August 4, 2007

Senate Agrees To White House FISA Changes

The Senate voted to approve the White House-backed changes to the FISA law after failing to muster any significant support for the Democratic alternative. Sixteen Democrats joined all of the Republicans and Joe Lieberman in passing the legislation, giving the Bush administration a rare victory -- but a temporary one:

The Senate bowed to White House pressure last night and passed a Republican plan for overhauling the federal government's terrorist surveillance laws, approving changes that would temporarily give U.S. spy agencies expanded power to eavesdrop on foreign suspects without a court order.

The 60 to 28 vote, which was quickly denounced by civil rights and privacy advocates, came after Democrats in the House failed to win support for more modest changes that would have required closer court supervision of government surveillance. Earlier in the day, President Bush threatened to hold Congress in session into its scheduled summer recess if it did not approve the changes he wanted.

The legislation, which is expected to go before the House today, would expand the government's authority to intercept without a court order the phone calls and e-mails of people in the United States who are communicating with people overseas.

The bill creates a legal haven for the Terrorist Surveillance Program, the NSA effort outed by the New York Times in December 2005. Bush placed the program under the control of the FISA court in January of this year as a temporary measure while Congress debated how to address it. Democrats wanted to keep more judicial oversight, while the intel community wants immediate flexibility with which warrant requests arguably interfere.

However, there are a couple of important distinctions. First, the FISA law requires any intercept within the US to require a warrant, which this law changes. When FISA was first written, the use of American switches was almost exclusively limited to domestic calls, and the legislation made sense. With the leaps in technology and globalization over the past thirty years, though, American switches handle large numbers of strictly foreign calls. If someone calls fro Hamburg to Yemen, that call could route through an American switch. The NSA should be able to monitor that call without getting a warrant.

The second distinction may present more trouble. In the TSP program as explained repeatedly by the Bush administration, they monitored communications that had one terminus outside of the US -- either someone here calling abroad or receiving a call from abroad. The NSA and the White House assured us that those calls only got monitored without warrants when they had some evidence that terrorist suspects were involved, usually because of a phone number found by previous investigations and intelligence.

This bill does not include that limitation. It gives the NSA carte blanche to monitor all international communications going in and out of the US regardless of whether any probable cause, or any cause, exists to suspect that the communication relates to terrorism. It's a subtle but significant expansion of the NSA's ability to operate without judicial oversight.

We are at war, and at war with a foe that operates exclusively through infiltration and espionage. We need to protect ourselves against that enemy using the best technology and intelligence we can muster. However, at the same time, we had better be cognizant of the parameters of the authority we grant to the executive branch -- and take care to ensure that the power does not get abused, as it has in the past. Forcing a review in six months is a good idea in this case.


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Caving to pressure from the White House, the Senate voted to give the President more warrantless wiretapping power. Under the threat of losing their summer vacation, the Senate essentially “expanded the government’s authority to intercept ... [Read More]

Comments (5)

Posted by Keemo | August 4, 2007 9:27 AM

The Senate, in a high-stakes showdown over national security, voted late Friday to temporarily give President Bush expanded authority to eavesdrop on suspected foreign terrorists without court warrants.

The House, meanwhile, rejected a Democratic version of the bill.

Democratic leaders there were working on a plan to bring up the Senate-passed measure and vote on it Saturday in response to Bush’s demand that Congress give him expanded powers before leaving for vacation this weekend.

What about civil liberties!!?? What about the mandate, folks? President Bush is so unpopular that he’s telling the House, run by the opposition party, to work the weekend and they are obliging. Not only following his orders but giving him expanded federal powers! How does that feel liberals?


“We have been asked to make sweeping and fundamental changes in law for reasons that we do not know and in order to legalize secret, unlawful actions that the administration has refused to fully divulge,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the next Judiciary Committee chairman.

Senate Democrats expressed strong disagreement with the president.

“I’m stunned by the president’s rationale,” said Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island. He said Bush’s justification for the eavesdropping was “without merit.”

Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold said Bush’s comments represent a “retreat from who we are and who we should be” as a nation.

All that bluster and they caved making secret, “illegal actions” legal! Again,Democrats have no principles other than “be in power.” (polipundit)

Pretty bold words written by the good folks over at Polipundit. As usual, I like CE's write-up; as usual CE has a "fair & balanced" dynamic to his views; and yes, this should be reviewed on a regular basis, but reviewed by a panel that is not owned by partisan politics. We are at war, and we must be protected...

Posted by Lightwave | August 4, 2007 10:34 AM

The Dems will cave again, for both the reasons Ed pointed out (we're at war and this is a 100% necessary tool in this war) and the reasons Keemo pointed out (the Dems in Congress still are far less popular than the President and have even less political power than they think they do).

Frankly, the smarter Dems in the Senate know they don't have a choice but to once again give the President everything he wants. Remember, from a political standpoint, the Dems have bet everything on the failure of the Iraq War *and* pinning that failure solely on Bush. If the failure becomes their fault, they lose everything. They are done for a generation in this country.

So yes, they have no choice but to give Bush whatever he wants and have him take responsibility, while pushing as hard as they can for withdrawal and therefore defeat, and risking the genocide of millions of Iraqis. They're not willing to risk that yet, either.

If the Dems push too hard and get their withdrawal, they gain responsibility for its bloody aftermath. If they don't fight hard enough, they lose their moonbat support and gain responsibility for not stopping the war. So they chart an ugly path through the muddled middle.

And meanwhile, they have to give Bush everything he asks for when it comes to Iraq. The second the Dems gain responsibility for Iraq, they are finished.

The voters know this. They see the Dems function solely towards prolonging their own feeble hopes for gain, while we're fighting a war against an enemy that wants to exterminate or subjugate every one of us. Either way, the jig is up in 08.

Posted by exDemo | August 4, 2007 3:19 PM

Senator "Leaky" and juvenile rookie Senator Reed were overruled by 25% their own Party voting with the entire Republican Senate for sanity, reason and rationality.

General Washington intercepted messages here in the US from Benedict Arnold to a British Major. He did this without seeking or getting a warrant, ISA or otherwise.

He also subsequently hanged the Brit for conduct beyond that allowed to a soldier and a POW. Just like we need to do to the POWs and innocent civilian killers, that the Geneva Conventions condemn as a capital Offense.

Posted by Ray | August 4, 2007 5:30 PM

This is just a temporary measure designed to give the impression that Congress is addressing the need to reform the FISA. This really doesn't do much as it will allow expanded monitoring for only 6 months.

Congress obviously understands the need to modernize the FISA to keep up with the changing technology but they are apparently unwilling to stick around and work on an actual reform bill during their "break". It looks like the Senate decided to simply dump the entire mess into the President's lap for the time being.

BTW, Can anyone provide me with a link to the actual bill in question? I've tried searching for it but all I've been able to find are summaries and news reports. Not even the US Senate site seems to help as I can't find any record of legislative action after the 2nd.

Posted by Lightwave | August 4, 2007 6:07 PM

And while I agree that the measure needs review, does anyone here think in six months we won't need these expanded provisions in February?

And with the mega primaries in early 2008, does anyone here think the major Dem candidates are going to vote against renewal?

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