Monday, February 06, 2006

Debra Burlingame

In a world where terrorists are trying to use chemical, biological and radiological weapons against us — weapons capable of destroying large areas of cities or infecting massive numbers of people with a deadly virus — shouldn't Congress be more concerned about protecting a program that can stop them, not fighting over who gets to control it?

Some in Congress argue that the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is the sole operating authority for any secret eavesdropping. But under FISA, enacted back in the days of 8-track tapes and rotary phones, the procedure for getting a warrant isn't fast enough to catch terrorists using multiple throwaway cellphones and DSL Web connections. Even FISA's 72-hour "emergency bypass" requires a written opinion by NSA lawyers and certification from the attorney general before the intercept can be initiated.

Gen. Hayden and those familiar with the FISA process contend that it is simply too slow for the "hot pursuit" of terrorist communications.

Since even the most "outraged" members of Congress haven't actually called for the president to stop the eavesdropping program, one suspects that it is every bit as vital and effective as Gen. Hayden says it is. Those crying foul in the wake of the program's disclosure haven't offered a workable alternative, other than including more people on the briefing list or rewriting the law itself — which means fully disclosing a highly-classified program to 535 members of Congress and their staffs. Is there anyone in America who believes that 1,000 people on Capitol Hill can keep these operational details quiet?

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