Column by Bob Goodlatte
The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon quickly reshaped the priorities of Congress, the president, and the Department of Justice. We immediately began working on securing our own country by coordinating our national anti-terrorism efforts, increasing information-sharing among our intelligence agencies, and strengthening our defense. We took all the necessary steps to ensure we dealt with our enemies on the foreign battlefield rather than here at home.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 became a vital tool in our fight against Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups overseas who sought to bring harm and destruction to America. Unfortunately, this Cold War era legislation has not kept pace with advancing technologies. Just last August, the House and Senate worked together to pass temporary legislation to close the loopholes in our intelligence laws and protect our civil liberties. However, this legislation lacked vital liability protections for private-sector firms that helped defend our country following the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks.
With these gaps in our intelligence-gathering capabilities in mind, the Congress set out to modernize and strengthen FISA. Recently the Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation that would make the necessary updates to the outdated FISA law and bring it into line with our current technology capabilities and ensure that law enforcement has the tools and flexibility needed to quickly respond to terrorist threats. Unfortunately, House Democratic leaders refused to bring this same legislation before the full House for a vote even though the bill enjoys the support of a strong bipartisan majority of the House. Instead, the House of Representatives adjourned for the President’s Day recess without considering a permanent extension of the bipartisan Protect America Act.
Without congressional action, the current Protect America Act provisions expired on Feb. 16. This means our intelligence agencies lost some of the critical tools necessary to protect our national security and help keep us safe at home. In fact, Adm. Mike McConnell, director of National Intelligence, recently stated that before Congress enacted the Protect America Act, the intelligence community was “missing” two-thirds of all overseas terrorist communications. We simply cannot afford to let this happen again. This directly endangers American lives.
Our intelligence community needs a long-term fix to gaps in our intelligence and it is the responsibility of the Congress to act on this critical matter. The Protect America Act, which helps keep us safe and on the offense against the terrorists plotting to attack America, must be made permanent, and I strongly urge the House Democratic leaders to immediately bring this legislation before the full House for a vote. We must not turn a blind eye to foreign terrorist activities and communications. Yet, by allowing the Protect America Act to expire, that is exactly the result.
Bob Goodlatte represents Virginia’s Sixth Congressional District in the United States Congress. Contact him at www.house.gov/goodlatte/emailbob.htm.