Rep. Sestak On FISA: ‘We Should Have Stood Up And Said No’

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"Rep. Sestak On FISA: ‘We Should Have Stood Up And Said No’"

In an interview with ThinkProgress yesterday, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) expressed his disappointment with the recent revisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Over the weekend, Congress capitulated to White House demands, and passed a FISA bill that unnecessarily expands the power of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Sestak, who was one of 183 representatives to vote against the bill, told us:

How could we have not have stood up for rights of civil liberties while ensuring the proper ability to go and listen, and just stayed during the recess if necessary. And I understand that our leadership in the caucus has to worry about how the public will perceive it, but I also know this, that ultimately, we have to, as Benjamin Franklin said, be concerned that those who give up…liberty in the name security, deserve neither liberty or security. This is a time that I strongly believe, we should have stood up and said no. Attorney General Gonzales, we’re not going to let you decide the guidelines upon which you’ll listen in on Americans.

Sestak noted that the administration had rejected a compromise bill worked out between Congressional leaders and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell. “We made the three major changes that [McConnell] wanted,” said Sestak. “The issue here is they just don’t want to come to the FISA court. That’s enough to tell me we need them to.”

“We had voted for a bill the evening before that had actually brought together a proper balance of the civil liberties of our citizens,” said Sestak. “We should have brought that bill up Saturday, instead of the Senate bill…we could have gotten it the next morning under majority votes. And that would have meant probably that we had to stay in session this week, and that would have forced the Senate to come back and deal with it.” Watch it:

[flv http://video.thinkprogress.org/2007/08/Sestek.320.240.flv]

Referencing his 31-year career in the military, Sestak said he witnessed the need for surveillance when he headed the Navy’s anti-terrorism unit after 9/11. “But you know,” he said, “I also learned that [intelligence officers will] press a little extra to get that information they need. And at times, constitutionally, they’ll go over the edge. That’s what Congress is to make sure, they don’t go over the edge.”

Digg It!

UPDATE: FireDogLake has more.

Transcript:

REP. JOE SESTAK: “I’m disappointed, frankly. We had voted for a bill the evening before that had actually brought together a proper balance of the civil liberties of our citizens and ensuring that we were able to go after terrorists and listen in appropriately. The FISA system works and this struck the right balance by correcting things, such as, if some individual in Germany is talking to another individual in Spain, and the call is routed through the United States, that they could listen to that. But it mandated that they’d have to come back to FISA to make sure that if they were listening to an American here at home and protect those over seas, that that would be done. And FISA permits the President, in an emergency, to listen in, and even come to FISA 72 hours later if it’s an emergency. The sufficient protections. We should have brought that bill up Saturday, instead of the Senate bill. It has abrogated our responsibility, I believe, to protect, what I believe we are most here to protect, our Constitution. I think that, because it didn’t get the two-thirds votes — necessary to suspension rules. And we could have gotten it the next morning under majority votes. And that would have meant probably that we had to stay in session this week, and that would have forced the Senate to come back and deal with it.”

[...]

How could we have not stood up for rights of civil liberties while ensuring the proper ability to go and listen, and just stayed during the recess if necessary. And I understand that our leadership in the caucus has to worry about how the public will perceive it, but I also know this, that ultimately, we have to, as Benjamin Franklin said, be concerned that “those who give up security,” excuse me, “liberty in the name security, deserve neither liberty or security.” This is a time that I strongly believe, we should have stood up and said no. Attorney General Gonzales, we’re not going to let you decide the guidelines upon which you’ll listen in on Americans. We are going to do that because we have been sent as the House of Representatives to ensure the right balance is done between those two — civil liberties and fighting terrorism. I know, I headed the Navy’s anti-terrorism unit. When I went into Afghanistan that time, I wanted all the…and when I worked for President Clinton, I learned that there is a value of the proper eavesdropping to do data mining. And I saw that as I headed the Navy’s anti-terrorism unit after 9/11. But you know, I also learned that there are no one armed intelligence officers, or very few because they are always saying on the one hand, but on the other hand. So therefore in a war, they’ll press a little extra to get that information they need. And at times, constitutionally, they’ll go over the edge. That’s what Congress is to make sure, they don’t go over the edge. This constitution and its ideals are what is most important to our future, with the right amount of security being ensured. That bill we had, voted on Friday night, would have done that. We should have brought it back. We should have stayed here, in Washington, not go for recess.

[...]

That is correct. Vice Admiral McConnell had come, in accordance to our leadership, to an agreement, that he had felt that the bill we had constructed and voted on Friday evening, actually protected the security of Americans. And then, there was a later statement saying he could not agree to it. And the belief was that the White House said that they could not agree to it. Now they are always in charge, the President is. But you have to wonder after he had said to Nancy, to Speaker Pelosi in a meeting, that Admiral McConnell is my man on this issue. Then why couldn’t he stand by his agreement. The issue here is that after and before 9/11 all the president only had to do was come to the FISA court and say “I’m about to do this, does it meet the constitutional responsibilities” or do it, and 72 hours later, if it’s an emergency, come to the FISA court. He always had all the tools he needed. FISA’s not broken except for some minor changes, like as I mentioned, two individuals out there across the ocean, foreigners, not U.S, listening to one another, and because of today’s technologies it gets routed through a server or something here in the United States. We made those changes. We made the three major changes that he wanted. The issue here is they just don’t want to come to the FISA court. That’s enough to tell me we need them to. I spent 31 years of my military career protecting the Constitution. Do I believe in security? Every moment, I wouldn’t have stayed those 31 years. But what I learned during that period of time is that while we’re respected for the power of our military, we’re respected for the power of our economy. We’re admired for the power of our ideals. There’s the right balance ensuring the protections of those ideals and the protection of our day to day lifes of our citizens. We struck that with the point man of the administration. We should have stayed with that and fought hard to do that because ultimately it is the Constitution we protect and to ensure the furtherance of the type of society we want while protecting our overall security.”

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