Monday, February 18, 2008

On Tuesday, Imad Mugniyeh, a senior Hezbollah terrorist responsible for killing hundreds of Americans, was assassinated in Damascus, Syria. Regardless of who actually blew up the car carrying Mugniyeh, Hezbollah has made very clear who it blames: its mortal enemy, Israel, who it threatens to attack at a time and place of its choosing. But even as the FBI moves in a careful, measured way to bolster U.S. defenses against any violent response here, the House Democratic leadership (specifically, Speaker Nancy Pelosi; Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers; Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes; and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer) has a very different political agenda. Thanks to them, the House adjourned Thursday until Feb. 25 rather than act on legislation to strengthen the ability of U.S. intelligence agencies to monitor foreign terrorist telephone calls and e-mails under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)

No government officials claim that a Hezbollah attack on Israeli or other Jewish targets in this country is imminent. But the Iranian-backed terrorist organization has demonstrated the ability to strike in the Western Hemisphere: it killed 29 people in the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina and 86 more in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center there. The FBI (which has estimated that Hezbollah has cadres in at least 14 American cities) has ordered its 101 nationwide terror task forces to be on the alert for threats against synagogues and other Jewish targets in the wake of Mugniyeh’s death. Given this, common sense would seem to dictate that the White House and Congress should work together to improve rather than damage the ability to monitor potential terrorist communications under FISA.

Last week, the Senate did the responsible thing, voting 68-29 for compromise legislation to overhaul FISA (S. 2248) and give retroactive liability protection to telecommunications firms that have been targeted by lawsuits from organizations like the ACLU for helping U.S. intelligence agencies monitor jihadist communications after September 11. Voting for S. 2248 (and thereby earning themselves years of vilification from left-wing bloggers) were such prominent Democrats such as Sens. Max Baucus (Montana); Tom Carper (Delaware); Robert Casey (Pennsylvania); Kent Conrad (North Dakota); Daniel Inouye (Hawaii); Herb Kohl (Wisconsin); Barbara Mikulski (Maryland); Bill Nelson (Florida); Jay Rockeller, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (West Virginia); Ken Salazar (Colorado); Jim Webb (Virginia); and Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island).

Given the fact that 21 relatively moderate Blue Dog Democrats led by Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas have signed a letter to Mrs. Pelosi urging her to yield on FISA, the speaker realized that she was in danger of suffering yet another humiliating political defeat on the issue. So she pulled the bill from the floor and sent the House on vacation. What this means is that for at least one more week, U.S. intelligence agencies will need to get judicial permission to monitor any new suspected terrorist communications between Beirut and Tehran or Karachi and Kabul. Thus far, Mrs. Pelosi and her friends have responded contemptuously to the security concerns expressed by National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell. The most critical question now is whether Mr. Ross and his fellow Blue Dogs can somehow persuade Mrs. Pelosi that pandering to the kook fringe on national security will damage her politically.

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