We interrupt this congressional recess to bring you an announcement:
While the House of Representatives is vacationing this week, terrorists
are probably communicating about plots to kill Americans without fear
that their plans will be intercepted by U.S. intelligence.
one or more of those mortal plots are, as a result, succeed, we won"t
need an independent commission to assign blame. The buck will stop
squarely at the desk of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who refused to allow a
vote on permanent renewal of the Protect America Act (PAA).
legislation provides, in effect, authority for the commander in chief
to monitor our adversaries" battlefield communications — something
successive presidents have routinely done since the Founding of the
republic. Unfortunately, in the current, ongoing War for the Free
World, the battlefield is global and the enemy"s signals are conveyed
by a bewildering array of media not anticipated back in 1978 when
Congress first imposed significant, but relatively modest restrictions
on how and when American signals intercepts could take place.
be clear, I believe such authority is inherent in the president"s
powers under our Constitution. Unfortunately, a federal court found
otherwise last year. This led first to a mad scramble to enact the
Protect America Act in Fall 2007 and then, as that temporary, six-month
legislation was ready to expire last weekend, to a continuing test of
wills between the Democratic House leadership and President Bush.
Incredibly, the House left town without scheduling a vote to reenact
the PAA on a permanent basis.
Prominent among the stated
justifications for this dereliction of duty by the House of
Representatives is that the Senate version of the PAA re-enactment —
passed recently with broad bipartisan support — included a provision
anathema to the lower chamber"s Democratic leadership: It offered
immunity from litigation for private telecommunications companies whose
help in collecting signals intelligence was indispensable in the wake
of the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Sadly, this dereliction
is not an isolated incident. In 2007, the Council on American-Islamic
Relations (CAIR) — an organization identified by the Justice Department
as a Muslim Brotherhood front organization and an un-indicted
co-conspirator in a terrorism financing case — threatened to sue
several individuals identified to date only as "John Does." These
Americans responded, as did the telecoms, to a request for help by
their government. They reported worrisome and provocative behavior on
the part of a group of "Flying Imams" prior to a flight from
Minneapolis to Arizona in 2006.
Congress and the public
reacted vociferously when word got out concerning CAIR"s threats to
those who fulfilled the oft-stated request by law-enforcement agencies
across America to the effect that, "If you see something, say
something." Within days, it became clear that substantial majorities in
both the House and Senate favored relief for the John Does.
as now, though, Nancy Pelosi and other, like-minded House leaders used
their positions to try to prevent enactment of the needed legislation.
In the case of the John Does, however, the outcry to protect the
country and those who heed official appeals for help toward that end
became simply irresistible. At the instigation Republican Reps. Peter
King of New York and Pete Hoekstra of Michigan and Sens. Joe Lieberman,
Connecticut Independent Democrat, and Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, the
obstructionists were forced to allow a vote that overwhelmingly
repudiated the naysayers.
Mrs. Pelosi has evidently learned nothing in the intervening months
about either the national security implications or the politics of
obstructionism in the service of trial lawyers and at the expense of
the common defense. All other things being equal, it seems likely she
will be rolled again when Congress reconvenes in another week.
all, as the director of national intelligence, Vice Adm. Mike
McConnell, observed on the "Fox Sunday Morning" program last weekend:
"We cannot do this mission without help and support from the private
sector. ... [I]f you think about the private sector global
communications, many people think the government operates that.
Ninety-eight percent of it is owned and operated by the private
sector." Therefore, cooperation of the telecoms with U.S. intelligence
is not simply nice to have; it is essential.
The problem is
that, even if Mrs. Pelosi is forced to relent relatively soon, our
intelligence agencies" "situational awareness" of terrorist activities
may suffer lasting harm. As Andrew McCarthy, one of the prosecutors in
the trials regarding the first attack on the World Trade Center in
1993, put it in a recent blog posting at National Review Online:
day we don't fix this problem, the problem — the investigative leads
you don't get, the connections you don't make, the things you don't
learn but which you should know — metastasizes. Intelligence is
dynamic: You can't stop collecting for a day, a week, a month or more
and then figure you are picking up right where you left off. What you
have lost tends to stay lost."
America can ill afford in time
of war for the House Speaker to play games with legislation designed to
ensure that patriots — be they individual John Does, telecommunications
companies or other corporations — are not penalized for doing their
civic duty. We can only pray that, by the time she gets around to doing
hers, our enemies have not advanced undetected the plots that will put
still more of us at risk.