That’s not new news to anyone who is a longtime reader of this blog – and heck, for that matter, anyone who reads a newspaper. When he was an unranked member of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator Jay Rockefeller admittedly took a trip to three Middle Eastern countries – including Iraq ally Syria – and alerted them to his belief that the President had “already made up his mind” to go to war with Iraq. In 2005, after the NYT broke a story about the President’s use of warrantless wiretaps -which the NYT of course tried to portray as illegal, Rockefeller tried to act like he had been “helpless” to stop it, even though he’d known what was going on since 2003, and last year accused the President of “lying” about Iran’s nuclear intentions, even though anyone with a shred of a clue knows that Iran is not playing around when it talks about wanting to reconstitute its weapons program.
Fast forward to 2008, and check out this opinion piece written by Rockefeller – who is now Chairman of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator Patrick Leahy, and Reps. Silvestre Reyes and John Conyers:
Nothing is more important to the American people than our safety and our freedom. As the chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence and judiciary committees, we have an enormous responsibility to protect both.
Unfortunately, instead of working with Congress to achieve the best policies to keep our country safe, once again President Bush has resorted to scare tactics and political games.
In November, the House passed legislation to give U.S. intelligence agencies strong tools to intercept terrorist communications that transit the United States, while ensuring that Americans’ private communications are not swept up by the government in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Almost two weeks ago, the Senate passed similar legislation. The Senate bill also contains a provision to grant retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies that assisted the executive branch in conducting surveillance programs after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
While the four of us may have our differences on what language a final bill should contain, we agree on several points.
First, our country did not “go dark” on Feb. 16 when the Protect America Act (PAA) expired. Despite President Bush’s overheated rhetoric on this issue, the government’s orders under that act will last until at least August. These orders could cover every known terrorist group and foreign target. No surveillance stopped. If a new member of a known group, a new phone number or a new e-mail address is identified, U.S. intelligence can add it to the existing orders, and surveillance can begin immediately.
Andy McCarthy calls BS on this, and notes Rockefeller’s switch in positions on the PAA:
The op-ed marks a dramatic shift for Rockefeller. The West Virginia Democrat championed the Senate bill, which was voted out of his committee by a 13-2 landslide. As recently as February 14, he was quite candid in acknowledging that the consequence of allowing the Protect America Act (PAA) to lapse, as it did a little over a week ago when House Democrats refused to act, would be “degraded” intelligence-collection capacity.
Now, however, with his fellow Democrats getting hammered as unserious about protecting American lives, it’s evidently time to close ranks. Rockefeller has suddenly joined the “Everything Is Beautiful” chorus that claims the sun’s setting on the PAA is really no big deal since any security gaps can still be filled by FISA — the ill-conceived, obsolete Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.
Yes, as has been freely conceded by the administration and critics of the House Democrats’ dereliction, even though the PAA has lapsed, any surveillance directives that have been approved since it was enacted last August may continue to run for one year from the date they began. That helps us with all the terrorist groups we already know about. Moreover, these directives — which are classified, so we don’t know exactly what they say — apparently feature anticipatory triggers which permit newly identified operatives to come under surveillance if they are tied to known terrorist groups. Thus, there is authority for the next few months for monitoring some new players.
But not all new players. If new groups emerge, the previously issued PAA directives will not permit surveillance of them and their operatives.
And new groups are emerging all the time — highly capable new groups. Recent intelligence estimates indicate that just in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region, nearly a quarter million men have received some measure of paramilitary training in jihadist camps. Does anyone really think we have a handle on more than a bare fraction of these potential threats?
Read the whole thing.
Stephen Hayes has a detailed verbal smackdown of Rockefeller here.