The liberal Center for American Progress organized a panel discussion to criticize a newly-passed bill that expands the Bush administration’s wiretapping program under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act on Wednesday.
“I don’t think the case has been made that this broad authority is necessary or even potentially useful to our national security,” said Kate Martin, director of the Center National Security Studies.
CAP, largely staffed by former Clinton administration aides, hosted the event to draw the battle lines over the upcoming fight to reauthorize a FISA modernization bill. Originally passed in 1978, FISA regulates how the government may collect intelligence directed at foreign powers or agents of foreign powers inside the United States.
Before breaking for August recess, the Democratic Congress narrowly passed the Protect America Act, which temporarily allows the Bush administration to monitor foreign communications carried on U.S. equipment through December 31, 2007. The Bush administration had requested a permanent change in FISA law.and is now pushing for renewal before the end of the year.
The CAP panel-- which included Martin; Mary DeRosa, chief counsel for National Security at the Senate Judiciary Committee; former Rep. Mickey Edwards (R.-Okla.) and Morton H. Halperin, senior fellow for the Center for American Progress--believes the Bush administration has gone too far in their surveillance measures.
Martin said Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell had overstated the case for expanded power.
“You have the DNI coming to the Congress and saying ‘unless we have the authority to do completely broad, unfocused surveillance of billions of communication in and out of the United States and around, we are going to be helpless and subject to attack,’” Martin said. “If that’s the level at which they are operating at trying to find suspected terrorists and people who are trying to get into this country to plant the next bomb, I think we are in trouble.”
Because of recent changes in technology, it is crucial that the law be updated, McConnell pleaded at a May hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“When the law was passed in 1978, almost all local calls were on a wire…[Today] most long-haul communications—think overseas—are on a wire—think fiber optic pipe. And local calls are in the air. Think of using your cell phone for mobile communications….In short, communications currently fall under FISA that were originally excluded from the act. And that is foreign-to-foreign communications by parties located overseas,” McConnell said.
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