The concessions made to the Democrats on the NSA wiretap program has degraded our intelligence gathering capabilities greatly, I’m sure this will surprise no one. Here is the WSJ on the mistake made by the administration in allowing this program to once again be put under FISA:
This has turned out to be an enormous mistake that has unilaterally disarmed one of our best intelligence weapons in the war on terror. To understand why, keep in mind that we live in a world of fiber optics and packet-switching. A wiretap today doesn’t mean the FBI must install a bug on Abdul Terrorist’s phone in Peshawar. Information now follows the path of least resistance, wherever that may lead. And because the U.S. has among the world’s most efficient networks, hundreds of millions of foreign calls are routed through the U.S.
That’s right: If an al Qaeda operative in Quetta calls a fellow jihadi in Peshawar, that call may well travel through a U.S. network. This ought to be a big U.S. advantage in our "asymmetrical" conflict with terrorists. But it also means that, for the purposes of FISA, a foreign call that is routed through U.S. networks becomes a domestic call. So thanks to the obligation to abide by an outdated FISA statute, U.S. intelligence is now struggling even to tap the communications of foreign-based terrorists. If this makes you furious, it gets worse.
Our understanding is that some FISA judges have been open to expediting warrants, as well as granting retroactive approval. But there are 11 judges in the FISA rotation, and some of them have been demanding that intelligence officials get permission in advance for wiretaps. This means missed opportunities and less effective intelligence. And it shows once again why the decisions of unaccountable judges shouldn’t be allowed to supplant those of an elected Commander in Chief.
When the program began, certain U.S. telecom companies also cooperated with the National Security Agency. But they were sued once the program was exposed, and so some have ceased cooperating for fear of damaging liability claims. We found all of this hard to believe when we first heard it, but we’ve since confirmed the details with other high-level sources.
Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell more or less admitted the problem last week, albeit obliquely, when he told the Senate that "we’re actually missing a significant portion of what we should be getting." That’s understating things. Our sources say the surveillance program is now at most one-third as effective as it once was.
The Bush administration put in legislation to allow telecom companies immunity from lawsuits in these matters, along with modernizing FISA….both blocked by Democrats:
The Administration wants Congress to modernize FISA in two crucial ways: First, by allowing NSA to track on a real-time basis these foreign calls that may be routed through the U.S., and in some cases allowing warrants to be sought after the fact. Our spooks would still be accountable, but they’d also be able to act quickly to defend the country. Second, the White House is requesting liability protection for telecom companies that cooperate with the wiretap program. Neither of these changes should be at all controversial–and we’re confident they’d have overwhelming public support if the issues were understood.
Yet for six months Senate Democrats have resisted these legal changes to make Americans safer. Incredibly, they are fronting for their trial lawyer campaign donors in blocking liability protection. Their counteroffer is to have the federal government supplant the companies as the defendants in any wiretapping lawsuits, as if any such lawsuits were justified. Why are Democrats letting trial lawyers interfere with a vital intelligence operation?
Incredible. Why in the world did Bush crumble to the Democrats on this issue in the first place? No administration has ever held that FISA trumps the Presidents Constitutional powers, but Bush did. In fact:
federal appellate courts have unanimously held that the President has the inherent constitutional authority to order warrantless searches for purposes of gathering foreign intelligence information, which includes information about terrorist threats.
FISA does NOT trump the Constitution and they should not have control of this wiretap program.
But here we sit with a intelligence program that is almost useless in this day and age of modern technology. And here we sit waiting for the next attack.