Update 10:35am Feb. 16.
This is the president’s radio address this morning. Maybe Nancy Pelosi will read it on her Blackberry during her social appointments this weekend.
RADIO ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE NATION
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. At the stroke of midnight tonight, a vital intelligence law that is helping protect our nation will expire. Congress had the power to prevent this from happening, but chose not to.
The Senate passed a good bill that would have given our intelligence professionals the tools they need to keep us safe. But leaders in the House of Representatives blocked a House vote on the Senate bill, and then left on a 10-day recess.
Some congressional leaders claim that this will not affect our security. They are wrong. Because Congress failed to act, it will be harder for our government to keep you safe from terrorist attack. At midnight, the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence will be stripped of their power to authorize new surveillance against terrorist threats abroad. This means that as terrorists change their tactics to avoid our surveillance, we may not have the tools we need to continue tracking them — and we may lose a vital lead that could prevent an attack on America.
In addition, Congress has put intelligence activities at risk even when the terrorists don’t change tactics. By failing to act, Congress has created a question about whether private sector companies who assist in our efforts to defend you from the terrorists could be sued for doing the right thing. Now, these companies will be increasingly reluctant to provide this vital cooperation, because of their uncertainty about the law and fear of being sued by class-action trial lawyers.
For six months, I urged Congress to take action to ensure this dangerous situation did not come to pass. I even signed a two-week extension of the existing law, because members of Congress said they would use that time to work out their differences. The Senate used this time productively — and passed a good bill with a strong, bipartisan super-majority of 68 votes. Republicans and Democrats came together on legislation to ensure that we could effectively monitor those seeking to harm our people. And they voted to provide fair and just liability protection for companies that assisted in efforts to protect America after the attacks of 9/11.
The Senate sent this bill to the House for its approval. It was clear that if given a vote, the bill would have passed the House with a bipartisan majority. I made every effort to work with the House to secure passage of this law. I even offered to delay my trip to Africa if we could come together and enact a good bill. But House leaders refused to let the bill come to a vote. Instead, the House held partisan votes that do nothing to keep our country safer. House leaders chose politics over protecting the country — and our country is at greater risk as a result.
House leaders have no excuse for this failure. They knew all along that this deadline was approaching, because they set it themselves. My administration will take every step within our power to minimize the damage caused by the House’s irresponsible behavior. Yet it is still urgent that Congress act. The Senate has shown the way by approving a good, bipartisan bill. The House must pass that bill as soon as they return to Washington from their latest recess.
At this moment, somewhere in the world, terrorists are planning a new attack on America. And Congress has no higher responsibility than ensuring we have the tools to stop them.
Thank you for listening.
The FISA clock is ticking. At midnight, the stopgap Protect America Act (PAA) surveillance reform measure expires. The Democrats are shrugging their shoulders. Paging San Fran Nan…never mind.
Andy McCarthy calls bull and lays out the impact of hampered intelligence-gathering:
Can you see what’s happening here? The whole reason Congress enacted the PAA in the first place is because FISA was never meant to apply to foreigners outside the U.S. communicating with other foreigners outside the U.S. We are not supposed to need court authorization for that. We are not supposed to have to write affidavits, approved by the attorney general and others, demonstrating probable cause that such people are agents of foreign powers — as well as demonstrating that other alternative investigative techniques would not yield the same intelligence.
Those are protections afforded by the FISA statute. Foreigners outside the U.S. are supposed to be outside the protection of the FISA statute, just as they are outside the protection of the Constitution. Saying the government can go to the FISA court is no answer: Government is not supposed to have to go to the FISA court. These people are not supposed to have FISA rights. They are not supposed to have Fourth Amendment rights.
We are talking about thousands upon thousands of communications, totally outside the U.S. (in the sense that no person inside our country is a participant) which the intelligence community used to be able to intercept and sift through without any burdensome judicial procedures whatsoever. That is how FISA was written, and that is how FISA was understood for almost 30 years. Then last year, a secret FISA-court ruling attempted to bring all those communications under FISA-court control — apparently on the theory that, because some digital bits of these conversations may zoom through U.S. hubs in global telecommunications networks, somehow a conversation between a guy in Pakistan and a guy in Afghanistan should now be considered a U.S. wire communication.
But FISA was not intended to protect Pakistanis and Afghans. It was intended to protect people inside the U.S. from being subjected to national-security surveillance absent probable cause that they were acting as foreign agents.
Requiring FISA compliance for foreign-to-foreign communications does not protect anyone inside the U.S. It protects non-Americans, some of whom will be terrorists and none of whom is entitled to any protection under American law. It makes it impossible for the intelligence community to monitor all the foreign-to-foreign communications that we used to monitor because we will never be able to show, for every target, probable cause that he is an agent of a foreign power — as FISA requires. The PAA did not call for that; it simply required a certification that we were monitoring people believed to be outside the United States.
The claim that the expiration of the PAA will not open a huge gap in surveillance coverage is laughable. Right now, we are permitted to collect foreign-to-foreign communications absent probable cause that the target is an agent of a foreign power. As of 12:00 A.M., we will no longer be permitted to do that. It is absurd to suggest that this huge drop-off in collection will have no impact on our security.
Obstructionism has consequences–deadly consequences.
A US Army Infantry Platoon leader has a message for Congress:
Today, because Congress failed to act, our intelligence officials no longer have the legal authority to collect foreign intelligence. Exactly the type of intelligence that disrupted several planned terrorists attacks on the United States. Because we face a very real threat to the national security of this country, we must take very real measures to protect our citizens and give our soldiers and our allies around the world the tools they need to keep us safe.
When will our Congress begin to display even a small amount of the courage that our men women fighting for us display day in and day out? Their refusal to reauthorize this legislation is more than an act of submission to trial lawyers, Moveon.org, and the far-left wing of a party that fails to recognize that we face deadly threats from radical Islamic terrorists. Its an act of political cowardice. It’s a sign of an unwillingness to respect the sacrifices made by the members of the military who need that intelligence to successfully accomplish their mission.