Terror Task Force Head: House Erred on Terror Bill

Wednesday, 09 Jul 2014 07:04 AM

By Elliot Jager

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The Republican-controlled House of Representatives constrained the intelligence community too much, North Carolina Rep. Robert Pittenger wrote in a commentary in The Wall Street Journal.

Pittenger, chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, said his colleagues went "much too far in protecting privacy" when they passed the Massie-Lofgren amendment.

He urged them to reconsider their vote when the bill is reconciled with a Senate version.
Sponsors said the amendment protects citizens against "backdoor" warrantless surveillance. The measure, part of the defense appropriations bill passed on June 20, was backed by a range of civil liberties groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Pittenger counters: "Now is not the time for the U.S. to restrict its ability to monitor terrorist threats" that could uncover whether "foreign-based terrorists" are "plotting an attack with someone based inside the U.S."

The North Carolina Republican said extremists carrying American or European passports pose a particular danger and that ISIS, which has seized portions of Iraq and Syria, has threatened terror attacks against the U.S. homeland.

A majority of the House Intelligence Committee as well as Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, opposed the Massie-Lofgren amendment, Pittenger wrote.

There are sufficient civil liberties protections in place, including the recently passed USA Freedom Act, to provide supervision of the intelligence community by Congress, the administration, and the courts. "Existing court-approved procedures require intelligence agencies to minimize the collection of incidental U.S. communications collected while targeting a foreigner," Pittenger wrote.

The Massie-Lofgren amendment is a throwback to pre-9/11 days when intelligence agencies had been kept from monitoring calls between a 9/11 hijacker in San Diego and an al-Qaida safe house in Yemen, he argued.

"This fall, when the House and Senate reconcile their separate appropriations bills, I urge Congress to remove the Massie-Lofgren amendment from the final legislation," Pittenger wrote.

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