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Thursday, June 19, 2008

FISA Deal Reached, House To Vote

Reports are coming out that the House negotiators on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) have reached a compromise and a deal has finally been reached and the bill should come up on the house floor soon, some say it is likely tomorrow.

The Politico (linked above) has provided the full text of the compromise bill (114 page PDF file) and points to section 201, listed as, "Procedures for implementing statutory defenses under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978." That is where it explains the portion that has caused the most conflict, which is immunity for the telecommunications industry.

From the Wall Street Journal piece:

The agreement would also pave the way for [telecom] companies ... to shed the nearly 40 lawsuits they face for allegedly participating in a prior version of the NSA program... To win immunity, they would have to pass review from a U.S. District Court.

...Critical to sealing the deal was a compromise that would grant conditional immunity to telecommunications companies for assistance they provided from September 2001 through January 2007. If the companies can show a federal district court judge "substantial evidence" they received a written request from the attorney general or head of an intelligence agency stating the president authorized the surveillance and determined it to be lawful, the cases against them will be dismissed.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.)was one of the chief negotiators of this compromise bill and he states, "At its core this historic, bipartisan agreement to modernize FISA is about providing an essential tool in the fight against terrorism. It meets our dual obligations to make our Nation safe and restore the privacy protections and civil liberties Americans require.”

Section 201 comes under the heading of Title II, Protections for Electronic Communication Providers.

This has been the greatest source of controversy with President Bush and the Republicans insisting that telecommunications companies that provided information that the Government asked for, pertaining to National security, not to be sued for doing so.

Weeks ago it was reported the the House majority leader Steny Hoyer was working back and forth, negotiating between the White House, the Republicans in the house and the Democratic caucus that has been dead set against allowing immunity for the telecommunications industry.

This compromise, which is a bipartisan one, is not making the far far left liberal supporters very happy and they have been actively campaigning against any type of compromise.

RedState points us to Barack Obama's last statement about the FISA bill and the telecommunication immunity issue. Obama was one of the Senators that voted against it and he probably will again, although if the house passes it and it goes to the Senate, it will have enough votes without Obama's to pass easily.

The countless hours that Hoyer and the other congressional negotiators spent working this deal out imply that Hoyer has enough Democratic backing in the house to get this compromise deal passed, to be sent back to the Senate who in their last vote, did not strip immunity from the bill.

Expect reactions to start coming out soon over this news, especially after people have had time to read the entire text.

I will update with reactions when they do.

[Update] I told you the reactions would start and they have, with a vengeance:

Here is the area of the bill that has the far far left liberals howling right now:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a civil action may not lie or be maintained in a Federal or State court against any person for providing assistance to an element of the intelligence community, and shall be promptly dismissed, if the Attorney General certifies to the district court of the United States in which such action is pending that…the assistance alleged to have been provided by the electronic communication service provider was in connection with an intelligence activity involving communications that was authorized by the President during the period beginning on September 11, 2001, and ending on January 17, 2007.

First the statement from the office of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, found here, and I am showing an excerpt:

“This bipartisan bill balances the needs of our intelligence community with Americans’ civil liberties, and provides critical new oversight and accountability requirements,” said Hoyer. “It is the result of compromise, and like any compromise is not perfect, but I believe it strikes a sound balance. Furthermore, we have ensured that Congress can revisit these issues because the legislation will sunset at the end of 2012.”
“For months, leaders of both parties in both the House and the Senate have been working to find middle ground on FISA. Both sides have had to compromise – coming up with a legislative proposal that we individually would have written much differently,” said Blunt. “Clearly, House Republicans have long believed that the Senate FISA bill was the best way forward – and do not believe that the courts should hold the ultimate decision over how and when terrorist communications are monitored overseas. During this process, we all worked from the very basic premise that we had to find a way to modernize FISA to ensure that our intelligence community has the tools it needs to continue monitoring foreign-based, terrorist communications, while maintaining the protections of individual liberties contained in the existing FISA law. I believe we have accomplished that in this bill.”
"At its core this historic, bipartisan agreement to modernize FISA is about providing an essential tool in the fight against terrorism. It meets our dual obligations to make our Nation safe and restore the privacy protections and civil liberties Americans require,” Rockefeller said. “After a long, hard process of give and take, this FISA bill will prevent any repeat of warrantless surveillance undertaken by the President and will hold our government accountable for its actions, past and future, through strengthened court review and congressional oversight.”

The netroots are pissed to the max and throwing a temper tantrum.

The WhineFest:

The whining fest begins with Shakesville who headlines the post with "Damn Dems". They are encouraging their readers to write Congress to vote against this compromise deal that the negotiators took forever to get to... good luck with that.

Obsidian Wings is having their own whine fest:

At a time like this, requiring that telecoms produce some statement from the administration saying that what they're being asked to do is legal is tantamount to saying: go ahead, break the law; as long as the administration says it's OK, that's fine by us.

That's just wrong. If you agree, call your Representative and say so.

The ACLU condemns the deal!!!!

TPM says:

All they must do is provide a federal district court judge with "substantial evidence" they received a written request from the attorney general or head of an intelligence agency stating the president authorized the surveillance and determined it to be lawful, the Wall Street Journal reports.

How much clearer could they telegraph that such written requests exist?

Then they go on to remind everyone that the Senate intel committee already knows what those written requests say:

Earlier this year, the Senate intelligence committee declared in a report that lawmakers and staff had examined the classified written communications between the executive branch and the telecoms who'd participated in the program. And all those letters "stated that the activities had been authorized by the President" and all said that the program was lawful.

The hack, Greenwald, over at Salon titles his piece with, "George Bush's latest powers, courtesy of the Democratic Congress."

DailyKos says the Democrats capitulated. He seems to think the netroots can call Obama, make him oppose the deal and all of a sudden the deal that took them months to finally produce, would just die!

That is just a small sample of the hissy fit the netroots are throwing right now. Kind of amusing to see them stomp their feet, beat their chest and whine when there is nothing they can do about it and whether they like it or not, it is a bipartisan deal that Hoyer negotiated for months and by announcing the deal has been made, Hoyer seems to believe he already has the votes to pass it through the House.

Reactions from people not throwing a temper tantrum:

Ed Morrisey:

The compromise will make permanent the changes that Congress temporarily applied last summer. That means the FISA reform issue will be settled once and for all, and the legal tripwire of “American switches” will no longer remain extant. Given that most of the world’s communications pass through American switches regardless of whether either end of them terminate in the US, that will make it much easier for the NSA to nimbly follow terrorist communications without the retarding effect of warrant applications on each new pathway.

Morrisey also predicted, as I did, that the netroots would "go crazy":

Expect the netroots to go crazy this afternoon. They managed to stall the compromise during the Democratic primaries and provided a small boomlet to Chris Dodd’s campaign — which remained almost too small to detect. They will scream about the Democratic collapse on this issue, when the FISA changes have long had bipartisan support, as did telecom immunity in the Senate. The loss on this issue will create a firestorm of rage that will soon subside to sharp bitterness.

congratulates the House Republicans:

Lastly, lest I focus too much on the presidential race, a big round of applause is due to the House and Senate Republicans who have fought hard for this day and held the Democrats' feet to the fire.

All previous WUA pieces on the FISA issue, found here.