DC – Congressman Silvestre Reyes, D-TX, Chairman of the House Permanent
Select Committee on Intelligence, sent the following letter to
President George W. Bush today regarding the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act (FISA). The text of the letter is below:
President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
Preamble to our Constitution states that one of our highest duties as
public officials is to "provide for the common defence." As an elected
Member of Congress, a senior Member of the House Armed Services
Committee, and Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on
Intelligence, I work everyday to ensure that our defense and
intelligence capabilities remain strong in the face of serious threats
to our national security.
Because I care so deeply about
protecting our country, I take strong offense to your suggestion in
recent days that the country will be vulnerable to terrorist attack
unless Congress immediately enacts legislation giving you broader
powers to conduct warrantless surveillance of Americans’ communications
and provides legal immunity for telecommunications companies that
participated in the Administration’s warrantless surveillance program.
the National Security Agency (NSA) has authority to conduct
surveillance in at least three different ways, all of which provide
strong capability to monitor the communications of possible terrorists.
NSA can use its authority under Executive Order 12333 to conduct
surveillance abroad of any known or suspected terrorist. There is no
requirement for a warrant. There is no requirement for probable cause.
Most of NSA’s collection occurs under this authority.
NSA can use its authority under the Protect America Act, enacted last
August, to conduct surveillance here in the U.S of any foreign target.
This authority does not "expire" on Saturday, as you have stated. Under
the PAA, orders authorizing surveillance may last for one year – until
at least August 2008. These orders may cover every terrorist group
without limitation. If a new member of the group is identified, or if a
new phone number or email address is identified, the NSA may add it to
the existing orders, and surveillance can begin immediately. We will
not "go dark."
Third, in the remote possibility that a new
terrorist organization emerges that we have never previously
identified, the NSA could use existing authority under the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to monitor those communications.
Since its establishment nearly 30 years ago, the FISA Court has
approved nearly every application for a warrant from the Department of
Justice. In an emergency, NSA or the Federal Bureau of Investigation
(FBI) may begin surveillance immediately, and a FISA Court order does
not have to be obtained for three days. The former head of FISA
operations for the Department of Justice has testified publicly that
emergency authorization may be granted in a matter of minutes.
you know, the 1978 FISA law, which has been modernized and updated
numerous times since 9/11, was instrumental in disrupting the terrorist
plot in Germany last summer. Those who say that FISA is outdated do not
understand the strength of this important tool.
If our nation is
left vulnerable in the coming months, it will not be because we don’t
have enough domestic spying powers. It will be because your
Administration has not done enough to defeat terrorist organizations –
including al Qaeda — that have gained strength since 9/11. We do not
have nearly enough linguists to translate the reams of information we
currently collect. We do not have enough intelligence officers who can
penetrate the hardest targets, such as al Qaeda. We have surged so many
intelligence resources into Iraq that we have taken our eye off the
ball in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a result, you have allowed al
Qaeda to reconstitute itself on your watch.
You have also
suggested that Congress must grant retroactive immunity to
telecommunications companies. As someone who has been briefed on our
most sensitive intelligence programs, I can see no argument why the
future security of our country depends on whether past actions of
telecommunications companies are immunized.
The issue of telecom
liability should be carefully considered based on a full review of the
documents that your Administration withheld from Congress for eight
months. However, it is an insult to the intelligence of the American
people to say that we will be vulnerable unless we grant immunity for
actions that happened years ago.
Congress has not been sitting
on its hands. Last November, the House passed responsible legislation
to authorize the NSA to conduct surveillance of foreign terrorists and
to provide clarity and legal protection to our private sector partners
who assist in that surveillance.
The proper course is now to
conference the House bill with the Senate bill that was passed on
Tuesday. There are significant differences between these two bills and
a conference, in regular order, is the appropriate mechanism to resolve
the differences between these two bills. I urge you, Mr. President, to
put partisanship aside and allow Republicans in Congress to arrive at a
compromise that will protect America and protect our Constitution.
for one, do not intend to back down – not to the terrorists and not to
anyone, including a President, who wants Americans to cower in fear.
We are a strong nation. We cannot allow ourselves to be scared into
suspending the Constitution. If we do that, we might as well call the
terrorists and tell them that they have won.
Member of Congress
Chairman, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence