Pelosi and the Protect America Act
SPECIAL SEDITION EDITIONFrom Merriam-Webster's Third Unabridged dictionary:
Sedition: Conduct tending to treason but without an overt act.
The United States House of Representatives went into their nearly two-week-long President's Day recess without acting on a Senate Bill which would have re-authorized the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or FISA (pronounced here in Washington with the I as in EYE.)
FISA was first passed in 1978 - keep that date in mind - and, according to the Liberal Federation of American Scientists website: "prescribes procedures for requesting judicial authorization for electronic surveillance and physical search of persons engaged in espionage or international terrorism against the United States on behalf of a foreign power."
Last year, after the uproar over the so-called "warrantless wiretaps," the Congress passed the "Protect America Act" which made some minor adjustments to FISA like including the fact that there were no such things as a commercial cell phone in 1978.
The Democrats in the House and Senate, despite the recognition that national security was, in fact, at stake, placed a sunset on that law to give them a chance to see what political hay could be made of it.
The law expired some weeks ago, and was given a temporary reprieve which expired at midnight, Friday February 15, 2008.
While it is true that the underlying FISA remains in place, reverting to a law which was based on intercepting intelligence with the technology which was in place 30 years ago puts the US at great risk.
Getting a warrant to wiretap a phone in the dark days before Blackberries was a lengthy process, but investigators could be pretty certain that a call from a certain number was going to be tied to a certain address, because it was being made from a phone wired into the wall, which was wired into the phone system of whatever country the wall was located.
Now, however, a bad guy can walk into just about any coffee shop or convenience store, buy a pre-paid card for a cell phone walk out and begin plotting to do something horrid.
The notion of preparing 100-page requests for surveillance warrants which take days or weeks is ludicrous in an era when phones themselves are disposable - used for one or two calls and then dropped into a sewer.
One of the ways intelligence services do this is to look for patterns of calls. Of most interest are calls which come into or leave the US to and from places where it is suspected people are plotting to do us harm.
There are a lot of cell phones in the world so a very efficient way to spot suspicious patterns is to analyze records kept by US phone companies.
Following 9/11, the US Government asked the major phone companies to turn over their records of calls coming into or leaving the US so the big computers in places like Ft. Meade, Maryland could begin looking for those patterns we were talking about.
Remember when we have been told that increased "chatter" warned of an impending terrorist action somewhere? That's more-or-less what we're talking about here.
Enter the Trial Lawyers and the ACLU.
The Trial Lawyers want to sue the phone companies for having turned over their records to the government so the government could figure out this whole pattern thing.
The phone companies would prefer not to be sued for, what they (and I) consider to have been a patriotic act following the 9/11 attacks.
The bill which the House Democrats went on vacation without re-authorizing gives those phone companies immunity from law suits filed by Trial Lawyers on behalf of people and organizations who think their records might have been placed into one of those massive pattern-recognition databases.
The US Senate adopted the theory that such lawsuits should not be permitted and voted to extend the Protect America Act. A clear majority of Members of Congress also would have voted to extend the Protect America Act.
But Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, putting the demands of the Trial Lawyers and the MoveOn.org wing of the Democratic Party ahead of America's safety refused to let the bill come to the floor for a vote.
Leaving the rest of us unprotected.
The main switchboard number at the US Capitol is: 202-225-3121. Feel free to call and leave a message for Speaker telling her what you think.
Just to be safe, call from a cell phone.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to a brief history and description of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and to the history of cell phones. Also a piece from Fridays "gaggle" by the White House press office. No Mullfoto or Catchy Caption today.