USA PATRIOT ACT ADDITIONAL REAUTHORIZING AMENDMENTS ACT OF 2006
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. KYL. Mr. President, I wish to speak for a moment, first of all, about the process we are going through and then about the substance of a couple of amendments that our colleague from Wisconsin would have liked to have introduced and have a vote on it with respect to the PATRIOT Act.
Our constituents might be wondering why we are on the floor of the Senate on this Thursday afternoon discussing the PATRIOT Act. After all, haven't we passed it? Of course, the answer is, in a sense, we have passed it now several times. But there are colleagues on the other side of the aisle who have decided that rather than let the will of the Senate be carried out with adoption of the PATRIOT Act so this bill can be sent to the President so he can then sign it, thus reauthorizing the act for another 4 years and giving the tools to fight terrorism to our intelligence and law enforcement officials that, rather, they are going to make us comply with all of the procedural technicalities which they can throw in our way which accomplishes absolutely nothing but requires us to take several more days to finish the process.
What can be gained from this? Nothing at all except that we waste more time thus making it more likely that we will not have time to do other business of the Senate, especially as it gets toward adjournment later on in the year.
What we are seeing is taking something very important for the protection of the American people--the PATRIOT Act--and using it for what I believe are improper purposes and simply delay action in the Senate so that we will have less time to act on other items.
There is no basis for delaying the PATRIOT Act. The votes are there to go to the conference and have the House of Representatives approve it, again, as it already has, so it can be sent to the President. There are no amendments that are going to be brought up. We are going to have a final vote on Tuesday--and that is it. But rather than being able to accomplish that result today, we are having to waste all of this time.
What kind of a message does this send to our allies who are, first of all, a little skittish about some of the news leaks about our surveillance programs in which they participate, to some extent. We get good information from our intelligence service, and I suspect they are worried about the lack of control over our intelligence process. They are not sure, I suspect, what to make of this debate about the PATRIOT Act. They thought we had it resolved so they could work with it on the basis of the laws they understood. They are not sure.
I often wonder what Osama bin Laden is thinking. I suspect he is not getting live coverage, but he is probably getting reports somehow or other, and he must be shaking his head: I thought I was pretty clear, I am really making threats against these guys, and they are playing around. They are not taking my threats seriously.
I, for one, am taking his threats very seriously--and so does the Director of the CIA and so does Ambassador Negroponte.
Our intelligence officials and the people we have asked to do this job for us take this threat dead serious. They have asked the Congress to give them the tools they need to fight this terrorist threat. Part of the tool is this PATRIOT Act, which has now been revised and reformed and amended and gone over again, and, finally, there are now three more changes to it--and it is done.
We have the ability now to simply pass it on to the President so he can sign it, and for 4 more years everybody knows exactly what we have to work with here.
Remember the 9/11 Commission following the tragedy of September 11, when we asked this commission to analyze what we could have done better and what went wrong, part of what they said was wrong was that there was confusion in our law enforcement intelligence community about what they could and should do.
In fact, legal interpretations differed so much they felt there was a wall that separated the intelligence agencies and the law enforcement agencies from even talking to each other.
One of the things the PATRIOT Act does is makes clear that there is no such wall; that at least our law enforcement and intelligence folks can talk to each other about these terrorists.
It is most distressing that we can't simply get this bill passed on to the President so that everybody knows we have it reauthorized again for another 4 years.
As I said, if there were any rationale behind this, other than simply delaying so that we can't do other business, you might have something to bite your teeth into and debate on the floor. But in truth, this thing, when it passes, is going to be overwhelming. I doubt that we will have a handful of votes against it. In fact, we may have less than a handful, which would be 5 votes against this when we vote on it. But I thought at least it would be interesting to see what some of the objectives posed by some of the most vociferous critics of the PATRIOT Act are, what those criticisms are, to examine them so we can see exactly what the complaints are about, about what the President has called an essential tool in the war on terrorism.
When you look at the suggested amendments--again, amendments which we are not going to be voting on because we have already been through that process three times and that has thankfully come to an end--I wanted to examine a couple of amendments our colleague from Wisconsin would have offered to illustrate it is not something we should be wasting our time on.
One of them has to do with something that has been in existence for 40 years, called national security letters. It is essentially a subpoena for records that is just like a grand jury subpoena.
The county attorney or the district attorney goes to the grand jury and says: I think we need the following documents in order to see whether we can make our case. They write up this piece of paper, it is delivered, say, to a hotel, and it asks for the business records: We want to know everyone who checked in and out of the hotel for the last 3 days because we think maybe this person we are after may have checked into this hotel--that would verify his presence on the night of the murder, or whatever the case--so the hotel gives them the records.
There is no expectation of privacy in the records. When the hotel clerk says: Here, sign in--and he turns it over, you can see exactly everyone else who has signed into the hotel. There is nothing private about it.
These national security letters have been used for many different government agencies. If you are investigated for Medicare fraud, for example, your doctor might get one of these security letters asking for information.
Back when the security letters were authorized, we did not have terrorism. Now we have terrorism in a big way in the last decade or dozen years. Law enforcement authorities say: You know that process we have of getting business records through the security letters is a good process, and we ought to apply that to terrorism, too. Why not? If we can investigate drug dealers or bank fraud criminals or people like that with this kind of a subpoena for records, why shouldn't we be able to do it for terrorists? That is a much bigger deal.
Now for the first time our colleagues are saying maybe we should have a court process to review this. That process exists in a totally different context. If we want a much more formal procedure, there is something called a Section 215 warrant. That is court supervised. This is the sort of light version. If it is contested, of course, you have to go to court. Most of the time the records are easily given because they are not private records.
For the first time in the context of terrorism our colleagues are saying this is an invasion of privacy and we need a court to review this. My point is, it must be very confusing to law enforcement to have Congress debating something like this when there is no rationale for changing the law of 40 years that has been applied in everyday context throughout the country, and all of a sudden where we would want the most streamlined procedure, where we would care most about the cops, where we need speed because we do not know whether an attack is imminent, for example, in the situation that is much more serious, now we are saying we need to throw some roadblocks in the way of the law enforcement tool. It does not make sense.
I thought I would take two of the amendments--we are not going to be debating the amendments, but this is the kind of thing raised as an objection to the PATRIOT Act--the kind of amendments that would be offered. It shows how unnecessary this approach is.
Let me note one other thing. There have been a lot of unnecessary amendments attached to the PATRIOT Act. It is getting to the point where I wonder whether we can really do the job, our law enforcement community can really do the job that our constituents want it to do. For example, by my count, the final bill that we will send to the President requires 12 different reports or audits of our Nation's antiterror investigators. Obviously, oversight is important. Reports to the Congress are important. But it seems to me this is overkill. Our intelligence agencies should be devoting their resources primarily to investigating suspected terrorists, not to investigating each other. All of these reports simply add to the burden they already have.
And we wonder sometimes after the fact, when a September 11 commission reports that they were too burdened to do their job, how that could possibly be. Congress sometimes can be part of the problem as well as part of the solution.
All of the changes have been negotiated and renegotiated, as I said. At some point, we need to complete the bill. There are other amendments I would like to add, but I had my chance and this is not the time to be reopening the process for yet another round of amendments. It seems to me we ought to be moving on.
I will mention this one amendment. It is actually an amendment numbered 2893 that would have been offered by the Senator from Wisconsin. This amendment would strip away the protections for classified information about suspected terrorists and terrorist organizations in the manner I discussed a moment ago. The amendment not only risks revealing our level of knowledge of our data collection methods to those who would do us harm, but it also threatens to undermine our relations with allies who supply us with a lot of information in this war or terror. They do not do that so it can be given out to the public. The purpose of classification is to see that the information remains secret. But this particular amendment would allow classified information to be compromised during the challenge to a nondisclosure order for national security letters or a FISA business records order. FISA is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It serves no substantial interest but, as I said, can be very damaging to our national security.
Let me put this in perspective. A section 215 order--which I discussed before, which is a FISA order and is always accompanied by a nondisclosure requirement--already is judicially reviewed, as I said. There has to be a court action on it before it can be issued. And under the amendment that was offered by the Senator from New Hampshire, a third party recipient of a section 215 order also would be able to have the courts review the section 215 order after its issue, which is a second round of review. We have added that in. To my mind this is redundant and unnecessary, but that has been added. That is one of those compromises to enable us to get to this point.
Let me put this issue in perspective. A section 215 order, which provides that second round of review, is much different than a national security letter which, as I said earlier, has been around since the 1970s. They have always been accompanied by a nondisclosure requirement. In other words, when the third party is served with this subpoena that says: Would you please give us these records, you are not supposed to tell the person that a law enforcement entity is seeking the records. Obviously, you do not want to tip them off that you are investigating them. There is a nondisclosure requirement. You cannot tell the person that the Government has come asking for the records. That requirement has always been automatic, and there has never been any provision for any judicial review of that nondisclosure requirement.
The national security letters, like virtually all other subpoenas, are also not judicially reviewed before they are issued. The conference report, for the first time in the history of these national security letters, authorizes judicial review of the need for the nondisclosure of the subpoenas. That was another compromise that was added. You not only have it in the formal section 215 requirement but also in the less formal security letter process. It allows the recipient to challenge the nondisclosure requirement, and it ensures the automatic nature of the nondisclosure requirement.
Now the FBI will have to evaluate each national security letter. The nondisclosure of the NSL and the nondisclosure requirement can only apply if the FBI certifies that the public disclosure of the service of the NSL will harm national security. In other words, before it is issued, the FBI has got to have a certification that the recipient of the letter may not disclose it because to do so would be to harm national security. That certification is based upon a very solemn judgment exercised by the Attorney General.
Critics condemn this provision as giving only the illusion of judicial review. When they say that, it bears mention that what they are condemning is language that is being added to a statute that never provided any kind of judicial review before that. For over a quarter of a century there has been none whatsoever, and yet there is a complaint this judicial review is not good enough. The sponsor of the amendment argues that the standard employed for the review of the security letter and the section 215 nondisclosure requirement is too high and can never be met.
It is high, but it is very high for a reason. If a challenge is made, the FBI needs to reevaluate whether there is a continued need for the disclosure. But if the FBI certifies that disclosure of the NSL would harm national security, that reclassification is conclusive. Now, when you say ``conclusive,'' that is a very high standard.
In this respect, the proponents of the amendment are correct; that is a high standard. But it is the only way the determination can work.
Think about it for a moment. Only the FBI, the people who are investigating the matter, not individual district judges, are in a position to determine when the disclosure of classified information would harm national security. Obviously, that is not something that a Federal district judge has any expertise on. You have to have, literally, a trial to determine whether that proposition were true in each particular case.
The reason nondisclosure might be necessary should be obvious. If a suspected terrorist or his associates, for example, are funneling money through a particular bank in a city, and if that bank were to make public the fact that it had received a security letter requesting records in a terrorism investigation, that disclosure would easily tip off the terrorists and their associates that they are under investigation. You do not want to do that.
It is also important that the FBI make the final determination whether the disclosure would harm national security. And only the agents in charge of these counterterrorism investigations will be able to evaluate how the disclosure of a particular piece of information could potentially, for example, reveal sources and methods of intelligence and who, therefore, might be tipped off as a result of the disclosure.
We are all aware of this current controversy regarding the briefing of select members of the Intelligence Committee over a particular surveillance activity involving international communications with members of al-Qaida or people suspected of being with al-Qaida. The reason not every member of the Intelligence Committee is briefed is because of what we would call ``sources'' in this case. Methods of surveillance are so secret, so classified, that it has been determined that even some members of the Intelligence Committee should not be fully briefed on exactly how this methodology works.
So you can imagine when the FBI has sources of intelligence to protect or certain methods of intelligence gathering to protect, the last thing you want is for a judge to decide that those should simply be made public.
That is why this conclusive presumption is in the law, why it is so important, and why we cannot have this section amended to open that to public disclosure of that sensitive information. Yet this amendment numbered 2893 would allow every one of the 800 Federal district judges in the country, in fact, to be their own director of national intelligence and decide for themselves whether exposing classified information would inappropriately reveal the sources and methods I discussed, whether that might tip off terrorists to what we already know about them, and whether it would harm relations with our allies who, perhaps, have provided us with the information. Obviously, that cannot be allowed. We cannot expect our allies in the war on terror to cooperate with us if we treat this sensitive information that they provide to us with anything other than the most careful consideration. And we cannot expect our agents to be successful in detecting terrorist plots if every step of the way, every time they gather information through either a security letter or the more formal section 215 process, they can be sued and forced to divulge classified information about whom and where they are looking and what methods they are using.
This amendment would do serious harm to U.S. national security. And to what end? What powerful privacy interest or civil rights interest dictates a third party asked to produce business records in its possession must be allowed to disclose the existence of the investigation or must be given access to other classified information in order to plead that matter before the judge?
When the FBI is investigating organized crime in the United States and grand juries compel testimony or require the production of records, we do not let those witnesses or the parties holding the records publicize the fact that they had been subpoenaed or publicize that there was an ongoing investigation. We recognize that secrecy is important in an organized crime investigation and it outweighs any interest that third parties might have in talking about the investigation.
Why wouldn't we recognize the same realities in a terrorism investigation, an area where the safety and security of the American people are much higher?
That is the kind of amendment that would be offered. Thankfully, as I said, we decided to go forward with the process and not have any more amendments and have the vote next week which will enable us to send this bill to the President.
My point in discussing this is to demonstrate there is no reason to have further debate or amendments, and we could have gotten done this afternoon and known we had reauthorized the act for another 4 years.
The only other amendment I want to discuss is amendment No. 2892, blocking these section 215 orders even where relevance is shown. This amendment is highly problematic because it would bar antiterrorism investigators from obtaining some third party business records even where they can persuade a court that those records are relevant to a legitimate antiterrorism investigation. We all know the term ``relevance.'' It is a term that every court uses. It is the term for these kinds of orders that are used in every other situation in the country. Yet the author of the amendment argues that relevance is too low a standard for allowing investigators to subpoena records.
Consider the context. The relevance standard is exactly the standard employed for the issuance of discovery orders in civil litigation, grand jury subpoenas in a criminal investigation, and for each and every one of the 335 different administrative subpoenas currently authorized by the United States Code. These national security letters have existed since the 1970s, and they have always employed a relevance standard.
Why now that we are faced with a terrorism threat, and we decide this same investigative tool should be available to investigate terrorists would we impose a higher standard to get the information? If anything, you would be talking about applying a lower standard because of the importance of the threat and the fact that sometimes speed is of the essence.
As the Department of Justice Office of Legal Policy recently noted in a published report--I want to quote this--``Congress has granted some form of administrative subpoena authority to most Federal agencies, with many agencies holding several such authorities.'' The Justice Department ``identified approximately 335 existing administrative subpoena authorities held by various executive-branch entities under current law.''
As I said, 215 orders already are harder to get than regular subpoenas, even though the subject matter would suggest that perhaps they ought to be easier to get. In the case of these section 215 orders, the law requires that the FBI first seek a determination of relevance from a judge, which makes it harder to get a 215 order than it is to get any other grand jury subpoena or virtually any other kind of administrative subpoena because none of them require preapproval from a judge. Even a grand jury subpoena is not approved or reviewed by a judge or the grand jury before it is issued. It is issued directly by the prosecutor.
It is interesting; there was a recent online article in National Review Online by Ramesh Ponnuru, a very good writer and student of this issue, who made the following comments. This is a quotation. He noted that critics say: that investigators shouldn't be able to get business records merely by convincing a judge that the records are ``relevant'' to an ongoing terrorism investigation. Yet that relevance standard, from Section 215 of the law, is the exact same standard employed for discovery orders in civil litigation, for grand-jury subpoenas in criminal investigation, and for each of the 335 different administrative subpoenas currently authorized by the U.S. Code. Getting a 215 order is harder than getting a grand-jury subpoena or almost any kind of administrative subpoena, since judges don't have to review the latter [before they are issued].
Again, this is the current law. So even without an amendment, which would make it even more difficult, the law we are talking about with regard to terrorism investigations makes it more difficult in a terrorism investigation to get a subpoena than in any other situation. Yet the proponents of this amendment would make it even more difficult than that.
Now, let's imagine what this means. Here is a scenario:
Let's imagine that intelligence agents have discovered that suspected Al Qaida agent Mohammed Atta is in the United States and that he has hired another individual to work for him. Under the Patriot Act legislation being considered now, it will be easier for the federal government to subpoena records in order to make sure that Atta is paying that individual the minimum wage than it will be to obtain records to find out if Atta is using him to engage in international terrorism.
That is not right. I was going to say something else. I will just say that is not right. This is the existing law. This is before we would make it even more difficult with the amendment I discussed a minute ago.
So without making further arguments on this point, I think you can see that we have girded this PATRIOT Act with levels of civil rights protection and privacy rights protection that we do not have in any other part of the code, even though the need for speed and the need for agility to get after these terrorists is, I would argue, a much more important matter than investigating Medicare fraud or bank fraud or money laundering of whatever it might be.
We have not imposed all of those civil rights or privacy protections in those sections of the code, but here we are going to add them and make it even more difficult for the FBI and other law enforcement and our intelligence agencies to do the job we want them to do. Then, of course, if something happens, we will haul them before Congress and say: Why couldn't you get your job done? And when they say: Well, the statute was a little tough for us to comply with, we will say: That will be no excuse.
So we need to be very careful what we do in considering further amendments to the law.
Mr. President, let me conclude by saying that the other amendments that would have been offered are in the same vein, making it unnecessarily difficult for our intelligence agents and our law enforcement officers to do the job we have asked them to do.
When my colleagues and I have had before us on the floor of the Senate amendments to add armor to humvees or to have better bulletproof vests or to have other kinds of equipment or tools for them to carry out the missions we ask them to perform when we send them into harm's way, we do not hesitate long to give our military everything they need because we want them to succeed in their mission. We do not want them to be left vulnerable in any way. Why? Because we want to be protected and we want them to be protected.
Yet when it comes to giving our intelligence agencies the tools to fight terrorism, we shirk back and say: Well, we are going to do it, but first we are going to add several layers of additional requirements to make it more difficult for you to do your job.
In the law and in this fight against terrorism, we are generally not fighting with airplanes and ships and the like. This is a different kind of war. This is a war against a very secretive enemy all over the globe. There is really only one way to get to this enemy, and that is with good intelligence to find out who they are, where they are, and what they are up to.
So the equipment we are giving to them, the tools for them to fight terror are these provisions of the PATRIOT Act and FISA and the other activities that have been discussed. This is what enables them to perform their missions. We cannot load these tools up with so many restrictions and legal loopholes that it is impossible for them to do their job. If we expect them to be able to protect us, we have to write these laws in clear, understandable, fair, and effective ways, certainly protecting our civil rights. But I think I have demonstrated we have done that.
If you do not need all these protections if you are investigating bank fraud, then I would say, as the lawyers say: A fortiori. They are less necessary in an investigation of terrorism, where speed may be required, where secrecy is absolutely critical, and therefore where the kind of protections that have been offered are very problematic to these folks doing their job.
So the bottom line is this: We have a good act, the PATRIOT Act. It is going to be reauthorized for another 4 years. We have already added numerous protections of civil liberties to it. It is, therefore, quite appropriate that the time for amendments has come to an end, that we not have any more of these amendments brought before us--I think I have demonstrated the harm those amendments would do--that we get on to the job of getting this legislation reauthorized so we can say to our constituencies we were able to provide the tools to fight terrorism that will protect them and their families.
That is our charge. There is only so much we as legislators can do, but this is something we can do, and we need to get about doing it.