On Fox, "confused" Hill falsely claimed "the law that lets" U.S. officials "listen in to phone calls from overseas by known terrorists expired two weeks ago"

››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

On Fox News' America's Pulse, E.D. Hill falsely asserted, "[T]he law that lets them [U.S. intelligence agencies] listen in to phone calls from overseas by known terrorists expired two weeks ago." In fact, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) did not expire; what expired were revisions to FISA under the Protect America Act, which, among other things, expanded the government's authority to eavesdrop on Americans' domestic-to-foreign communications without a warrant.

Discussing President Bush's February 28 press conference urging Congress to reauthorize the Protect America Act (PAA) on that day's edition of Fox News' America's Pulse, host E.D. Hill asserted, "Our intelligence agencies, which failed us on 9-11, are charged with stopping terrorists before they strike us again. But the law that lets them listen in to phone calls from overseas by known terrorists expired two weeks ago." Hill went on to say, "I'm confused as I assume a lot of Americans are. Our intelligence agents now can't listen in on phone calls made overseas by known terrorists." In fact, as Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented, the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which established the federal government's underlying statutory authority to eavesdrop on the communications of suspected terrorists, has not expired; what expired were revisions to FISA under the PAA, which, among other things, expanded the government's authority to eavesdrop on Americans' domestic-to-foreign communications without a warrant.

Media Matters has documented numerous media outlets conflating the 1978 FISA law and the PAA, thereby advancing the false assertion -- promoted by supporters of the Bush administration's warrantless domestic spying program and parroted by the media -- that since the PAA expired on February 15, the government no longer has the authority to spy on suspected terrorists. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) noted in a February 13 statement that "the underlying Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which provides for the surveillance of terrorists and provides that in emergencies surveillance can begin without warrant, remains intact and available to our intelligence agencies." Further, 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.

From the February 28 edition of Fox News' America's Pulse:

HILL: Now, we all know that the threat to our country is real. Our intelligence agencies, which failed us on 9-11, are charged with stopping terrorists before they strike us again. But the law that lets them listen in to phone calls from overseas by known terrorists expired two weeks ago. A new version is on the table, but it's being held up because it would give phone companies legal immunity. Meanwhile, intelligence agents are losing vital information, they say. So the president is again calling on lawmakers in Washington to take action.

BUSH [video clip]: I know there's a threat to the country. And the American people expect our Congress to give the professionals the tools they need to listen to foreigners who may be calling into the United States with information that could cause us great harm.

HILL: Senator Edward Kennedy blasted back, saying the president's position has nothing to do with protecting Americans and everything to do with sweeping under the rug illegal activity by his administration and his corporate partners.

Senator Kit Bond, the vice chair of Senate Select Intelligence Committee, is my guest right now. Senator Bond, thank you for being with us.

BOND: Thank you, E.D. Appreciate the chance to be on.

HILL: Well, I'm confused as I assume a lot of Americans are. Our intelligence agents now can't listen in on phone calls made overseas by known terrorists.

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