- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2008


It has almost become a cliche over the past few years to observe that compromise and bipartisanship are in short supply in Washington. In fact, some presidential candidates in the current race have based their entire campaigns on claims that they are the ones who will finally “bring the country together” or “change the tone” in our nation’s capital.

As appealing as these notions are, the reality is that the unfortunate trend toward divisiveness and partisanship continues. However, there have been some notable exceptions.

One is the bill that the Senate passed Feb. 12 to modernize the antiquated Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and provide the intelligence community with the appropriate authority it needs to effectively monitor terrorists outside the United States.

This legislation was the product of months of briefings and negotiations with Bush administration and intelligence officials, deliberation in the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees, and debate on the Senate floor. Senators on both sides of the aisle remarked that this was the most important piece of legislation that Congress would address this year and, remarkably, it passed the Senate by a supermajority vote of 68-29.

Unfortunately, this rare demonstration of unity was derailed two days later when the leadership of the House of Representatives refused to allow a vote on the Senate bill, even though a bipartisan majority in the House supported the legislation.

Instead of working to “bring the country together,” House leaders spent their last legislative day before a weeklong vacation debating and voting on a seven-month-old contempt resolution against former White House officials, furthering a needless partisan fight.

When they adjourned without voting on the Senate’s FISA modernization bill, House leaders ensured the expiration of the Protect America Act, a temporary fix to the existing FISA law and, in many ways, tied the hands of our intelligence community.

Having swiftly dispatched any display of “unity” and “bipartisanship,” House leaders quickly employed another catchphrase we have heard in the presidential race: ending the “politics of fear.” As is the case with “unity” and “change,” such a development would be welcome indeed.

However, too many in Washington equate ending the “politics of fear” with setting aside concerns about terrorism and our national security and replacing them with a fear of government investigators, who, they wrongly assert, are just itching for an opportunity to listen to Americans’ phone calls, read all of their e-mails and spy on their families overseas.

Of course, such claims are irrational and unsupported by any evidence. Yet many in Washington would have the American people believe that these are our U.S. intelligence community’s real goals.

On the other hand, over the past 15 years, we have seen countless terrorist acts aimed at our citizens, our troops and our allies. Many lives have been lost and many more are threatened on a regular basis. Sadly, merely acknowledging legitimate threats these days is labeled by some as the very definition of “politics of fear.” Apparently, the “politics of fear” can only be practiced by those whose fears are actually supported by facts.

Fortunately for the American people, empty campaign slogans and hollow election rhetoric can’t alter the fact that Congress’ refusal to modernize FISA has hamstrung intelligence analysts’ efforts to acquire and monitor new investigative targets.

Under existing FISA laws, terrorists living abroad enjoy nearly the same legal protections as American citizens residing in the United States. Moreover, telecom companies are in the absurd and untenable position of having to choose whether to comply with the government’s lawful requests for assistance, knowing that cooperation could result in their being targeted for expensive and time-consuming frivolous litigation.

It is neither partisanship nor fearmongering to argue that this is simply unacceptable. It is just common sense. The Senate FISA bill was drafted and passed in the spirit of compromise and bipartisanship. Oddly enough, this campaign season’s biggest proponents of “change” and “unity” voted against it and, for more than three weeks, their allies in the House have refused to act on it.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, is a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

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