FISA Debate Back On

Brian Beutler, Media Consortium

In honor of the ongoing FISA debate in the Senate, Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell have sent Majority Leader Harry Reid a letter warning him that he better not allow any significant Democratic amendments to mar the Senate Intelligence Committe’s bill, lest the president veto it and, of course, invite a wave of terrorist attacks against the United States. Liability protection is the just result for companies who answered their Government’s call for assistance. Further, it will ensure that the Government can continue to rely upon the assistance of the private sector that is so necessary to the protection of the Nation….[A]mendments have been offered to S.2248, however, that would undermine significantly the core authorities and immunity provisions of that bill. After careful study, we have determined that those amendments would result in a final bill that would not provide the intelligence community with the tools it needs to collect effectively foreign intelligence information vital for the security of the Nation. If the President is sent a bill that does not provide the U.S. intelligence agencies the tools they need to protect the nation, the President will veto the bill. Emphasis in the original. Those amendments include, well, just about everything:1. A Feingold amendment providing that “no communication shall be acquired… if the Government knows before or at the time of acquisition that the communication is to or from a person reasonably believed to be located in the United States.” 2. A Feingold amendment requiring the FISC to authorize surveillance of a foreign target if a “significant purpose” of that surveillance is to acquire information about somebody in the United States. This is the ‘reverse targeting’ amendment. 3. A Feingold amendment to prevent the government from collecting any communication if the government has not certified that the acquisition “is limited to communications to which any party is a specific individual target… who is reasonably believed to be outside the United States”. 4. A Feingold amendment that hands discretion over the use of illegally obtained information to the FISC. 5. A Feingold amendment prohibiting reverse targeting. 6. A Dodd-Feingold amnesty stripping amendment. 7. A Whitehouse-Specter amendment which makes the U.S. government the plaintiff in any case against a telecommunications company ruled by the FISC to have engaged in warrantless wiretapping activities in good faith. 8. A Feinstein amendment to allow the FISC to certify that the Attorney General’s declaration of teleco good faith is indeed valid.Basically, the president really wants to spy on Americans and really does not want anybody to suffer any consequences for any previous illegal spying activities, no matter how minor. For every objectionable amendment, the letter includes the following warning: if this amendment is part of the bill that is presented to the President, we, as well as the President’s other senior advisors, will recommend that he veto the bill.It’s an odd piece of legislation that’s so crucial to our national security that it can not be delayed, but also so optional that it can be vetoed if it doesn’t provide a number of unconstitutional provisions granting the executive branch the power to break the law. The votes on these amendments will be coming down soon. I’ll provide a wrap-up.

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