Because Congress failed to act, it will be harder for our government to keep you safe from terrorist attack. At midnight, the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence will be stripped of their power to authorize new surveillance against terrorist threats abroad. This means that as terrorists change their tactics to avoid our surveillance, we may not have the tools we need to continue tracking them — and we may lose a vital lead that could prevent an attack on America.
Nothing about the measure’s expiration prevents either law enforcement or intelligence officials from carrying out new surveillance against suspected terrorists. They will simply need to get a warrant. Nor is exigency a factor, as warrants can even be obtained after the surveillance has begun.
Furthermore, Bush’s hype over tonight’s midnight expiration is undermined by the words of his own top aides. Just 24 hours ago, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell told NPR:
Some of the [surveillance] authorities would carry over to the period they were established for one year. That would put us into the August, September time-frame. However, that’s not the real issue. The issue is liability protection for the private sector.
McConnell let slip that the real goal in the debate over the Protect America Act is not to protect America, but to protect the telecommunication companies being sued for assisting in Bush’s illegal wiretapping. The president claims he wants to protect these companies to ensure their future cooperation. However, legal warrants compel cooperation.
The only reason to insist on telecom immunity is that the telecom lawsuits are the only remaining avenue for bringing to light the administration’s illegal activities. And that is what Bush and his conservative allies will not permit, regardless of how real the cost is to America’s intelligence-gathering apparatus.
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UPDATE: Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid released this joint statement:
The Protect America Act will expire only because the President and congressional Republicans refused to approve an extension of that law. Their true concern here is not national security. Rather, they want to protect the financial interests of telecommunications companies and avoid judicial scrutiny of their warrantless wiretapping program.