Senate Democrats

Reid: Improving Collection Of Foreign Intelligence Should Not Require Violating Civil Liberties

Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate today in support of the Rockefeller-Levin bill to modernize FISA and in opposition to the Bond bill:

“I appreciate the hard work that all sides have put into developing this legislation.  This is a very difficult and controversial matter, with critically important national security and civil liberties concerns that cannot be and have not been taken lightly.   

“As we know from the briefings we received from the Director of National Intelligence, the FISA law needs to be updated.  Our intelligence community professionals are currently lacking critical tools they need to protect this nation from terrorism. 

“My goal when I learned about the intelligence community’s concerns was to pass legislation that addresses the DNI’s legitimate concerns, asserts our oversight responsibilities, protects the rights of American citizens, and is temporary in duration.

“I believe the legislation offered by Senators Rockefeller and Levin achieves each of these goals.  It gives the community all the tools they need, but at the same time, it makes the independent FISA Court – not the Attorney General – the overseer of the methods and procedures used for collecting foreign intelligence.  Democrats and Republicans want to aggressively pursue al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.  This bill does that, but not at the cost of targeting American citizens without court authorization. 

“We had many conversations with Admiral McConnell over the past several days.   I can say with great confidence that this legislation provides him with everything he asked for in these discussions: 

  • He told us he wanted the tools to collect foreign-to-foreign intelligence communications without a warrant.   He got it. 
  • He told us he wanted the ability to compel compliance from communications providers with liability protection.  He got it. 
  • He told us he wanted the ability to collect all foreign intelligence information, not just intelligence related to terrorism.  He got it. 
  • And he told us he wanted the ability to temporarily begin the collection of intelligence without seeking a court order.  He got that too. 

“In fact, the legislation provided by the Administration and Admiral McConnell– the legislation he said in a statement today he strongly supports – served as the starting point for the Rockefeller and Levin bill.  What we have before us tonight, with modest edits, is Admiral McConnell’s proposal.  I would hope it receives the broad support of the Senate. 

“The Bond legislation, on the other hand, is not something I can support.  It authorizes the Attorney General to conduct warrantless surveillance and searches of Americans’ phone calls, emails, homes, offices and personal records for at least three months and for however long an appeal to the Court of Review and the Supreme Court takes.  This process could take months, or indeed, years. 

“Even worse, the search does not have to be ‘directed’ abroad – just ‘concerning a person abroad.’  Any search—any search – inside the U.S. that the government can claim to be ‘concerning’ Al Qaeda is authorized.  I do not believe this is the right way, the strong way, or the constitutional way to fight the war on terror. 

“I urge all members to support the Rockefeller, Leahy, Levin bill.  It does everything that Admiral McConnell has requested.  And it strikes the right balance between protecting the American people from terrorism and preserving their fundamental constitutional rights.”