We interrupt this congressional recess to bring you an announcement: While the House of Representatives is vacationing this week, terrorists are probably communicating about plots to kill Americans without fear that their plans will be intercepted by U.S. intelligence.
If one or more of those mortal plots are, as a result, successfully executed, we won’t need an independent 9/11-style commission to assign blame. The buck will stop squarely at the desk of Speaker Nancy Pelosi who refused to allow a vote on a permanent renewal of the Protect America Act (PAA).
That legislation provides, in effect, authority for the Commander-in-Chief to monitor our adversaries’ battlefield communications – something successive Presidents have routinely done since the founding of the republic. Unfortunately, in the current, ongoing War for the Free World, the battlefield is global and the enemy’s signals are conveyed by a bewildering array of media not anticipated back in 1978 when Congress first imposed significant, but relatively modest restrictions on how and when American signals intercepts could take place.
To be clear, I believe such authority is inherent in the President’s powers under our Constitution. Unfortunately, a federal court found otherwise last year. This led first to a mad scramble to enact the Protect America Act in Fall 2007 and then, as that temporary, six-month legislation was ready to expire last weekend, to a continuing test of wills between the Democratic House leadership and President Bush. Incredibly, the House left town without scheduling a vote to reenact the PAA on a permanent basis.
Prominent among the stated justifications for this dereliction of duty by the House of Representatives is the fact that the Senate version of the reenactment of the PAA – which was passed recently with broad bipartisan support – included a provision anathema to the lower chamber’s Democratic leadership: It offered immunity from litigation for private telecommunications companies whose help in collecting signals intelligence was indispensable in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
Sadly, this dereliction is not an isolated incident. In 2007, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) – an organization identified by the Justice Department as a Muslim Brotherhood front organization and an un-indicted co-conspirator in a terrorism financing case – threatened to sue several individuals identified to date only as “John Does.” These Americans responded, as did the telecoms, to a request for help by their government. They reported worrisome and provocative behavior on the part of a group of “Flying Imams” prior to a flight from Minneapolis to Arizona in 2006.
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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