This column was written by Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.)
Over a week ago, the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives left town for a ten-day recess without taking action on a vital, bipartisan bill to fix the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). A temporary fix to FISA, the Protect America Act, expired midnight, February 17 - the act allowed intelligence agencies to monitor suspected foreign terrorists' electronic communications, on foreign soil, without time-consuming court orders.
The corresponding Senate bill passed by a vote of 68-29 and, with 21 Democrats pledging their support, the House bill would easily have passed if Speaker Pelosi permitted it to be brought to a vote. This inaction represents more than just unprecedented irresponsibility by the House leadership - it indicates House Democrats are taking a vacation from history.
Democrats claim that authorities provided under the Protect America Act, even though the act is expired, will allow the government to continue to monitor known foreign terrorists, without bureaucratic obstacles, for up to a year. This is misleading - those authorities will not cover many potential threats, especially new ones. With the Protect America Act expired, detecting and neutralizing many threats will now require burdensome paperwork, government lawyers, and court orders. This bureaucracy will cost precious time, time that could mean the difference in stopping a terrorist plot or saving the life of an American soldier.
Another key part of the bill the Senate passed provided immunity from lawsuits to private companies that allegedly assisted U.S. intelligence agencies in monitoring suspected terrorists' communications. At the time, the government assured the companies the monitoring was legal, but trial attorneys are suing for billions of dollars - and have contributed more $1.5 million to Democrat coffers.
Without protection from the lawsuits, these companies obviously will be reluctant to cooperate with the government in the future. A similar signal will be sent to intelligence officers on the front lines of the battle with al-Qaeda, many of whom have been forced to take out professional liability insurance to protect them from the actions of the Democratic Congress.
This fits into a broader trend of Democrats' behavior over the last two decades. "A vacation from history" is a phrase many conservatives have used to describe the national-security policies of the Clinton administration, which operated on the faulty premise that the end of the Cold War meant the end of serious threats to our nation.
As a result, CIA funding and personnel were slashed drastically, putting the agency into what then-director George Tenet claimed was "Chapter 11" by 1997. The CIA downgraded its analysis of terrorism in the 1990s, but it did find the money and personnel for politically correct intelligence efforts such as a "DCI Environmental Center," which used spy satellites to monitor volcanoes and sea-turtle nests.
The current House leadership has dismissed Republican concerns about the ongoing global threat from radical Jihadists and the need to give U.S. intelligence agencies the tools they need to combat this threat - they accuse Republicans of "fear mongering." By doing so, the House leadership has chosen to ignore not just the catastrophic post-9/11 attacks in London, Madrid, and Bali, or the two dozen terrorist plots against the United States foiled since 2001, but also more recent history, such as the December 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto and al-Qaeda activity over the last six months in Denmark, Germany, and Algeria.
Meanwhile, politically correct intelligence hasn't died - in the 2008 Intelligence Authorization bill, House and Senate Democrats directed U.S. intelligence agencies to draft a National Intelligence Assessment on global climate change. House Intelligence Committee staff recently visited CIA for talks on how the agency is analyzing global warming.
There is no greater responsibility for U.S. elected officials than to protect the American people. Leaving for a ten-day vacation without fixing FISA first gambles with our national security. When the House reconvenes this week, our top priority should be passing the Senate FISA bill. History never takes a vacation. Neither do terrorists.
By Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.)
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online