Our intelligence gathering abilities need to reflect the realities of the 21st century.
By Mike McConnell
Friday, February 15, 2008
One of the most critical weapons in the fight against terrorists and other foreign intelligence threats – the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) – has not kept up with the technology revolution we have experienced over the past 30 years. We are on the brink of bringing this 20th-century tool in line with 21st-century technology and threats. The Senate has passed a strong bill, by an overwhelmingly bipartisan margin, that would modernize FISA and do the right thing for those companies that responded to their country’s call for assistance in its hour of need. It would also protect the civil liberties we Americans cherish. The bill is now before the House of Representatives.
For almost two years, we have worked with Congress to modernize FISA and ensure that the intelligence community can effectively collect the information needed to protect our country from attack – a goal that requires the willing cooperation of the private sector. Unfortunately, there were significant gaps in our ability to collect intelligence on terrorists and other national security threats because the 1978 law had not been modernized to reflect today’s global communications technology.
The Protect America Act, passed by Congress last August, temporarily closed the gaps in our intelligence collection, but there was a glaring omission: liability protection for those private-sector firms that helped defend the nation after the Sept. 11 attacks. This month, I testified before Congress, along with the other senior leaders of the intelligence community, on the continuing threats to the United States from terrorists and other foreign intelligence targets…
An op-ed from the Director of National Intelligence? The premise here has to do with monitoring communications between people in America and people in other countries. None of us care about that. It’s a good idea. I question two things. First, they want to monitor all such communications. Second, I worry that unobserved, they’ll extend that to monitoring our communications with each other. The obvious solution is Oversight. I want a judge looking over their shoulder to make sure that they are monitoring only for National Security reasons, and not turning into Big Brother. After the way this Administration has behaved, I think the Big Brother worry is a very legitimate worry. And anyway, if Bu$hCo had listened to the intelligence we already had, there never would have been a 9/11 in the first place. The problem was not intelligence information. The problem was intelligent leaders [absence thereof] who didn’t listen to what they were told. And then there is retroactive immunity to the telecoms for going along with unwarranted domestic surveillance when it was against the law. I’m fine with letting them off the hook if you put the real lawbreakers on the hook – George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. They broke the law. Put them on trial and I’m fine with letting the telecoms walk.
The key to this yada, yada, yada Bu$hCo Talking Point op-ed is in the byline on the first page that says, "Our intelligence gathering abilities need to reflect the realities of the 21st centery." It’s backwards. The people at the American Enterprise Institute, The Project for the New American Century, the Federalist Society, the Hoover Institute, the Bush Administration etc. all have this backwards. We’re not arguing about the realities of the danger. We’re arguing that these paranoid people are creating the realities of the 21st Century, not facing what’s there. What they say they want to do is fine, only so long as we are protected from our own government by sufficient Oversight. They want us to trust them to do the right things if we’re not looking. With their track record, that’s the most ridiculous request of all. I don’t trust them. You shouldn’t either. Because they are not trustworthy…