Saturday, July 28, 2007

Why didn't you do something?!

The conventional wisdom is that the 9/11 attacks were not thwarted because we had a collossal failure by the intelligence community. There has been a lot of hand wringing and finger wagging about a failure to 'connect the dots.' A 9/11 Commission wrote a report about these problems, and how ironic that one the members of this Commission, Jamie Gorelick, had been the architect of the legal wall constructed to stop cooperation and information sharing between CIA and FBI agents. Well, here we go again. The Director of National Intelligence wants Congress to write new law to replace the antiquated 1978 FISA law. I am at a loss of words to understand how gathering intelligence about enemies to the US can be a partisan issue. Those enemies who want to kill us do not give a big whoop whether the Democratic Party or Republican Party has the White House or the Congress. Moderate Republican, Heather Wilson is the sponsor of a bill in the House intended to fix FISA law. Will her bill come to a final vote before the August recess?
I have my doubts.

Here is an open letter from Heather about this issue.

Dear Friends,

Not too long ago, we had a briefing in the Intelligence Committee that made me so angry that, when it was over, I had to go back to my office and close my door for a bit to cool off and think.

We have a problem. It is a problem created because our foreign intelligence laws have not kept pace with changes in technology. And the failure of the Congress to act and fix the law is putting Americans at risk.

I have been in the forefront of trying to modernize our foreign intelligence laws while protecting American civil liberties since early last year.

America spies on our enemies and in the war on terrorism, intelligence is the first line of defense. We try to discover the plans and intentions of our enemies so that we can identify them and stop them before they strike.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Law was written in 1978 and intended to protect the civil liberties of Americans. The law requires a warrant to collect intelligence off a wire in the United States. When the law was written, almost all international calls were over the air – bounced off satellites. Over the air or "radio" communications did not require a warrant, but there are procedures in place to mask or destroy information about Americans if our intelligence agencies inadvertently collect a U.S. call. In 1978, almost all local calls were over a wire. Now, because of changes in technology, the situation is completely reversed. Almost all long haul communications are over wires or fiber optic cables and most local calls are over the air.

The problem is that our intelligence agencies are forced to go to a judge and prove they have probable cause to get a warrant to listen to foreigners in foreign countries if the conversation is collected off a wire in the United States. Think about that. We are doing everything we can, taking tremendous risks to listen to some terrorist talking to another terrorist in the tribal areas of Pakistan and we can’t try to snag that communication off a wire in the US without a warrant.

This is not how the law was intended to work and it needs to be fixed.

So, I’ve been working on getting it fixed. When quiet conversations with my Democratic colleagues didn’t spur them to make the political decision to act, we started increasing the public pressure at hearings, press conferences and with motions to recommit and previous question votes. I have been meeting with my colleagues who are not on the intelligence committee and explaining to them why this matters and enlisting them in the fight.

There are some indications this week that our campaign is having an impact and we may be forcing the issue and getting it addressed.

Yesterday, we got another push in a letter from the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell. He is a low key guy not prone to hyperbole or grandstanding. He is a career military officer and intelligence professional. Read his letter and you’ll see what I mean.

We have to fix FISA.

Wish you were here,

I hope I'm wrong, and the congresscritters™ in a brief moment of sanity, come to their senses and pass this much needed legislation.

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