Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell yesterday tried to claim that the new expansive FISA law adopted by Congress prior to the August recess was responsible for the foiling of a recent alleged terror attack. The New York Times reports that McConnell tried to tie the capture of three Islamic militants accused of planning bomb attacks in Germany to the FISA bill:
Mr. McConnell made his remarks to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. When asked by the chairman, Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, whether the new law that Congress adopted last month facilitated the German arrests, Mr. McConnell said, “Yes, sir, it did.”
Fox News quickly used the comments to drum up support for the administration’s demand for broad spying authority. “Just last week three Germans allegedly planning attacks against US interests were arrested and it was partly due to a strengthened Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in danger now of being scaled back by Democrats in Congress,” Fox reported. Watch it:
McConnell’s statements have no basis in reality, but rather, appear to be an effort to build public support for the new FISA law that expires in five months. The Times reported today that a government official said “McConnell might have misspoken.” In fact, the information gathered ahead of the alleged German attacks was done under the prior FISA law — the law that required warrants:
[T]he official, who has been briefed on the eavesdropping laws and the information given to the Germans, said that those intercepts were recovered last year under the old law.
Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) sent a letter to McConnell demanding that he back up his claims. The letter states:
Please state whether a specific decision was made to de-classify the information you provided to the Senate Committee and, if so, when, by whom, under what authority, and what was the specific background and explanation. In addition, please clarify whether the intercepts in question were foreign-to-foreign, as your statement implied, and whether they were in fact obtained under the old FISA law or the new FISA law.
UPDATE: Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), a member of the House intelligence committee, issued this statement:
“Contrary to DNI McConnell’s remarks before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Reform Committee yesterday, the so-called ‘Protect America Act’ played no role in uncovering the recent German terrorist plot. Those arrests were made with the assistance of intelligence gathered under U.S. laws in effect earlier this year. The DNI knew that going into the hearing. The questions remain why he asserted otherwise during the hearing, and why he has yet to correct the record.
“The German terror case in question is another example of why I voted against the ‘Protect America Act’ when it came to the House floor in August. Our existing collection activities are working well overall, uncovering potential terrorist plots in Europe and elsewhere. While some technical adjustments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) might be in order, the bill the Congress passed last month went far beyond what was necessary by effectively suspending the Fourth Amendment. I’ll be exploring these issues with DNI McConnell in future oversight hearings.”