--Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI)
Thirty years after its original passage, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was amended "last year to make clear the National Security Agency and other intelligence operations were legally empowered to tap into electronic communications when one or more of the targets is in a foreign location, without first obtaining permission from a FISA court." That amendment was set to expire this Friday, until yesterday, when the Senate voted to renew the amended FISA.
Not only did the amended act exchange civil liberties for expediency -- a Benjamin Franklin quote comes to mind -- it also provided retroactive immunity to the telecom companies that helped the government illegally eavesdrop on Americans in violation of FISA. A new amendment by Senators Dodd and Feingold would have stripped retroactive immunity, but the Senate voted against it 67-31. Now it goes back to the House, which voted today to extend debate for three weeks, against the wishes of President Bush.
Bush responded from the Oval Office:
"Time for debate is over. I will not accept any temporary extension. House members have had plenty of time to pass a good bill.What Bush doesn't make clear, nor has he ever made clear, is why communications can't be monitored with FISA court approval, ie why we should abandon FISA to allow unregulated wiretapping.
Urging swift adoption of permanent legislation, Bush charged Wednesday that the goal of the militants was "to bring destruction to our shores that will make September 11 pale by comparison.
"To carry out their plans, they must communicate with each other. They must recruit operatives. And they must share information. The lives of countless Americans depend on our ability to monitor these communications.
"It is time for Congress to ensure the flow of vital intelligence is not disrupted. It is time for Congress to pass a law that provides a long-term foundation to protect our country. They must do so immediately."
Three of the five remaining presidential candidates (are Huckabee and Paul still running?) are sitting US Senators, and their votes on FISA tell us a lot about their potential presidencies.
Sen. McCain voted to preserve telecom immunity, siding with Bush. Despite his reputation for being a maverick and an independent, McCain is little more than Bush's toady on issues relating to national (in)security.
Sen. Obama voted against telecom immunity, siding with "30 fellow Democrats to allow the telecom companies to face lawsuits, which civil liberties groups consider a crucial chance to unearth information on the administration's programme of wiretapping without a court warrant." (Or did Obama not vote on FISA?! Do you believe a government website or the mainstream media?)
Sen. Clinton didn't bother to vote at all, effectively helping the 49 Republicans and 18 Democrats who supported Bush. What kept her away from Washington for the vote? Hillary is running for President, of course! Psst... Hillary, yesterday's primaries were in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC. So please tell me again why you couldn't show up to vote against telecom immunity? My guess is that it has to do with something like this.