In more ways than one, Democrats are exhibiting suicidal tendencies.
The latest example is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to let the House go on vacation rather than take a vote on extending the Protect America Act. The act updates surveillance laws to take into account technological changes and give telecommunication companies immunity from lawsuits over their cooperation with the government.
The result of the House’s inaction is that if the National Security Agency (NSA) needs to monitor a new terrorist group, it will not be able to do so immediately. Even using the 72-hour emergency provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), monitoring is delayed for a day or two while facts can be lined up to ensure that a permanent warrant can be obtained.
“You can’t go back and ask for a FISA for a conversation that’s already occurring,” Arthur M. “Art” Cummings, who heads national security investigations at the FBI, told me for my book “The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack.” [Editor's Note: Get Ron Kessler's book — Go here now.]
That is “the fundamental issue,” Cummings says. “When they pick up on a U.S. conversation, they can’t tell these two guys who are talking: ‘Hey, hold on a minute while we go get a FISA.’ A conversation is a conversation; it happens, and then it’s lost.”
Because of the uncertainty caused by the House Democratic leadership about whether they would be protected from lawsuits, at least one telecommunications company temporarily balked at cooperating. The result was that intelligence was lost.
If a missed telephone conversation or email intercept contained clues to a plot to detonate nuclear devices in Manhattan and Washington — al Qaida’s No. 1 goal — the government would have no way of knowing before both cities were wiped out.
That is the roulette game the Democrats are playing with our safety. In fact, the Senate has already passed an extension of the Protect America Act, and there are enough votes in the House to pass it as well, but the Democratic leadership of the House is blocking a vote.
The same irresponsibility extends to a range of other measures that are aimed at protecting America. Aside from banning waterboarding, which the CIA has not used in five years, the Democrats are pushing to require the CIA to follow the Army Field Manual when interrogating terrorists. The information the CIA seeks is far more critical to our safety than tactical intelligence that may be extracted from captured soldiers.
If that proposed legislation passes, when trying to find out if a nuclear weapon is about to be detonated, CIA interrogators could not subject suspects to freezing temperatures or standing for hours on end — measures banned by Army interrogation regulations.
As CIA Director Michael Hayden has said, “The manual meets the needs of the American military and is sufficient for their purposes, but no one can claim that it exhausts the universe of lawful techniques available to the republic to defend itself—techniques not useful or not suited to the Army’s circumstances but fully consistent with the Geneva Convention and with current U.S. law.”
If Congress passes the legislation, it will “have a direct impact on our ability to gather intelligence and to detect and prevent future attacks,” Hayden says.
Even more extreme, Barack Obama, who has said he would not use nuclear weapons against terrorists, last August voted to give Osama bin Laden and other terrorists in effect the same rights as Americans have when their communications are intercepted. If his vote had prevailed, FISA warrants would have been required for each terrorist before monitoring his conversations and email messages. Obtaining enough information about each of tens of thousands of potential terrorist targets to justify warrants would have brought the entire system for obtaining clues to terrorist attacks and connecting the dots to a halt.
The Democrats’ rationale for gutting surveillance laws and returning to pre-911 thinking is that they are protecting Americans’ rights. Yet since 9/11, not one abuse — meaning an illegal action taken for political reasons—has been uncovered in all of the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism measures.
What is really behind their opposition is fear of alienating the trial lawyers. According to press reports, the 66 lawyers who have filed lawsuits against telecommunications companies that aided the government in hunting down terrorists made a total of $1.5 million in campaign contributions to congressional Democrats.
Rather than infringing on rights, the Bush anti-terrorism measures and the hard work of the FBI, CIA, and military have been responsible for the fact that we have not had another terrorist attack in more than six years.
“The Democrats are politicizing America’s safety,” says Brad Blakeman, CEO of Freedom’s Watch, a conservative group. “By weakening FISA and not protecting the telecommunications companies, the Democrats are making us vulnerable. If the companies pitched in to keep America safe, they deserve the same kinds of protections as the government affords. But the trial lawyers don’t like that.”
The Democrats’ blindness to the need to protect our national security is suicidal: On the one hand, Democrats don’t seem to recognize that Congress itself is an obvious target of another terrorist attack. The hijacked airplane that crashed in Pennsylvania was headed for Capitol Hill. On the other hand, Democrats are giving Republicans powerful ammunition for successfully opposing them in the 2008 election.
Freedom’s Watch, for one, will be running tens of millions of dollars in ads pointing to the Democrats’ actions in undermining efforts to protect us.
“In the coming election, the American people will look at who is making us safe and who is taking actions to weaken us and tie our hands behind our backs in this fight for our lives,” Blakeman says.
As Sen. Joe Lieberman has told me, he is “disappointed” because “my colleagues for various reasons — some ideological, some political — are missing this threat to us.”
The first responsibility of government, the Connecticut Democrat turned independent says, is to “provide for the security of the country, the common defense. This is our constitutional responsibility. And without it we enjoy none of the other blessings of liberty that the country provides and that all of us, including most Democrats, want to help deliver.”
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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