Republicans Visualize FISA Reform Permanant

Serving as a member (and past chairman) of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) is serious about gathering and using the intelligence means necessary to protect American citizens from terror threats. Hoekstra strongly supports upholding the recently amended FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) legislation that authorizes the federal government to intercept — without court warrants — potential foreign enemy phone conversations and e-mails originating outside the United States.

Congress modified the law just before leaving for the August recess on National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell’s insistence that there was a need for repair of a newly-discovered problem interfering in the collection of much needed and available intelligence. But a built-in “sunset” provision requires the revisiting of the FISA changes before the end of February.

President Bush last week called for permanent enactment of the temporary fixes, called the “Protect America Act.” Adm. McConnell, Hoekstra and other Republican members hope to make it permanent as well. But convincing Congressional Democrats and other liberals is difficult because some view it is an infringement of civil liberties and privacy rights.

At a conservative bloggers meeting yesterday at The Heritage Foundation, Hoektstra said Democrats want the government to guarantee the wiretapping will only be “foreign to foreign” but that is an impossible demand.

“It is the constitutional duty of Congress…to provide national security and prevent the next terrorist attack and that is what FISA is about,” Hoekstra said.

In times of urgent need for precise intelligence — such as when American troops were kidnapped this spring — McConnell told Hoekstra it took 12 hours to get the commands and documents necessary for a court ordered wiretap, and this is unacceptable for the safety of Americans. Partly for this reason, Hoekstra said there must be a “common sense exception to the law.” According to various reports, McConnell told members of Congress that officials were required to prove their target was likely a foreign agent, then get the Attorney General’s approval in this specific instance.

Hoekstra touted the "Protect America Act" last week after an Intelligence Committee hearing, saying in a press release that it was “a major step in the right direction, ensuring all existing civil liberties protections for Americans were kept while denying them to foreigners who seek to harm us for our very liberties.”

Both McConnell and Assistant Attorney General Ken Wainstein of the Justice Department’s National Security Division testified at the meeting and McConnell said that the Act “has already made the nation safer.”

In remarks at a recent symposium, Wainstein recommended a historical look at FISA and United States intelligence surveillance. He concluded that, in the past, “the communications reality of that time, that dichotomy more or less accomplished the Congressional purpose” but now, times have changed and intelligence must change with technology. He said a “finely-balanced distinction has eroded with the dramatic changes in communications technology in the 29 years since FISA was enacted.”   

According to an AP report, the Bush Administration agrees with Wainstein. The report affirmed that the Administration revealed “technological advances in communications had created a dire gap in the ability to collect intelligence on terrorists.”

Even with the FISA changes, though, authorities have used flexibility with restraint. According to McConnell, no American telephone conversations have been tapped without a court order since at least February, when he came on duty.

Hoekstra told the bloggers group that government must “recruit the people you need to keep America safe” and the “most important thing is not to be PC, but to keep America safe.”

Since the modified legislation doesn’t expire until February, Senate sources told HUMAN EVENTS that the Administration doesn’t plan on forcing Congressional action immediately to enact the August changes in permanent law.