Kit Bond Speaks on FISA

The Democrats weren’t satisfied with the ad libeling Gen. David Petraeus.  Now they are attacking the credibility of Adm. Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence.  Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) was a direct participant in the August revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and saw and heard what the Dems did, and what Adm. McConnell did. McConnell, like Petraeus, spoke the truth. Here’s an excerpt of Bond’s speech on the Senate floor this afternoon laying out the facts  about McConnell and FISA;

U.S. Senator Kit Bond
Floor Speech — FISA
Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mr. President, I come to the floor today to set the record straight on the passage of the Protect America Act — which updated the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — or FISA.  
Recently, some critics of FISA, most notably in the House, have been trying to rewrite history and discredit Admiral Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence.  This has compelled me to speak out on the matter.
As Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the sponsor of the Protect America Act, I was the lead negotiator during the final hours as Congress acted to pass a critical, short-term update to our nation’s law governing terrorist surveillance. 

As one who was there, I dispute the misinformation being spread by some, and largely those who were not there, and I will outline the events as they occurred.  For my colleagues and members of the press who are interested in the other side of this story — here’s what really happened:

First, a time-line of events:  In January, the President announced that the Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP) was coming under the FISA Court.  Our Director of National Intelligence, Admiral McConnell, subsequently stated that after that time the Intelligence Community lost a significant amount of its collection capability, and that, combined with an increased threat, compelled him to ask Congress to modernize FISA sooner than later. 

When four of us toured Iraq in May, Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) Commander Lieutenant General Stan McChrystal told us the blockage in electronic surveillance by FISA was substantially hurting his ability to gain the intelligence he needed to protect our troops in the field and gain an offensive advantage.

On April 12th Admiral McConnell sent his full FISA Modernization proposal to Congress and on May 1st he presented it in open session to the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

Immediately following the Admiral’s testimony, I urged that the Intelligence Committee immediately mark-up FISA legislation.  I was told that until the President turned over certain legal opinions from the Terrorist Surveillance Program that Congress would not modernize FISA. 

That Congress would hold Americans’ security hostage to receiving documents from a program that no longer existed was disheartening to me.  We have already received an inordinate amount of documents from the Department of Justice and the Director of National Intelligence, yet I do not dispute the desire or right of Members to seek a few privileged documents from the Executive Branch, and in fact I have joined in the requesting some of them.   But I did disagree with holding up FISA Modernization when those documents are not necessary to do that.

Despite urging from the Director of National Intelligence and knowing that this out-dated-law was harming our terrorist-surveillance capabilities, for more than three months Congress chose to do nothing. 

In late June Admiral McConnell briefed members of the Senate, again urging us to modernize FISA, and finally his pleadings began to gain traction. 

In mid-July, members of Congress agreed to discuss a short-term, scaled-down version of FISA to protect the country for the next few months before we could address comprehensive reform in the fall.  Admiral McConnell immediately sent Congress his scaled down proposal.  

Over the next week, Admiral McConnell was given nearly a half dozen versions of un-vetted proposals from various congressional staffs across Congress and then pressed for instant support of these proposals.  The Admiral returned a compromise proposal to the Senate, including some of the provisions requested.

Finally, on August 3rd and 4th, Congress — on a strong bipartisan basis — passed the Protect America Act.

I am pleased that the Admiral and I could include in the measure we passed several changes suggested by members of the majority party.  We recognize that the legislation can be clarified, but it allowed the Intelligence Community to collect very important foreign intelligence to keep our troops and Americans here at home safe.

After the passage of the act I spoke with a number of members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and I believe that we will be able to work together to craft a solid road ahead for FISA.

Now that I’ve laid out a time-line of sorts, I will address recent attempts by some in Congress to discredit our Director of National Intelligence, Admiral McConnell.

Unfortunately, attacking our military leaders has become the M.O. for some in Congress.  Like others are condemning Petraeus, some are attacking personally another honorable man.  I am disappointed with those who are charging Admiral McConnell with partisanship and duplicity for their own political gains.

Despite accusations to the contrary, Admiral McConnell never agreed to any proposal he had seen in writing by congressional staff.  There were indeed several dialogues where concepts were discussed, but I specifically noted Admiral McConnell reiterating at the end of every discussion that he needed to see congressional language in writing before he could support any proposal. 

It is a good thing he objected, because I was present when several elements of FISA were agreed to that subsequently were noticeably absent from some congressional proposals sent to Admiral McConnell for approval. 

Unfortunately, this bait-and-switch during negotiations was not the only disappointment.  There were efforts by some in Congress to circumvent the committee process and craft legislation behind closed doors without input from the relevant committee and the minority. 

Even as the Vice Chairman of the Intelligence Committee I was excluded from several key meetings.  And not only was I excluded, most members of the Intelligence Committee — Republican and Democrat — were left out of the process.

Despite attempts to leave out key members of Congress during the last negotiations, I am confident that the Senate Intelligence Committee can pass comprehensive FISA reform this Fall.  Recently, I have had positive and encouraging talks with Chairman Rockefeller and other Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee.  We are working together on this issue and I have confidence in my colleagues on the committee to come together on this issue. 

Unfortunately, some House members are still trying to demonize to the American Public the Protect America Act that we passed in August, saying that the bill went to far and was a power grab of executive power.  They wrongly claim that the law allows warrantless physical searches of Americans’ homes, office and computers and reduces the FISA Court to a rubberstamp.  While I agree that the law can be improved upon to clarified, nothing could be farther from the truth.  Quite the opposite, the law gave the FISA court a greater role than it was ever meant to have in the 1978 FISA law, and it in no way allows for warrantless physical searches of Americans’ homes, offices and computers.  This sort of inaccurate fear mongering should have no place in this debate.

I am counting on cooler heads to prevail in the Senate Intelligence Committee, and in the Committee we are making real progress of late.  I think with the members we have on our committee we have a real chance to forge bipartisan solutions.  We have a lot of different opinions but all our members want to do what is best for our national security and best ensures privacy protections.   The key is working out just the right balance, and I am optimistic we will do so soon.

As we saw in the strong bipartisan support for the Protect America Act, we can act in a bipartisan manner to protect terrorist surveillance — a critical early warning system — while protecting civil liberties of ordinary Americans.

I thank the chair and yield the floor.