Monday, August 13, 2007

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

I oppose abortion. It is without a doubt the killing of an innocent human being. In my opinion, the killing of over 1.2 million babies by abortion each year is the worst human rights abuse occurring in our country today. But while I believe protecting the right to life is one of the most important issues, it’s not the only issue I care about. An even more important issue is the issue of national security. Because I am pro-life, I also believe in a strong national defense. After all, if a terrorist with nuclear bomb sets it off in a major city millions of people will die and many thousands of others will be seriously injured. If our national security is threatened all other rights, including the right to life of each one of us, will be at risk as well.

I’ve noticed, though there are some exceptions, it’s the politicians who fail to protect the lives of children in the womb who also weakest in protecting our national security. Father Frank Pavone of Priests For Life asks “If politicians can't respect the life of a little baby, how are they going to respect yours?”

A recent example of this was the fight over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. FISA was enacted after legitimate concerns about the abuse of domestic surveillance under the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon Administrations. It was supposed to protect Americans against eavesdropping, but it also allows the interception of overseas communications under certain circumstances.

The National Security Agency (NSA) can intercept foreign communications, but only outside the U.S. It can intercept domestic signals only if the person on the other end is a foreign power, but a warrant must be obtained first. The problem is that we can listen to the calls of known terrorists, but we can’t listen in on conversations of sleeper agents who have not yet been identified. By the time a warrant is obtained, it may be too late.

After September 11, 2001 President Bush authorized the NSA to bypass the special court set up to provide warrants for national-security wiretaps. The authority was limited only to certain cases of suspected Al Qaeda activity. President Bush believed the U.S. government had to be able to act fast to intercept the communications of people outside the U.S. with known links to Al Qaeda." Bush said. That since Al Qaeda was not a conventional enemy, “This new threat required us to think and act differently." Leaders in Congress were consulted regularly about the program. In December of 2005, someone leaked information about this program to the New York Times. The New York Times published information about this secret program which greatly damaged our ability prevent future terrorist attacks. Once the terrorists knew the techniques we were using to monitor them, their communications dried up. I have not bought a copy of the New York Times since.

After this, the program was scaled back considerably. A compromise was eventually reached in 2006 that agreed to scale back the program and to submit it to the FISA court for legal review. But even that scaled down program came under fire. In an overly legalistic interpretation of the law, one judge said that since some phone calls, emails and internet sites are routed through switches in the U.S., the domestic FISA regulations must apply to intercepts of overseas communications.

This insane interprtation of the law, calls to mind what President Thomas Jefferson said when he was accused of overreaching his constitutional authority in acquiring territory for the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. Jefferson said that a "strict observance of the written law is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to the written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the ends to the means."

Led by the pro-abortion American Civil Liberties Union, pro-abortion Democrat Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives and pro-abortion Democrat Senator Carl Levin have attacked President Bush and accused him of undermining the Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure.

Even the bi-partisan September 11 Commission recognized problems with the slowness and inefficiency of the bureaucracy involved in seeking warrants from the FISA court when seeking to track down terrorists. The problem is not that court is slow in granting approvals for wiretaps, but the time it takes get an application for FISA together before it can be submitted to the court.

Recently Adam Gadahn, a spokesperson for Al Qaeda, released a video to the media threatening a terrorist attack which he labeled “The Big Surprise” Imagine this scenario. An officer from the National Security Agency (NSA) is listening in on a phone conversation from a phone call that originates overseas is from a known terrorist and is coming into the United States. In the call, the terrorist overseas is giving instructions for an attack to a member of an Al Qaeda cell here in the United States.

What would you instruct the NSA officer to do? Would you tell him to:
1. Record the call and start an immediate trace of the phone in the United States; 2. Alert the FBI to the threatened terrorist attack; 3. Listen to the conversation for further clues regarding enemy codes for future intercepts; 4. All of the above. If you chose any one of these responses you would be breaking U.S. law, because it is illegal to eavesdrop on people inside the U.S.

On Saturday August 11, 2007, the Congress finally passed a bill to update FISA. The updated version of FISA will now allow the government to intercept communications, without warrants, only between two foreigners that are routed through equipment in United States. This is only permitted if "foreign intelligence information" is at stake. If the government wants to eavesdrop on a U.S. resident, they would still have to obtain a warrant from the special FISA court. Enough Democrats finally relented to pass the bill because they wanted to go on vacation for the Congressional August recess.

The new law will expire in six months, unless Congress reauthorizes it. The Bush Administration wanted the changes to be permanent. Because of delays and leaks we have lost months of time that could have been spent in gathering valuable intelligence against our enemies who want to destroy us.

The very same people who have labored, often with great success, to obstruct the appointment of pro-life judges are trying to undermine the ability of intelligence officers to protect our national security. If Al Qaeda is successful in pulling off their “Big Surprise”, many Democrats, along with their lapdogs in the "mainstream media", will undoubtedly blame President Bush. But I put the blame on the Democrats in Congress, the New York Times, the ACLU and others, especially in the media, who have fought President Bush, at every turn, when he sought to strengthen our intelligence gathering capability against our foreign enemies and defend our national security.

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