The Unilateral Disarmament Democrats: Putting Trial Lawyers Ahead of Your Family's Safety

February 21, 2008

It is hard to think of an action that has put as many lives at risk as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) declaration of unilateral disarmament in the War on Terror last week.

By refusing to renew our ability to monitor terrorist communications overseas, Speaker Pelosi has put Americans at risk. She has blinded our counterterrorism capability and shut down America's most sophisticated defenses against the irreconcilable wing of Islam. As of midnight last Saturday, the law governing America's defense is totally inadequate to stop terrorists.

Why? Because the Democratic left believes lining the pockets of trial lawyers is more important than stopping terrorists.

Suing Telecom Companies for Helping Keep America Safe


 

At issue is the extension of the Protect America Act that was passed last August to allow U.S. intelligence agencies to monitor foreigner-to-foreigner communications without a warrant. Congress has known for six months that this ability under the Protect America Act was set to expire on Sunday. So last week, by an overwhelmingly bipartisan majority, the Senate passed legislation to prevent the authority from lapsing.


But the House Democratic leadership, led by Speaker Pelosi, refused to let the House vote on the bill. This led to a House GOP walk out led by Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), who said, "We will not stand idly by and watch the floor of the United States House of Representatives be abused for pure, political grandstanding at the expense of our national security."

Why? Not because the bill lacked bipartisan support, but because it lacked trial lawyer support. The Senate-passed bill contains a provision granting immunity from lawsuits to telecommunications companies that have been cooperating with the government in the War on Terror.

Instead of putting her fellow Democrats in a position where they have to make a public vote in favor of trial lawyers over the safety of Americans, Speaker Pelosi opted to leave Washington for vacation.

'The President Just Wants to Protect American Telephone Companies'


As Robert Novak reported Monday, the trial lawyers – the Democrats' most important source of political contributions – have filed dozens of lawsuits seeking millions of dollars against phone companies for helping keep us safe by responding to the request of intelligence agencies to provide critical information about suspected terrorist communications without a warrant.

The continued cooperation of the telecom companies in monitoring terrorist communications is crucial to America's defense, which is why the Senate bill contained the immunity provision.

The simple fact is that if a company cooperates with the United States government in tracking down terrorists, it should receive our thanks and gratitude, not a lawsuit.

But some Democrats evidently don't agree. Note that House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (IL.) chose to attack the bill and the President's support for it by siding with the trial lawyers: "This is not about protecting Americans. The President just wants to protect American telephone companies."

The House's Unilateral Disarmament Contrasts Sharply With the Senate's Leadership

Speaker Pelosi's and the House Democratic leadership's unilateral disarmament contrasts sharply with the Senate Democrats who joined in the bipartisan 68-vote majority to strengthen America's defenses against terrorism.

The Senate bill was a compromise between Senate Democrats and the White House. As former Justice Official Andy McCarthy put it: "Democrats surely did not want to give President Bush this legislative victory, and President Bush certainly did not want to cave on these issues. But both sides compromised precisely because they understood that failing to do so, failing to preserve current surveillance authority, would endanger the United States."

Senate Democrats such as Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Jim Webb (Va.) deserve thanks for putting the safety of America ahead of their partisan political interests.

The Law Was Never Meant to Protect Foreign Terrorists


So what is the state of our national defenses as I write this today?

The Protect America Act amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that was passed in 1978 to protect people inside the United States from being monitored by U.S. intelligence without a warrant proving they were agents of a foreign government.

This point is crucial: FISA was never meant to apply to foreigners outside the United States communicating with other foreigners outside the United States.

For 30 years, this was the understanding of the law. But a court case last year said that foreigner-to-foreigner overseas communications now have FISA protections – that is, they require a warrant before they can be monitored -- because technology has changed and these non-U.S. communications now technically may pass through U.S. channels in the global telecommunications network.

The result is that for U.S. intelligence to monitor suspected terrorist communications between a Pakistani and an Afghani, they have to go through the time-consuming, bureaucratic procedure of having the attorney general and others approve lengthy affidavits proving that the targets are agents of a foreign power.

As of Midnight Saturday, American Lives Are at Risk


So as of midnight last Saturday, if U.S. intelligence discovers a new terrorist threat, it must spend valuable time preparing bureaucratic documents and seeking approval of busy officials before their communications can be monitored. By the time they've jumped through the bureaucratic hoops forced on them by House Democrats, it may be too late.

What's more, American telecommunications companies are less inclined to cooperate with intelligence officials because they lack protection from lawsuits under the law.

In short, Americans are at greater risk today than we were four days ago.

But Don't Take My Word for It – Listen to the Intelligence Professionals


But don't just take my word for it. Here's what Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell – an intelligence professional who served under President Clinton as well as President Bush – told Fox News Sunday:

"Our situation now, when the terrorist threat is increasing because they've achieved -- al Qaeda's achieved de facto safe haven in the border area of Pakistan and Afghanistan -- the threat is going up.

"And therefore, we do not have the agility and the speed that we had before to be able to move and try to capture their communications to thwart their planning.

"...[Our country is in] increased danger, and it will increase more and more as time goes on. And the key is the -- if 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. We cannot do this mission without help and support from the private sector. And the private sector, although willingly helped us in the past, are now saying, 'You can't protect me. Why should I help you?'"

Obama and Clinton Were AWOL on Protecting Americans


The potential threat to our safety is so great that the situation calls for leaders of all political parties to come together to call for Congress to act – without delay – to restore these crucial authorities to U.S. intelligence.

Senators and presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama missed the vote that passed the Senate to extend the Protect America Act. But they now have an obligation to keep America safe by joining President Bush in calling for the House return to Washington and pass the Senate bill.

No presidential primary, no 12-day vacation, is more important than the safety and security of our country.

Our Leaders and Would-Be Leaders Must Act


The United States Congress by its inaction has created a gap in our national defense. A gap we can now only hope will not be filled by our enemies. Congress has the solemn responsibility not to put politics over American security. The President should implore Congress, as a national security priority, to return to Washington and pass the Protect America Act to give our intelligence agencies the tools they need to defeat our enemies.

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Mr. Gingrich is the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and author of "Winning the Future". 

Note -- The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, views, and/or philosophy of The Family Security Foundation, Inc.


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