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March 14, 2008

Victory on FISA
Posted by Moira Whelan

The House just passed the FISA bill, and then members of Congress will go back to their districts. The House did a great job of pushing for strong oversight, and yet, the Bush Administration continues to think that their actions should go unchecked…shocker. Many members are facing ads and criticism for their support of strong oversight of the terrorist surveillance systems. Jane Harman’s statement today is the best argument out there that Democrats are working to make America safe in the most responsible way possible, while Bush and Congressional Republicans are simply out to distort the truth:

First, the world is increasingly dangerous – and the threats from al Qaeda, Hezbollah and copy cat terror cells are real.  We must do everything possible to intercept the communications and plans of bad guys and prevent or disrupt their plots to harm us.

Second, the actions we take can and must be consistent with the rule of law.  FISA has served us well for 30 years – its framework is sound and, even in it present form, it permits us to secure emergency warrants in a matter of minutes to intercept communications between suspected foreign terrorists and Americans.

Third, FISA does need some tweaking – but the technical changes are not controversial.  All Democrats on the Intelligence Committee proposed them almost three years ago in the LISTEN Act.

Fourth, FISA has always provided immunity for telecom firms which act pursuant to its provisions. Telecoms seeking relief from Congress now did not comply between 2001 and 2005.  Nor did the Administration.  That was wrong, and they must be accountable.

Fifth, telecoms are now complying with FISA and have immunity for all of their activities.

And sixth, press accounts – especially Monday’s story in the Wall Street Journal – make clear that there are up to five ongoing surveillance programs.  Congress is not fully informed, and it would be reckless to grant retroactive immunity without knowing the scope of programs out there.


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