July 25, 2007

John Doe Protection Restored?

A last-minute press by Republicans in a conference committee may have restored protection for national-security tipsters against litigation, according to the Associated Press. The conference report for the stalled security bill has not yet been released, but it appears to have been salvaged for political expediency, as Democrats have despaired of getting anything accomplished this year:

Congressional negotiators reached tentative agreement Tuesday on steps to strengthen air and sea defenses against terrorists in legislation aimed at fulfilling recommendations made three years ago by the 9/11 Commission.

The bill outlines plans to inspect all cargo on passenger planes within three years and screen, within five years, all U.S.-bound cargo ships for nuclear weapons before they leave foreign ports.

It also realigns the formulas for distributing federal security funds so that states and cities most at risk of terrorist attack receive a larger share.

This was one of the key promises made by Democrats in last year's election -- to fully implement the remaining 9/11 Commission recommendations. The Republicans agreed on most of the points, but had some notable objections. The GOP refused to budge on allowing unionization of TSA screeners, which had prompted a veto threat. They resisted the requirement to inspect 100% of cargo coming to the US at the foreign port of export for radiation, since the technology still doesn't exist and may not by the time the five-year deadline arrives. However, White House didn't threaten a veto on that clause, and it appears to have survived the compromise.

What did the GOP get in return?

The last obstacle was cleared when negotiators crafted language to satisfy a Republican demand giving immunity from lawsuits to people who report suspicious behavior. The issue grew out of an incident last fall where six Muslim scholars were removed from a flight in Minneapolis after other passengers said they were acting suspiciously. The imams have since filed a lawsuit, saying their civil rights were violated.

Finally, the government will extend the same kind of whistleblower protection to tipsters on national security as they do in other industries -- and take away a tool of intimidation from those who wish to cow the American traveling public into silence. Since we now have TSA reporting an increase in probing events at airports, getting the public to assist in security seems like a pretty good idea. And since the Flying Imams incident that prompted this legislation appears to have been a kind of probing incident in itself, it seems fitting that Congress acts now, rather than wait for the next attack to have already occurred.

If the conference report does not contain the John Doe protections, we will need to step up our communications to our Representatives and Senators in Washington to get it passed immediately on another upcoming bill.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Comments (3)

Posted by felix | July 25, 2007 7:21 AM

As to those Senators and House members who voted "no" on John Doe legislation, their opponents in upcoming eletions should use this issue against them.

Posted by Duke DeLand | July 25, 2007 7:41 AM

We need to stay on our legislators NOW to insure they are pressured over the newest warnings for airports, and made to understand how very much their vote against this protection would be remembered.


Posted by oldguy | July 25, 2007 9:14 AM

Even Tariq Ramadan understands "John Doe" issues, as Malise Ruthven observes in the latest New York Review of Books: "Ramadan said that all citizens must "come together and fight" terrorism. It was, he said, important to distinguish between a "tiny minority" and the wider Muslim community who condemned extremism. "Anyone who knows something should call the police," he said. But he also added: "We must be very cautious not to nurture this sense of suspicion toward Muslims." People should reach out to their neighbors. "We need to get to know each other and build spaces for trust.""
Is he "profiling"? Why can't congressional Dems see this? http://www.nybooks.com/articles/20503