It’s high time to end the political posturing over the revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The Protect America Act, which addressed modernizing FISA, will expire Saturday, leaving our intelligence agencies with their hands tied while trying to keep America safe. The Washington Times on January 18 took Senate Democrats to task over delaying this legislation for trial lawyer paydays and impeding the ability of our agents to gather intelligence in time critical situations.
The Senate on February 12 passed the FISA Amendments Act of 2007 by a vote of 68-29. John McCain voted yes, Cinton and Obama did not vote, and Senators Kennedy and Kerry voted against this bill along with the usual group of “cut and run” White Flag Liberals. Now this piece of legislation that is vital to our national security awaits action in the House of Representatives. However, it appears that the House, in a pattern that was clearly established during the first session of this 110th Congress, will again drag its feet on taking the necessary action to move this legislation forward.
The key battle is the provision sought by Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, who wants to grant retroactive immunity to U.S. telecommunications companies that cooperated with government efforts to conduct warrantless surveillance of terrorists after the September 11 attacks. However, there are approximately 40 lawsuits pending against these firms, and the lawsuits could prove to be a financial windfall for a favored Democratic Party constituency: trial lawyers.
Although retroactive immunity is contained in the FISA overhaul legislation passed by the Senate, House Democrats, including John Tierney, are consistently reluctant to pass legislation which hinders the ability of trial lawyers to file lawsuits – even if doing so hinders the ability of U.S. intelligence agencies to prevent future attacks. One only needs to remember his stance on the “John Doe Amendment”, which prevented frivolous lawsuit against citizens who reported suspicious activity to authorities.
FISA, which was first enacted in 1978, created a special court to oversee intelligence collection. The law was amended after September 11 to tear down the wall between criminal and intelligence investigations, which hindered the gathering of information on jihadist activities. The post-September 11 changes were working until early last year, when the special court overseeing the law ruled that if the government wanted to monitor a suspected terrorist phone call between Iraqi villages, it would have to get a warrant every time it wanted to obtain information from a transmission wire on U.S. soil. As a result, U.S. intelligence agencies lost roughly two-thirds of their ability to obtain communications intelligence about al Qaeda before Congress passed a six-month extension of the law in August.
Along with Clinton, Obama, Kennedy and Reid (Kerry did not vote) the entire House Democrat leadership voted against The Protect America Act, as did John Tierney (House Vote #836 — Aug 4, 2007). Then again, would you expect anything less from Tierney? His documented history of voting against Defense and Intelligence Authorizations, along with his steadfast devotion to protecting trial lawyers leave much to be desired by the common citizen. His constituents always take a back seat to his political agenda and his loyalty to the Democrat leadership.