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Expiration of the Protect America Act

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. I appreciate my colleague's comments. I think you have laid out very clearly the problems that we face, and I couldn't agree more. You know, I will always remember being on these grounds of the United States Capitol on the morning of 9/11, September 11, 2001, and the attacks that occurred on our country, and I will always remember going back to the apartment I lived in at the time, three blocks from the Pentagon, and the smoke from the burning roof of the Pentagon wafted in all day because the air-conditioning was on.

I swore then, and I have kept that pledge and promise, that I would never forget what happened to this country. And like you and many of my colleagues on this floor and in this Congress, we said, How could this happen? What went wrong? What was the failure? How did we miss seeing this coming?

As my colleague from New Mexico knows all too well, because you are on the Intelligence Committee and I'm not, there are lots of investigations. And we said we will never let this happen. We brought in the outside experts, the best people in the land: tactical experts, policy experts. We did reviews, we second-guessed everybody in every position, and we changed the law. We changed the law to protect the lives of Americans and to prevent attack.

It is sad today to be here on this floor 10 days after the Protect America Act has expired and know that the only people who are gleeful about that are probably residing in caves and camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan and who knows where else. They have to be looking at us saying, What fools, and thank you, thank you for opening the door and closing your eyes and your ears to our communications because you won't modernize a law that is anchored back in the 1970s.

Technology, as you have clearly pointed out, has changed. You think about these kids who buy these cell phones that are throw-away. Or if you are on the Internet, how do you know where somebody is or where they're downloading or wherever? Technology has changed; the law hasn't. And the people who seek to do our country and our people and our allies harm, they understand technology. That's one of the lessons we learned coming out of 9/11.

And so many people on both sides of the aisle changed a lot of Federal laws to try to leap forward so that we would be protected, so that our professionals, the intelligence community, would have every tool and asset to make sure it never happened again. How many people on this floor, how many Americans pledged after 9/11 to say we will do whatever it takes to make sure innocent American lives are never taken down by terrorists again? We all said that. I was in briefings on this floor, closed door, open door, where there was that unified feeling that we've just got to get with it. We've got to figure it out.

It's terrible tonight to be here knowing this law has expired and that there is a bipartisan fix. Senator Rockefeller, who chairs the Intelligence Committee in the Senate, wrote the bipartisan measure that passed with 68 votes. More than two-thirds of the United States Senate supported this bipartisan fix that provides Americans more protection than the existing law, or certainly the bill that the House had.

Now, I dare say on some matters Mr. Rockefeller is no friend of President Bush's, as he would probably tell you that. He certainly said it publicly. But he knows in the crafting of this bill that America has got to come first, our intelligence gathering has to come first.

There are privacy protections, but we don't close the eyes and ears of our intelligence community listening overseas to see who's plotting to do us harm. That bill, I dare say, if brought to this floor, would pass in a heartbeat. Pass in a heartbeat.

And if I might just quote from a letter to the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence from both the Attorney General and Admiral McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, said, among other things, this is a letter dated February 22: Our experience since Congress allowed the Protect America Act to expire without passing the bipartisan Senate bill demonstrates why the Nation is now more vulnerable to terrorist attack and other foreign threats. In our letter to Senator Reid on February 5, 2008, we explained that the expiration of the authorities in the Protect America Act would plunge critical intelligence programs into a state of uncertainty which could cause us to delay the gathering of or simply miss critical foreign intelligence information. Underlining for emphasis, they write: That is exactly what has happened since the Protect America Act expired 6 days ago without enactment of the bipartisan Senate bill. We have lost intelligence information this past week as a direct result of the uncertainty created by Congress's failure to act.


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