Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Protect America Act & Obama

A major piece of anti-terror legislation was passed by the Senate with large bi-partisan support. One of the people voting against it was Barack Obama.


There is legislation before Congress to correct provisions in FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA, a law originally passed in 1978 in the era before modern communications, today produces the anomaly of requiring warrants for our intelligence personnel to spy on communications between two foreign parties, both on foreign soil. This anamoly was corrected with passage of the Protect America Act, but that had a sunset provision which ran out some time ago. The legislation before Congress would make permanent this correction to FISA and it includes a grant of immunity to those private companies that assissted in intelligence collection in the wake of 9-11 and at the request of the government.

On this latter issue, our nation's spy Chief, Mike McConnell, wrote in December:

The intelligence community cannot go it alone. Those in the private sector who stand by us in times of national security emergencies deserve thanks, not lawsuits. I share the view of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which, after a year of study, concluded that “without retroactive immunity, the private sector might be unwilling to cooperate with lawful government requests in the future,” . . .

There is bi-partisan support in the Senate for the Protect America Act, including in it the grant of retroactive immunity. The bill, which has been under consideration for months, passed the Senate yesterday, with 17 Democrats joining with Republicans in a 68-29 vote. The Senate also voted down an amendment submitted by Senator Dodd and supported by Obama that would have stripped the immunity provision.

The WSJ comments in an Op-Ed today:

Now and then sanity prevails, even in Washington. So it did yesterday as the Senate passed a warrantless wiretap bill for overseas terrorists while killing most of the Lilliputian attempts to tie down our war fighters.

"We lost every single battle we had on this bill," conceded Chris Dodd, which ought to tell the Connecticut Senator something about the logic of what he was proposing. His own amendment -- to deny immunity from lawsuits to telecom companies that cooperated with the government after 9/11 -- didn't even get a third of the Senate. It lost 67-31, though notably among the 31 was possible Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama. (Hillary Clinton was absent, while John McCain voted in favor.)

It says something about his national security world view, or his callowness, that Mr. Obama would vote to punish private companies that even the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee said had "acted in good faith." Had Senator Obama prevailed, a President Obama might well have been told "no way" when he asked private Americans to help his Administration fight terrorists. Mr. Obama also voted against the overall bill, putting him in territory.

. . . This is a fight Senator McCain should want to have right up through Election Day, with Democrats having to explain why they want to hamstring the best weapon -- real-time surveillance -- we have against al Qaeda.

Read the entire article. The only possible motivations I can see to contest this legislation are to satisfy the hard left ACLU wing who seem to believe the war on terror is a figment of the imagination and the ABA who see a gold mine in suing the telecommunications companies for a vioation of privacy. Obama will probably not admit to those motivations, but he stands firmly in that camp. And once again, the actions of the man who would "reach across the divide" and "unite all Americans" speak far louder than his words.

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