If House Democrats and a large portion of the media have their way, American intelligence targeting terrorists would become “deaf and blind,” Sen. Kit Bond tells Newsmax.
As vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Bond has an inside track to that secret world. Yet when the ranking minority member of the intelligence committee tries to correct misimpressions created by the media, he is usually ignored.
In a wide-ranging interview, the Missouri Republican said House Democrats are threatening Americans’ safety by erecting roadblocks that make it difficult to find clues to the next terrorist attack.
In particular, Bond cites a House of Representatives’ revision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The Democrats’ bill, now being considered by the Senate, says no warrant would be required before intercepting communications between callers in foreign countries. But that is misleading because there is usually no way to tell if an individual is about to place calls to the U.S. For that reason, Bond says, the Democrats’ bill would require a warrant before listening in on a call by Osama bin Laden to an al-Qaeda cell group in the United States about, for example, the timing of a simultaneous attack on London, Madrid, Munich and Washington.
“We have no way of knowing where the hell he’s going to call or where he’s going to email,” Bond says. “Until you tap it and maybe get a helluva lot more information, you don’t know whether the communication is foreign-to-foreign or foreign-to-domestic. Under the House Democrats’ law, the National Security Agency (NSA) would have to go to the FISA court before listening to bin Laden’s calls.”
Because of a ruling by a court judge on May 31, since most telecommunications now pass through U.S. switching systems, if bin Laden made a call within Pakistan, a court order was required before listening to his conversation. During the months the ruling was in effect, U.S. intelligence was missing up to two-thirds of calls it should have been intercepting, according to intelligence sources.
The ruling delayed by nine and a half hours interception of calls by insurgents who captured American soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Iraq. During that time, officials scrambled to line up legal justifications to listen in.
“We heard from the FISA court that trying to cover all of these foreign intelligence selections so buried them that they built up a huge backlog of requests they couldn’t approve,” Bond says. “And all this effort had minimal impact on the privacy rights of Americans.”
In August, Congress passed the Protect America Act, which temporarily restored surveillance procedures to where they were before the FISA court ruling. But House Democrats have since introduced the Restore Act, which again requires warrants before listening to overseas calls.
Even under the emergency provision of the version passed by the House, the Restore Act could require a day or two to obtain the necessary authorizations to begin listening to a call, Bond says. That’s because, before listening to calls, the government must determine that it will be able to line up the necessary information and justifications to obtain a more permanent warrant.
“The House version scares me,” Bond says. “The House Democrats are politicizing FISA. They’re personally attacking Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence. And now they’re coming up with an incorrectly named Restore Act, which would restore terrorists to the privileged position they had this summer.”
Bond says it’s virtually impossible to obtain an honest account of these and other intelligence issues in the media. As an example, he cites a New York Times story that recently suggested that Justice Department memos from 2005 mean the CIA uses torture in interrogating prisoners. In fact, Bond says, the memos did not condone torture and had nothing to do with the current interrogation program. He says his committee has been fully briefed on the methods used.
“By no stretch of the imagination are the interrogation methods torture,” Bond says. “In fact, the tactics are less harsh than what our military is subjected to during training exercises so they will know what to expect if captured.”
The media ignored Bond’s comments and instead ran statements from Democrats suggesting that the outdated memos meant the White House had misled them on the torture issue. Bond says the media have also created misimpressions about the CIA’s capabilities in the human intelligence arena.
Referring to President Clinton’s director of Central Intelligence, Bond says, “Our human intelligence was almost non-existent, thanks to John Deutch, who got rid of human intelligence, and as a result we did not have sources in Iraq. That’s why we knew so little about Saddam Hussein. And it takes a long time to rebuild that human intelligence network. We are aggressively pursuing oversight of our efforts to expand our human intelligence, which takes a long time to build up. [CIA Director] Mike Hayden has been great in doing that.”
Meanwhile, Bond says, the media have undermined intelligence efforts by disclosing operational secrets that do not entail genuine abuses. In the case of President Bush’s program for intercepting terrorists’ calls without a warrant when they have an overseas nexus, the White House informed key leaders of the House and Senate of the program at its inception. Since the start of the program, no abuses have been uncovered.
When the New York Times disclosed the program, “I was in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq,” Bond says. “The people in the field were saying their intercepts dropped off markedly.”
At Hayden’s confirmation hearing in May 2006, Bond asked him about the impact of the disclosures.
“It’s almost Darwinian,” Hayden said. “The more [secrets] we put out there, the more we’re going to kill and capture dumb terrorists...”
“Because the smart ones will know...” Bond said.
“Yes, sir,” Hayden said.
“... how to avoid it,” Bond said.
In the NewsMax interview, Bond said that while al Qaeda is trying to develop a nuclear capability to wipe out the U.S., it could also engage in cyber attacks that could devastate the U.S. economy even more than the 9/11 attacks did. Such attacks, entailing infecting computers with sophisticated viruses and worms, could shut down power stations and telephone communication, wipe out bank accounts, close the stock market, block the internet and emails, and shut down airline, train, and subway transportation.
“The problem with trying to decide where the terrorists are going to attack is they are a very resourceful bunch, and they keep coming up with other acts,” Bond says. “So intelligence is our first and best line of defense. We’re not being threatened by an opposing army that you can fly over and see with an airplane. We are dealing with some very sophisticated people who know how to use the internet. They have some very well trained scientists — some trained in the United States — who could develop weapons and techniques which we may not even know. We’ve got to be able to find out what they’re talking about, what they’re communicating about, and what their brothers who may fall into our hands can tell us.”
Even under the best of circumstances, uncovering information to stop such plots before they happen is tough. If House Democrats and the media are successful in their efforts to take away the tools needed to develop that intelligence, “They would render a large section of our intelligence assets deaf and blind,” Bond says.
Asked what scares him the most, Bond says, “What really scares me the most is the left wing of the Democratic party, particularly some House members backed up by the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] and other groups and the liberal national media, which is using unnecessary scare tactics to take away the tools that we need to fight terrorists.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.
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