Democrats: Ready to cave on warrantless wiretaps?

The NYT reports today that it’s a strong possibility – not because they’ve been convinced of the necessity of it, though – but because of, you guessed it, politics:

WASHINGTON, Oct. 8 — Two months after insisting that they would roll back broad eavesdropping powers won by the Bush administration, Democrats in Congress appear ready to make concessions that could extend some crucial powers given to the National Security Agency.

Administration officials say they are confident they will win approval of the broadened authority that they secured temporarily in August as Congress rushed toward recess. Some Democratic officials concede that they may not come up with enough votes to stop approval.

As the debate over the eavesdropping powers of the National Security Agency begins anew this week, the emerging measures reflect the reality confronting the Democrats.

Although willing to oppose the White House on the Iraq war, they remain nervous that they will be called soft on terrorism if they insist on strict curbs on gathering intelligence.

A Democratic bill to be proposed on Tuesday in the House would maintain for several years the type of broad, blanket authority for N.S.A. eavesdropping that the administration secured in August for six months.

In an acknowledgment of concerns over civil liberties, the bill would require a more active role by the special foreign intelligence court that oversees the interception of foreign-based communications by the security agency.

A competing proposal in the Senate, still being drafted, may be even closer in line with the administration plan, with the possibility of including retroactive immunity for telecommunications utilities that participated in the once-secret program to eavesdrop without court warrants.

No one is willing to predict with certainty how the question will play out. Some Congressional officials and others monitoring the debate said the final result might not be much different from the result in August, despite the Democrats’ insistence that they would not let stand the extension of the powers.

The Associated Press has a slightly different spin:

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department would have to reveal to Congress the details of all electronic surveillance conducted without court orders since Sept. 11, 2001, including the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program, if a new Democratic wiretapping bill is approved.

The draft bill, scheduled to be introduced to Congress Tuesday, would also require the Justice Department to maintain a database of all Americans subjected to government eavesdropping without a court order, including whether their names have been revealed to other government agencies.

The Bush administration has refused to share that information with Congress so far.

The Terrorist Surveillance Program was a secret eavesdropping program undertaken after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks without the approval of an intelligence court created 30 years ago to monitor such programs.

The Democratic legislation is certain to draw sharp objections and possibly a veto threat because it lacks at least one feature the White House demands: it does not grant retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated with government surveillance between 2001 and 2007 without the court orders. Around 40 lawsuits name telecommunications companies for alleged violations of wiretapping laws, according to administration officials.

The measures are included in a rewrite of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to be proposed by Democratic leadership on Tuesday. The bill would replace the Protect America Act of 2007, the controversial FISA revision adopted by Congress in August. That bill was hastily adopted under pressure from the Bush administration, which said changes in technology had resulted in dire gaps in its authority to eavesdrop on terrorists.

Macsmind wonders if the NYT piece is meant to “rile” the usual suspects into action:

Still I’m suspicious of this article mainly because anytime the MSM puts stuff like this out it usually “riles the troops” and get’s them hopping mad. So perhaps it’s to provoke soundbites and face time the usual suspects before the final vote.

Yeah, kinda like “we did all we could, but the President strong-armed us into voting for it.”

To me, it looks like both sides are making concessions, but in the end, it’s Bush who will likely come out the winner.

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