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Time is of the essence: The government’s recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which assesses the terrorist threats against the United States, reports al Qaeda has significantly increased its efforts to attack and kill Americans here and abroad.

The report also says al Qaeda in Iraq is now the “most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack us here.”

The administration wants two key changes in the FISA law:

(1) The ability to let NSA track foreign calls routed through the United States on a real-time basis.

(2) Give telecom companies liability protection to guard them from lawsuits when they cooperate with intelligence agencies.

But the critics of Mr. Bush’s FISA reforms seem unmoved by the need to act swiftly in the face of the growing terrorist threat.

The key to protecting America from other attacks is swift intelligence that exposes terrorist plots before they are carried out. Osama bin Laden said in January 2006 that al Qaeda would hit us again in our homeland. Not many months after that warning, British and U.S. intelligence foiled the plot to blow up passenger flights to the United States.

Now the NIE report warns of stepped-up activity to carry out other plots against us, and the chief of National Intelligence says our intelligence is missing large portions of critical information we should be collecting.

If one of these plots succeeds before Mr. Bush’s reforms can be fully activated, Democratic leaders will have a lot of explaining to do during their August recess.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.