- The Washington Times - Monday, August 13, 2007


In the wake of congressional passage of a bill clarifying the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to ensure that U.S. intelligence agencies can monitor the operations of foreign terrorists operating overseas for the next six months, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid denounced the legislation and said they want to revisit the issue when Congress returns.

The bill, signed into law by President Bush, ensures that U.S. intelligence will be able to monitor overseas telephone calls, e-mails and faxes — but that authority expires in February. Unfortunately, the legislation fails to provide retroactive liability protection for companies who could face lawsuits from privacy ideologues for cooperating with government requests to monitor terrorist suspects’ communications. The key question today is whether Mr. Reid and Mrs. Pelosi are serious about fighting what will almost certainly be a losing battle on FISA once again or are simply parroting silly rhetoric in an effort to satiate the bloggers and the rest of the lunatic fringe.

Polls hardly indicate that the American public as a whole is clamoring to make it more difficult to monitor terrorist communications: According to results of a Rasmussen Poll released on Friday, 59 percent of voters “believe that allowing the government to intercept phone calls from terrorist suspects makes Americans safer.” Just 26 percent disagree, while 15 percent are not sure. Rasmussen found that 48 percent of Democrats, 53 percent of not-affiliated voters and 79 percent of Republicans agree that allowing the government to intercept these calls makes America safer.

Our best guess is that Mr. Reid and Mrs. Pelosi are engaged in some idle bluster — that they hope to get away with merely demagoguing against the Bush administration over FISA by depicting it as a menace to our civil liberties, without actually doing much of anything about it.

After all, how would the Democrats and the political left benefit by trying to force 41 House Democrats and 16 Senate Democrats who voted with the administration on FISA to walk the plank and jeopardize their political careers by voting to make it more difficult to monitor terrorist telephone calls? The truth is that they don’t benefit with the American public as a whole — but they are gambling that large sectors of the American public are too dimwitted and apathetic to follow such things closely. On the other hand, the left-wing bloggers who comprise the Democrats’ political base are apoplectic right now over what they regard as the party leadership’s capitulation to the White House over FISA. When Congress returns next month, the Bush administration will likely square off with Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Reid over retroactive liability for companies that have aided U.S. terrorism surveillance efforts.

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