Friday, February 24, 2006

Roberts forgets the talking points

Perhaps he ran out of memory pills? In a speech at Baker University, Senator Roberts defended domestic warrantless surveillance, explaining:
After 9-11, the president authorized the National Security Agency to intercept the international communications of individuals within the United States — BUT — only when our intelligence community has probable cause to believe that they are members and associates of collaborating with, al-Qaida. AND planning attacks on our homeland.
But in a letter he sent to the Judiciary committee, he wrote:

FISA’s burden of proof -– probable cause that [the targeted] individual is an agent of a foreign power -– is higher than the 'reasonableness' the Fourth Amendment requires and does not enable surveillance of all the assistants and collaborators of our enemies that the President should target for intelligence collection.
Surely someone who we have probable cause to believe is a member of or collaborator with al Quaeda who is planning attacks on the homeland would fall within FISA, making the warrantless surveillance unnecessary.

He continued on:

The fact is, this is not domestic spying, it is a very limited, but effective, terrorist threat-warning capability; and I believe it is vital for the protection of the American people. I have been briefed on numerous occasions over the past three years on the operational details of the program. I am comfortable in my belief that it is necessary, effective and lawful not only for this president but for the next. This is not a Bush issue; this is a commander in chief, constitutional authority issue during a time of unprecedented threat.
How is spying on people inside the United States not "domestic"? These petty word games are unbecoming.

Then he cites courts which ruled on cases predating FISA, and proceeds to bash FISA, then to point out that we are at war with al Qaeda, which means the President can do as he pleases, and anyone who dissents is a partisan (yes, you, Grover Norquist, and you, Bob Barr, are partisan Democrats fueled by hatred for the President). But enough of Kit Bond's pretty talking points, let's get to the meat of the matter.

Finally, I know some are concerned about congressional oversight of this program, and I understand those concerns.

As with all of the nation’s intelligence activities, Congress must exercise proper oversight.

The fact is, the leadership of both the House and Senate and of the congressional intelligence committees have been briefed repeatedly on the program. While some complain that this is too small a representation of Congress, I would point out that the Congress itself has passed a law allowing the president to limit access to certain ongoing intelligence activities to protect sensitive information (sources and methods and lives) from unauthorized disclosure.

Nevertheless, some of my colleagues have expressed concerns that the program needs greater oversight by the Intelligence Committee and some form of legislative authorization. Some my friends across the aisle on the committee have even gone so far as to propose a far-reaching investigation into the surveillance program with 44 members, an investigation that would last at least a year in the midst of a war. The patriotic and dedicated professionals at NSA would not be conducting surveillance, they would be testifying before 44 members of a body that has difficulty keeping anything quiet and cannot decide when to adjourn!

I believe that such an investigation is currently unwarranted and would be detrimental to this highly classified program. However, respecting these views, for the past month I have been working diligently with the administration to fashion an accommodation which would permit legislative measures and increased oversight while protecting this vital surveillance capability.

Last week, we reached an agreement in principle with administration officials. The administration is now committed to legislation and has agreed to brief more Intelligence Committee members on the nature of the surveillance program. The details of this agreement will take some time to work out.

In light of these developments, last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee decided to postpone a vote on the proposed investigation. This will permit more time for negotiation with the administration. The committee will reconvene on March 7 to consider the progress made at that point. If, by that time, we have reached no detailed accommodation, it is possible that the committee may vote to conduct an inquiry into the program.

I hope my colleagues will keep in mind that, in this war, the president must be able to move with all possible constitutionally mandated speed and agility to respond to the threats we face.
If the President wasn't bound by the legislation that Congress passed before, why would this new legislation prevent them from doing whatever they want? I'm not being flippant here, I honestly don't understand. How can Congress pass a law that would overcome the President's claim to absolute power in matters of national security?

What we need is not an agreement in principle with the administration, but an agreement in principle with the people of the United States of America. The people Senator Roberts is supposed to be representing.

The hearing wouldn't be for the benefit of the NSA, or even the committee. They would be for the benefit of the people of the United States of America. We deserve rigorous oversight and real answers to serious questions about the practice of this program. What are the safeguards? Do they actually work?

I wish that my Senator would worry less about whether the President is comfortable and give a thought to whether I'm comfortable.