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Public Statements

Patriot Sunsets Extension Act of 2011

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, 4 months from now, America will mark the 10-year anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. Tonight at midnight, three national security provisions that have helped prevent another 9/11 attack will expire. Congress must do its job and approve this legislation to reauthorize them before time runs out.

Some argue that since we haven't had a major terrorist attack since September 11, we no longer need these laws. Others argue that the death of Osama bin Laden brought an end to al Qaeda and the war on terror, but both of these claims lack merit.

The Patriot Act provisions continue to play a vital role in America's counterterrorism efforts not only to prevent another large-scale attack but also to combat an increasing number of smaller terrorist plots.

Earlier this year, a 20-year-old student from Saudi Arabia was arrested in my home State of Texas for attempting to use weapons of mass destruction. Khalid Aldawsari attempted to purchase chemicals to construct a bomb against targets including the Dallas residence of former President George W. Bush, several dams in Colorado and California, and the homes of three former military guards who served in Iraq. Information obtained through a section 215 business records order was essential in thwarting this plot.

Make no mistake, the threat from terrorists and spies is real. These provisions are vital to our intelligence investigations, and they are effective.

We also have heard repeatedly from the Obama administration about the critical importance of extending these laws. S. 990, the Patriot Sunsets Extension Act of 2011, is a bipartisan, bicameral compromise to reauthorize the existing Patriot Act provisions for another 4 years. By doing so, Congress is ensuring that critical intelligence will be collected and terrorist plots will be disrupted.

In February, Congress approved a 90-day extension of these provisions. During the last 3 months, the House Judiciary Committee has thoroughly reviewed the Patriot Act and how its provisions are used in national security investigations. The Crime Subcommittee has held three hearings specifically on the Patriot Act, the full committee held oversight hearings of the FBI and the Department of Justice, and all committee members were provided a classified briefing by the administration. Attorney General Eric Holder told the committee that he supports these provisions and encouraged Congress to reauthorize them for as long of a period of time as possible.

The roving wiretap provision allows intelligence officials, after receiving approval from a Federal court, to conduct surveillance on terrorist suspects, regardless of how many communication devices they may use. We know terrorists use many forms of communication to conceal their plots, including disposable cell phones and free email accounts. Roving wiretaps are nothing new. Domestic law enforcement agencies have had roving wiretaps for criminal investigations since 1986. If we can use roving wiretaps to track down a drug trafficker, why shouldn't we also use it to prevent a terrorist attack?

The business records provision allows the FBI to access third-party business records in foreign intelligence, international terrorism, and espionage cases. Again, this provision requires the approval of a Federal judge. That means the FBI must prove to a Federal judge that the documents are needed as part of a legitimate national security investigation. These two provisions have been effectively used for the last 10 years without any evidence of misuse or abuse.

Our national security laws allow intelligence gathering on foreign governments, terrorist groups, and their agents. But what about a foreign terrorist who either acts alone or cannot be immediately tied to a terrorist organization? The lone wolf definition simply brings our national security laws into the 21st century to allow our intelligence officials to answer the modern-day terrorist threat.

Since 9/11, we have seen terrorist tactics change. In addition to coordinated attacks by al Qaeda and other groups, we face the threat of self-radicalized terrorists who are motivated by al Qaeda but may not be directly affiliated with such groups. The lone wolf definition ensures that our laws cover rogue terrorists even if they aren't a card-carrying member of al Qaeda or another terrorist organization.

The terrorist threat will not sunset at midnight and neither should our national security laws. The Patriot Act is an integral part of our offensive against terrorists and has proved effective at keeping Americans safe from terrorist attacks.

Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to support this reauthorization.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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