Congress has less than a week to make sure our intelligence officials do not lose critical tools they need to monitor terrorists overseas and disrupt plots against our nation. Democrats must act now and pass a permanent fix to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Last year, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell notified Congress about a dangerous loophole in our ability to collect intelligence information overseas. Recent technological changes prevented intelligence agents from listening to overseas terrorists without a court order. Mr. McConnell estimated that the intelligence community was “missing” two-thirds of all overseas terrorist communications.
To address the intelligence community’s concerns, Congress passed the Protect America Act in August of last year. That Act is set to expire in the next few days. A permanent legislative fix is necessary to ensure that our intelligence officials can obtain critical information about Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and other international terrorist networks.
After six months of stalling, Democrats now come perilously close to threatening every American’s safety. Too busy launching political attacks against the administration, House Democrats ignored Mr. McConnell’s request and instead passed a bill that undercut the intelligence community’s ability to protect our nation and granted unprecedented rights to terrorists. Rather than support the intelligence community’s efforts, House Democrats bowed to the demands of liberal interest groups and passed an unrealistic and impracticable law that the Senate has rightly ignored.
As the deadlines near, the intelligence community’s urgent needs must be addressed. This is no time for partisanship but for responsible action.
(1) Congress has a responsibility to ensure that the original intent of FISA is preserved by allowing intelligence surveillance on foreign targets without a court order. When originally passed, the law imposed no restrictions on monitoring foreign terrorists. Osama bin Laden and other terrorists are not entitled to privacy protections under the U.S. Constitution.
(2) Congress must provide liability protection to U.S. telecommunication companies that responded to government requests following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Liberal privacy groups filed close to 40 lawsuits against the telephone companies. These companies deserve our thanks, not a flurry of frivolous lawsuits.
The intelligence community needs a permanent fix to legal loopholes in our intelligence laws. Rather than support another temporary extension, the Senate should pass a strong, bipartisan bill. And when they do, the House should act quickly, pass the bill and send it to the president to make sure that our intelligence laws are strong and our country is safe.
Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, is ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee.