- The Washington Times - Friday, December 16, 2005

“God forbid that there be a terrorist attack that could have been prevented by the Patriot Act after it has expired,” Sen. Jon Kyl said yesterday after the Senate declined to stop a filibuster of legislation that would have reauthorized the Patriot Act. “If that happens, those who have supported the filibuster will have to answer for it, and the American people will have a very hard time understanding what their objections were.”

Sens. Larry Craig, Chuck Hagel, Lisa Murkowski and John Sununu, the four Republicans who voted to continue the filibuster, must now defend their votes to their constituents. None is up for re-election in 2006. Democrats predictably voted en masse to uphold the filibuster, with the exception of Sens. Tim Johnson and Ben Nelson. Unless Majority Leader Bill Frist — who voted for the filibuster as a matter of Senate procedure to enable him to call it up for another vote — pulls a Christmas miracle, the Patriot Act will expire Dec. 31.

The New York Times no doubt influenced the vote with a front-page article detailing the government’s monitoring of certain suspicious telephone conversations, under the headline “Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Court Orders.” Sen. Charles Schumer said the article “greatly” influenced his vote in favor of the filibuster, and it may have influenced others. “[T]oday’s revelation that the government listened in on thousands of phone conversations without getting a warrant is shocking.”

Sad, but hardly shocking. We live in parlous times. What that headline doesn’t say is that the National Security Agency’s program, begun after September 11, monitors only international communications. Paragraph 17 explains: “The program accelerated in early 2002 after the CIA started capturing top al Qaeda operatives overseas … The CIA seized the terrorists’ computers, cellphones and personal phone directories … The NSA surveillance was intended to exploit those numbers and addresses as quickly as possible.”

The program helped uncover al Qaeda operative Iyman Faris, an Osama bin Laden associate who in 2002 was ordered to research the possibility of destroying New York City bridges. He was caught and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Thoughtful and patriotic Americans can disagree over certain provisions of the Patriot Act; the strength of the republic comes from skepticism of government, and it’s right to be suspicious of all infringements of rights and liberties. On balance, we think the Patriot Act is necessary, but we look forward to the day when it won’t be necessary.

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