Monday, August 13, 2007

Harry Mitchell's statement on his support of the FISA bill...

Further clarification of Harry Mitchell's reasons for voting for the FISA bill that gives President Bush free rein to spy on American communications, without judicial oversight, if such surveillance can be justified as 'involving' foreign terror suspects.

The text of an email sent out from the Mitchell For Congress campaign to his supporters -

Dear Friends,

Over the last few days, since returning from Washington, I have spoken with many of you about my recent vote to update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

Many of you have been supportive of my vote, but I know that some have also had important questions about how I reached my decision. I have found that in these circumstances, explaining my reasoning has been helpful, has answered many questions and has cleared up some misconceptions about the new temporary law.

That is why I'm writing to you today – to personally share with you how I reached my decision.

Earlier this year, a federal intelligence court judge secretly declared that elements of the Administration's secret wiretapping efforts were illegal. As you know, I have been very critical of the Administration's secret program and believed that many of their surveillance efforts should have been subjected to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

While the Administration was correct when it argued that that 1978 law FISA was archaic, I believe that instead of circumventing the law, the President should have asked Congress to make the necessary adjustments to provide for the new communications scenarios we experience in 2007.

Thankfully, the court ruling has forced the President to do just that, and Republicans and Democrats agree that we must update FISA. Certainly, we must do so in a way that provides our nation's intelligence community with the tools it needs to keep us safe from another terrorist attack, but at the same time, protects our civil liberties.

To keep us safe, Congress had to act quickly. Between the court's ruling and the President's decision not to ask for the FISA law to be updated earlier, our intelligence community's ability to collect the foreign intelligence information it needs had been compromised.

This is particularly troubling because of recent report of increased terrorist "chatter" and signs that terrorists may be making "dry runs" to prepare to attack our nation's airports.

It is also troubling because the recent National Intelligence Estimate made clear that Bush Administration's inability to eliminate al Qaeda continues to threaten our security. As you know, al Qaeda continues to rebuild itself and is moving ahead with plans to attack Americans.

As a member of Congress, I take these threats seriously. Over the last few weeks, I have received classified briefings that convince me the threats we face today are real and that we must do everything we can to protect Americans.

That is I why I believe Congress had a responsibility to update the FISA law, at least on a temporary basis, before the August recess.

Early last week, House leadership put forward H.R.3356, a smart, sensible compromise that both strengthens our security and protects our civil liberties. The President had sought to make FISA changes permanent, but under this legislation, the new FISA rules would sunset after four months – enough time, I believe, for Congress to learn how the new rules work and what changes we need to make before passing an even better permanent fix. I supported that version, as did a vast majority of Democrats, but it did not garner enough votes to pass.

At the same time, the Senate passed S. 1927 – its version of the FISA update – by a wide, bipartisan vote of 60 to 28. There were a few important distinctions between the House and Senate versions. For example, instead of expiring after four months, the Senate version expired after six months. But the Senate version did include a provision that was particularly important to me: it required that surveillance must be approved by the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General, denying the President his request that Alberto Gonzales, whose credibility has been seriously compromised, be able to sign off on surveillance alone.

Unfortunately, after passing its FISA bill, the Senate recessed for the month of August, denying the House an opportunity to work out differences between the two pieces of legislation. And those of us in the House were faced with an important decision: allow the archaic FISA law to remain unaltered during the month of August and continue to hinder our ability to collect foreign intelligence at a time of increased risk, or pass the Senate compromise. I take my responsibilities of keeping our country safe seriously and I supported the Senate compromise because I do not believe we can allow another month to pass, while Congress is in recess, before updating the FISA law.

Let me also be clear about what this legislation does: while it authorizes our intelligence community to seek records from communications providers relating to communications between individuals outside of the United States, it absolutely does not allow for the warrantless electronic surveillance of communications between individuals within the United States.

More importantly, because this law is temporary and will expire in only six months, it will allow the Congress to openly debate this important issue in the manner it deserves.

I know some of you will have honest differences of opinion on this important issue. But I hope that this will help you have a better understanding of how I reached my decision.

Thank you for your continued support,

While I respect Harry's reasons for supporting the bill, my two fundamental reasons for opposing it are unchanged -
1. Supporters of the bill, Harry included, have seem to have predicated their support on trusting the word of a President and his administration officials who have exhibited no professional integrity or personal honor since they entered office more than 6 1/2 years ago; and
2. Supporters of the 'no judicial oversight' provision have presented absolutely no evidence that warrants help terrorists.

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