Saturday, February 16, 2008

In Radio Address, Bush Hypes Consequences of Wiretapping Law Expiration In his weekly radio address, President Bush not only blames Congress for tonight’s expiration of the Protect America Act, he says that his government will have a harder time keeping you safe:

Because Congress failed to act, it will be harder for our government to keep you safe from terrorist attack. At midnight, the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence will be stripped of their power to authorize new
surveillance against terrorist threats abroad. This means that as terrorists change their tactics to avoid our surveillance, we may not have the tools we need to continue tracking them — and we may lose a vital lead that could prevent an attack on America.
Nothing about the measure’s expiration prevents either law enforcement or intelligence officials from carrying out new surveillance against suspected terrorists. They will simply need to get a warrant. Nor is exigency a factor, as warrants can even be obtained after the surveillance has begun.

Furthermore, Bush’s hype over tonight’s midnight expiration is undermined by the words of his own top aides. Just 24 hours ago, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell told NPR:

Some of the [surveillance] authorities would carry over to the period they were established for one year. That would put us into the August, September time-frame. However, that’s not the real issue. The issue is liability protection for the private sector.
McConnell let slip that the real goal in the debate over the Protect America Act is not to protect America, but to protect the telecommunication companies being sued for assisting in Bush’s illegal wiretapping. The president claims he wants to protect these companies to ensure their future cooperation. However, legal warrants compel cooperation.

The only reason to insist on telecom immunity is that the telecom lawsuits are the only remaining avenue for bringing to light the administration’s illegal activities. And that is what Bush and his conservative allies will not permit, regardless of how real the cost is to America’s intelligence-gathering apparatus.

– Tom

Experts: FISA will suffice as PAA expires. On its front page today, the conservative Washington Times reports that “intelligence scholars and analysts outside the government say that today’s expiration of certain temporary domestic wiretapping laws will have little effect on national security, despite warnings to the contrary by the White House and Capitol Hill Republican leaders.” One scholar said “there’s no reason to think” America is “in any more danger” than it’s already been in since 9/11:

Timothy Lee, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, said the last time Congress overhauled FISA — after the September 11 terrorist attacks — President Bush praised the action, saying the new law “recognizes the realities and dangers posed by the modern terrorist.”

“Those are the rules we’ll be living under after the Protect America Act expires this weekend,” Mr. Lee added. “There’s no reason to think our nation will be in any more danger in 2008 than it was in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, or 2006.”

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