So I wrote Senator Kennedy (and Senator Kerry) an email about the upcoming FISA/retroactive immunity legislation. Here’s his response:
Dear [Mad Biologist]:
Thank you for your recent letter on the President’s warrantless wiretapping program and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Protecting our national security is a vital concern, but one that must be balanced with protecting our civil liberties.
Like most Americans, I was disturbed to learn about President Bush’s secret authorization of warrantless wiretaps on American citizens. The Administration claimed the policy was needed to combat terrorism, but this secret program was of questionable legality — at best — and may have jeopardized our ability to convict terrorists apprehended using these methods. It was implemented without oversight from Congress, and once it became public, former Attorney General Gonzalez and President Bush consistently rejected Congressional input and oversight, demanding that we rubber-stamp their decisions and trust them. We have seen where blindly trusting this Administration can lead, and we owe the nation a better approach.
A better, and legal, approach already exists in the FISA courts, which were established in 1978 as a means to conduct wiretaps and electronic surveillance legally to gather foreign intelligence, so that our intelligence agencies could use necessary surveillance to protect national security and also protect civil liberties. FISA was created with strong bipartisan support, with consultation and compromise between a Democratic Congress and the Ford Administration. This process created a law and a program that have served the country well for nearly 30 years.
Our country now faces new and evolving threats to our national security, and our intelligence agencies and laws, including FISA, must be adapted to meet and combat these growing concerns effectively. The best way to update FISA to face the challenges of this new century is the same process that created it, a bipartisan one. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has consistently insisted on going it alone, demanding that Congress rubber-stamp its proposals. We have seen what happens when the Administration asks Congress to trust it – the Administration adopts programs with little or no oversight and little or no legality. The Administration must enter into responsible negotiations with Congress, to modernize FISA, without preconditions such as granting blanket immunity to corporations for past actions.
Only through a bipartisan process, with both Congress and the Administration playing an equal role, can we find an appropriate way to update FISA for the 21st century and protect our nation and our civil rights. I hope that the Administration will join us in this process, and I will continue to do all I can to see that FISA remains effective.
Edward M. Kennedy
The form letter didn’t really address the parts about retroactive immunity that honk me off, but it’s still a pretty good letter. I particularly liked this part: “We have seen where blindly trusting this Administration can lead, and we owe the nation a better approach.”
Now, if only Senator Kerry would send me his form letter (his office is really slow)….