The White House has issued a new Statement of Administration Policy on S. 2248, the FISA Amendments. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s version of the bill would have a devastating impact on national intelligence, the White House argues, providing a provision-by-provision analysis of the dangerous consequences that would result. We’ve focused on telecom immunity on the blog here — there’s a clear corporate and manufacturing connection — but there are many other disturbing aspects to this legislative assault on effective intelligence.
Meanwhile, here is an excerpt from the SAP’s language on immunity.
The Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that: “The possible reduction in intelligence that might result from this delay is simply unacceptable for the safety of our Nation.” Allowing continued litigation also risks the disclosure of highly classified information regarding intelligence sources and methods. In addition to providing an advantage to our adversaries by revealing sources and methods during the course of litigation, the potential disclosure of classified information puts both the facilities and personnel of electronic communication service providers and our country’s continued ability to protect our homeland at risk. It is imperative that Congress provide liability protection to those who cooperated with this country in its hour of need.
The ramifications of the Judiciary Committee’s decision to afford no relief to private parties that cooperated in good faith with the U.S. Government in the immediate aftermath of the attacks of September 11 could extend well beyond the particular issues and activities that have been of primary interest and concern to the Committee. The Intelligence Community, as well as law enforcement and homeland security agencies, continue to rely on the voluntary cooperation and assistance of private parties. A decision by the Senate to abandon those who may have provided assistance after September 11 will invariably be noted by those who may someday be called upon again to help the Nation.
On the Senate floor a moment ago, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) just dismisses these arguments as scare tactics. Really? To us it seems like a reasoned argument based on human nature and legal principle, one that cites Kennedy’s own colleagues in the Senate, those who serve on the Intelligence Committee.
Most of the hysterical, fear-mongering rhetoric we’ve seen in this debate comes from the foes of effective intelligence, anti-Bush partisans and privacy absolutists.
UPDATE A commenter objects to the final sentence as name-calling. Pshaw. It’s an accurate representation of the debate as out carried by special-interest groups and politicians. Sen. Bond and Sen. Hatch have spoken this afternoon in favor of the Senate Intelligence version of the bill, and their reasoned arguments avoided the too-quick charges of bad faith and criminality that those on the other side of the issue seem to enjoy.
Sen. Kennedy, on the other hand:
If Congress immunizes the telecoms for past violations of the law, it will send the message that Congress approves what the Administration did. We would be aiding and abetting the President in his illegal actions, his contempt for the rule of law, and his attempt to hide his lawbreaking from the American people. Voting for amnesty would be a vote for silence, secrecy, and illegality. There would be no accountability, no justice, no lessons learned.
The damage won’t stop there. The telecommunications companies are not the only private entity enlisted by this Administration in its lawbreaking. Think about Blackwater and its brutal actions in Iraq, or the airlines that have flown CIA captives to be tortured in foreign countries. These companies may also be summoned to court one day to justify their actions. And when that day comes, the Administration may call yet again for retroactive immunity, claiming that the companies were only doing their patriotic duty as “partners” in fighting terrorism.
UPDATE (4:13 p.m.) New York Times story, “Telecom Industry Wins a Round on Eavesdropping.” It includes a calm, analytical assertion from Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT): “I have seen six presidents — six in the White House — and I have never seen a contempt for the rule of law equal to this.”
Compared to Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who just finished a floor speech calling for “focused immunity” for telecom companies, which engaged, she says, in what they thought was both patriotic and legal. A good speech from a member of the Intelligence Committee.
UPDATE (5:05 p.m.): Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI), although on the wrong side of the issue in our view, makes his case in a reasoned, balanced and non-abusive fashion.
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