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Congressman Tom Cole

Representing the 4th District of Oklahoma

Congress Passes Common Sense Updates to National Security Laws

August 13, 2007
Weekly Columns

In a rare moment of bipartisan common sense, Congress recently passed landmark legislation that will make the United States safer against those who wish us harm.  This important policy change was passed in the form of the Protect America Act of 2007.  This bill amended outdated intelligence laws and gave America's intelligence community the legal ability to use innovative information-gathering techniques to monitor the communications of potentially dangerous foreign enemies.

A look at history shows that for the past thirty years the intelligence community has adhered to the stipulations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA).  But, such laws were created during a worldwide political environment that included very different threats to the United States.  Times have changed since the end of the Cold War and FISA laws were in dire need of revision.

Contemporary society faces new threats.  It is no secret that there are forces in the world that wish to inflict great harm on America and our allies.  In fact, the National Intelligence Council recently released a report that elaborated on the escalating threats being made by terrorist groups and their cells, such as Al-Qaeda.  Fortunately, a bipartisan majority in Congress responded to this evidence by passing legislation that would give trained intelligence officials the legal right to monitor communications between potentially threatening foreign operatives.

This legislation does not affect the rights of American citizens.  Law enforcement authorities will still be required to obtain a warrant to listen in on the communications of citizens within the United States.  The provisions of the Protect America Act of 2007 will not affect the civil liberties or legal rights of any American citizen.  Rather, it makes common sense adjustments to our laws by giving our government the right to use
every tool at their disposal to monitor the communications of suspected foreign terrorists.  By allowing the intelligence community to utilize the technological advances that have come about since the original FISA laws were enacted, we will significantly increase our ability to thwart a terrorist attack before it can happen.

I believe that these long overdue changes to our intelligence gathering capabilities will significantly improve our national security and make the U.S. a safer and more secure nation.  Updating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was a critical move that will give U.S. officials the tools they need to help protect our country against future terrorist attacks.  I am proud that Congress was able to ignore partisan, business-as-usual antics and chose, instead, to focus on the critical security needs of our nation.  It was an unfortunately rare example of bipartisan common sense that Congress should strive to make the rule rather than the exception.