrable."---
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell


In a 2-14-08 speech at the White House, President Bush told the media:

This Saturday at midnight, legislation authorizing intelligence professionals to quickly and effectively monitor terrorist communications will expire. If Congress does not act by that time, our ability to find out who the terrorists are talking to, what they are saying, and what they are planning will be compromised. It would be a mistake if the Congress were to allow this to happen.

...Earlier this week the Senate did act, and passed a strong bill, and did so with a bipartisan majority. The Senate bill will ensure that we can effectively monitor those seeking to harm our people. The Senate bill will provide fair and just liability protection for companies that assisted in the efforts to protect America after the attacks of September the 11th. Without this protection, without this liability shield, we may not be able to secure the private sector's cooperation with our intelligence efforts. And that, of course, would put the American people at risk.

Now it's the House's turn to act. It is clear that the Senate bill would pass the House with bipartisan support. Republicans and Democrats in the Senate can put partisanship aside, and pass a good bill. There's no reason why the House cannot do the same, and pass the Senate bill immediately.

...The lives of countless Americans depend on our ability to monitor terrorist communications. Our intelligence professionals are working day and night to keep us safe, and they're waiting to see whether Congress will give them the tools they need to succeed or tie their hands by failing to act. The American people are watching this debate, as well. They expect Congress to meet its responsibilities before they leave town on a recess.

...[P]eople are wondering why companies need liability protection. Well, if you cooperate with the government and then get sued for billions of dollars because of the cooperation, you're less likely to cooperate. And obviously we're going to need people working with us to find out what the enemy is saying and thinking and plotting and planning [Full text].

It sounds to me like people on the far left are trying to use lawsuits to intimidate telecom companies who cooperate with the government so that their fellow citizens will be protected from terrorists. There are about 40 lawsuits pending.

I wonder who is paying these trial lawyers to bring these lawsuits? Perhaps people who give the terrorists legal support will be paying the trial lawyers. Who are these trial lawyers and who are their clients?

I think that the far left is trying to use the law as a weapon to intimidate people who want to help President Bush protect us from terrorists. Probably some of these people even want to help the terrorists communicate with each other, although they disguise their low motives as high-minded concern for our civil liberties. Really, I think that the ACLU and similar organizations just want the terrorists to have carte blanche. I think that the ACLU is on the terrorists' side and is trying to prevent our government from spying on the terrorists, but the ACLU disguises its motives by scaring people with hysterical claims that the government is targeting totally innocent people.

Some Democrats did support the Protect America Act, but not Senators Clinton and Obama.

According to the Chicago Tribune (2-12-08):

[T]he Senate version contains a provision that grants such large telecommunications companies as AT&T and Verizon retroactive civil immunity for allegedly cooperating with the NSA after Sept. 11. About 40 lawsuits have been filed against the companies alleging violations of wiretapping and privacy laws.

The immunity provision was fought bitterly by a cadre of senators, led by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), who spent more than 20 hours on the Senate floor trying to persuade his colleagues to strike the provision. Dodd called the bill a "travesty."

Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), also a fierce opponent of many aspects of the legislation, labeled the bill "dangerous."

The amendment to strike the immunity provision was rejected 61-37, with the likely Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, supporting immunity. One of the leading Democratic presidential contenders, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, opposed it, while the other, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, did not vote [Full text].

Today, The Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell published an Op-Ed in the Washington Post (2-15-08) titled "A Key Gap In Fighting Terrorism: Private Firms Need Liability Protection."

McConnell's Op-Ed was also posted here on the DNI site.

McConnell argues:

One of the most critical weapons in the fight against terrorists and other foreign intelligence threats -- the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) -- has not kept up with the technology revolution we have experienced over the past 30 years. We are on the brink of bringing this 20th-century tool in line with 21st-century technology and threats. The Senate has passed a strong bill, by an overwhelmingly bipartisan margin, that would modernize FISA and do the right thing for those companies that responded to their country's call for assistance in its hour of need. It would also protect the civil liberties we Americans cherish. The bill is now before the House of Representatives.

For almost two years, we have worked with Congress to modernize FISA and ensure that the intelligence community can effectively collect the information needed to protect our country from attack -- a goal that requires the willing cooperation of the private sector. Unfortunately, there were significant gaps in our ability to collect intelligence on terrorists and other national security threats because the 1978 law had not been modernized to reflect today's global communications technology.

The Protect America Act, passed by Congress last August, temporarily closed the gaps in our intelligence collection, but there was a glaring omission: liability protection for those private-sector firms that helped defend the nation after the Sept. 11 attacks. This month, I testified before Congress, along with the other senior leaders of the intelligence community, on the continuing threats to the United States from terrorists and other foreign intelligence targets. We stated that long-term legislation that modernized FISA and provided retroactive liability protection was vital to our operations. The director of the FBI told the Senate that "in protecting the homeland it's absolutely essential" to have the support of private parties.

This is not news. Senior intelligence leaders have repeatedly testified that providing retroactive liability protection is critical to carrying out our mission. We are experiencing significant difficulties in working with the private sector today because of the continued failure to address this issue. As we noted before the House, if we do not address liability protection we "believe it will severely degrade the capabilities of our Intelligence Community to carry out its core missions of providing warning and protecting the country."

The Protect America Act was scheduled to expire Feb. 1, but Congress passed a 15-day extension to give itself the time lawmakers said was necessary to complete work on legislation to modernize FISA and address liability protection. President Bush signed that extension, but the law will expire tomorrow unless Congress acts again.

Some have claimed that expiration of the Protect America Act would not significantly affect our operations. Such claims are not supported by the facts. We are already losing capability due to the failure to address liability protection. Without the act in place, vital programs would be plunged into uncertainty and delay, and capabilities would continue to decline. Under the Protect America Act, we obtained valuable insight and understanding, leading to the disruption of planned terrorist attacks. Expiration would lead to the loss of important tools our workforce relies on to discover the locations, intentions and capabilities of terrorists and other foreign intelligence targets abroad. Some critical operations, including our ability to adjust to dynamic terrorist threats that exploit new methods of communication, which sometimes requires assistance from private parties, would probably become impossible. And the difficulties we face in obtaining this essential help from private parties would worsen significantly if the act expires or is merely extended without addressing this issue. Without long-term legislation that includes liability protection, we will be delayed in gathering -- or may simply miss -- intelligence needed to protect the nation.

These circumstances can be avoided. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, after an in-depth review of our operations, recognized on a bipartisan basis the importance of providing liability protection to those who assisted our nation in a time of great need. The committee's report stated that "without retroactive immunity, the private sector might be unwilling to cooperate with lawful government requests in the future without unnecessary court involvement and protracted litigation. The possible reduction in intelligence that might result from this delay is simply unacceptable for the safety of our Nation." We in the intelligence community agree. We urge Congress to act to ensure that we do not again have gaps or lapses in gathering intelligence necessary to protect the nation because of an outdated law or a failure to shield private parties from liability for helping to protect the nation.

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