Introducing an interview with Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell, Chris Wallace asserted: "A law which gives President Bush powers to monitor communications among terrorism suspects expired at midnight." In fact, the expired PAA revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, did not simply give Bush "powers to monitor communications among terrorism suspects," but rather, among other things, the revisions expanded the government's authority to eavesdrop on Americans' domestic-to-foreign communications without a warrant. Further, Wallace never mentioned that the government had the authority to listen in on the communications of suspected terrorists before Congress passed the PAA in August 2007 or that this authority continues despite the PAA's expiration.
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On the February 17 edition of Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace again falsely suggested that the U.S. government will not be able to "monitor communications among terrorism suspects" now that the Protect America Act (PAA) has expired. Introducing an interview with Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell, Wallace asserted: "A law which gives President Bush powers to monitor communications among terrorism suspects expired at midnight." Later in the program, Wallace told National Public Radio senior political correspondent and Fox News contributor Mara Liasson: "[A]t some point in the fall, [Republican presidential candidate] John McCain's gonna say when there was a question of whether or not you wanted to give us power to -- to listen in to Al Qaeda, the Democrats voted no."
In fact, the expired PAA revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), did not simply give Bush "powers to monitor communications among terrorism suspects," but rather, among other things, the revisions expanded the government's authority to eavesdrop on Americans' domestic-to-foreign communications without a warrant. Further, Wallace never mentioned that the government had the authority to listen in on the communications of suspected terrorists before Congress passed the PAA in August 2007 or that the government's ability to "monitor communications among terrorism suspects" and "listen in to Al Qaeda" continues, despite the expiration of the PAA. In a February 15 article titled "If the Law Expires," The Washington Post reported that in the event of the PAA's expiration, "The government would retain all the powers it had before last August under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which requires the government to obtain court approval for surveillance conducted on U.S. soil or against U.S. targets." Moreover, a February 14 New York Times article reported:
The lapsing of the deadline would have little practical effect on intelligence gathering. Intelligence officials would be able to intercept communications from Qaeda members or other identified terrorist groups for a year after the initial eavesdropping authorization for that particular group.
If a new terrorist group is identified after Saturday, intelligence officials would not be able to use the broadened eavesdropping authority. They would be able to seek a warrant under the more restrictive standards in place for three decades through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
This is not the first time Wallace has falsely suggested that the government would lose its ability to monitor suspected terrorists' communications if the PAA expired or has asserted that the issue could be used politically against the Democrats. On the February 15 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Wallace asserted that when McCain "gets on the campaign trail and says, 'Look, here is a law that was going to provide the tools for the United States to be able to intercept communications of people who want to kill us and Congress went home, the Democratic Congress went home on a break' -- that's going to be a pretty effective weapon to use against the Democrats in the fall."
From the February 17 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
WALLACE: A law which gives President Bush powers to monitor communications among terrorism suspects expired at midnight. The question now is whether this has exposed the country to new threats. And here in a Sunday exclusive to help answer that is the director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell. Director, welcome to Fox News Sunday.
McCONNELL: Thank you, Chris. Delighted to be here.
WALLACE: As we said, the law lapsed at midnight and without giving away any secrets is there anything that you can't do today in monitoring terrorist communications that you could do yesterday?
WALLACE: Well, let me ask you about it -- we'll get to the telecoms in a moment. Let me ask you first, though, as you pointed out at the beginning, under the law that was passed in August, you had the ability -- and you exercised that -- to issue orders that allowed you to monitor terrorism suspects, communications involving alleged terrorist groups. The law has expired as of midnight, but those orders to monitor are valid for a year, so they stay on the books and allow you to monitor them 'til at least August. And the argument the Democrats make is that if there's somebody new that springs up, some new group that you haven't already covered, that you can go after them under old existing law. So they argue you haven't lost any operational capability.
McCONNELL: Chris, last summer we were in extremis because we had lost under the old law about two-thirds of our capability. This issue is, it's very dynamic. And the FISA Court had ruled --
WALLACE: When you say dynamic, you mean that new groups are springing up? New possible targets?
McCONNELL: New information, new personalities, new methods of communicating, so when the program was returned to the FISA Court in January of '07, initially we had coverage that we had asked for, but over time, because technology had changed and the and the law of '78, it had not been changed, because technology had gone from a wireless world to a wired world, foreigners communicating in a foreign country, more than likely the communications would pass through the United States. Therefore, the courts said if it touches a wire, consistent with the law, you have to have a warrant. Now a warrant means probable cause, which is a very time-consuming process to go through. So we were in that situation last summer. We passed the new act to make it -- improve our situation. That act has now expired.
JUAN WILLIAMS (National Public Radio correspondent and Fox News contributor): Well, when President Bush comes out and says, "We're in danger of being attacked," and starts to "fear-monger," as you heard [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi [D-CA] say, I think it raises it to a political level. What you said is true. There are a number of a career people involved, but I think they're being influenced in service to this administration and their approach to this. Now, let me just add quickly that the Democrats wanted a compromise and wanted to, in fact, extend this bill to allow a compri -- a discussion of a possible compromise to take place. The administration rejected that and said, "We do -- don't want you to have any temporary extension. It's now or never," because they saw a political advantage in somehow saying, "Oh, you know what, you Democrats, you are weak on national defense." And then [House Majority Leader] Steny Hoyer [D-MD] came out and said, you know, speaking to any possible terrorists, "We want you to know that in fact we can still monitor you and if any wiretaps or warrants that were put in place under this Protect America Act, in fact, still are in place for a year after they have been officially granted by a court."
WALLACE: Fred, beyond the merits of the argument, is it good politics at this moment for the Democrats to be standing up to the president on this issue, or is it the kind of thing that could end up biting them in the fall?
FRED BARNES (Weekly Standard executive editor): No, I think it definitely could bite them in the fall, and I think McCain will do the biting -- for sure on this issue. Look, do you want to be on the side of the terrorist surveillance program or do you want to be on the side of making the terrorist surveillance program more difficult and that's the side the Democrats on. They want to make it more difficult to carry out this program. I just think that's a huge mistake --
WILLIAMS: -- a democracy!
BARNES: Juan! Juan! Juan! Just a second! They've had plenty time to work on this. You know, the deadline -- I mean, they knew the six months were coming up. They had a two-week extension, then they want another one. They would want another and another. For the life of me, I don't understand why Democrats are doing this because at the end of the day, they're going to agree with the Senate program, which the administration supports, which does give immunity to the telecom companies and they're going to do that and they ought to do it now because that makes more political sense.
WALLACE: OK, what about that, Mara? That at some point in the fall, John McCain's gonna say when there was a question of whether or not you wanted to give us power to listen in to Al Qaeda, the Democrats voted no.
LIASSON: Yeah, I fully expect that he would say that, but I also think that by then there might be some sort of an -- a compromise on this issue of immunity, which is holding this whole thing up. You know, retroactive immunity.
WALLACE: All right, let's turn to John McCain, who swept the Potomac primaries this week and then got his endorsement -- I think surprise in terms of timing, not eventually - the endorsement of Mitt Romney.