Congressional Democrats are working toward passage of a temporary renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act before adjourning for summer recess this week.
Members of the intelligence community say renewal of FISA is essential to heading off potential terrorist attacks because it allows them to intercept communications between those suspected of terrorism outside the United States.
Despite a barrage of criticism from Republican lawmakers, Democratic leaders have stressed that they are working with the White House on a compromise.
“I am very hopeful that we will address short-term challenges to the intelligence community in ensuring our ability to intercept communications from one foreign source to another foreign source,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, told reporters yesterday.
“We think that is very important while at the same time protecting the rights of Americans under the Constitution.”
“Our nation faces an increased threat of a terrorist attack,” Mr. Boehner said. “Democrats for the last four or five months have ignored this additional threat and have not acted to close what we call the ‘terrorist loophole.’ ”
In a letter to House and Senate leaders last Friday, Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell asked for passage of at least an “interim” FISA renewal, which he described as essential to collecting viable counterterrorism intelligence.
“Although my strong preference is the immediate adoption of the proposal I transmitted to Congress in April, in light of the urgency of the situation, I offer the attached significantly narrowed proposal focused on the current, urgent need of the intelligence community to provide warning,” Mr. McConnell wrote.
Critics of the administration’s request say it goes beyond foreign surveillance.
“There’s no specific privacy protections for Americans,” said Michelle Richardson, legislative correspondent for the American Civil Liberties Union. “We fully support foreign-to-foreign surveillance. But this request would allow for tapping of lines even if one of the callers is an American citizen.”
Several Democratic aides tell The Washington Times that Republicans are focusing on FISA this week as an effort to distract voters and the press from legislative progress on other issues.
A press report earlier this week revealed that Democrats had successfully lobbied the administration to remove a line from President Bush’s weekly radio address that accused Democrats of playing politics with the FISA renewal.
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