Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Senate Votes on Surveillance Security, Democrats in Disarray

The New York Times has the story on yesterday's Senate wiretap defeat for Democratic surrender advocates:

After more than a year of wrangling, the Senate handed the White House a major victory on Tuesday by voting to broaden the government’s spy powers and to give legal protection to phone companies that cooperated in President Bush’s program of eavesdropping without warrants.

One by one, the Senate rejected amendments that would have imposed greater civil liberties checks on the government’s surveillance powers. Finally, the Senate voted 68 to 29 to approve legislation that the White House had been pushing for months. Mr. Bush hailed the vote and urged the House to move quickly in following the Senate’s lead.

The outcome in the Senate amounted, in effect, to a broader proxy vote in support of Mr. Bush’s wiretapping program. The wide-ranging debate before the final vote presaged discussion that will play out this year in the presidential and Congressional elections on other issues testing the president’s wartime authority, including secret detentions, torture and Iraq war financing.

Republicans hailed the reworking of the surveillance law as essential to protecting national security, but some Democrats and many liberal advocacy groups saw the outcome as another example of the Democrats’ fears of being branded weak on terrorism.

“Some people around here get cold feet when threatened by the administration,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who leads the Judiciary Committee and who had unsuccessfully pushed a much more restrictive set of surveillance measures.

Among the presidential contenders, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, voted in favor of the final measure, while the two Democrats, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, did not vote. Mr. Obama did oppose immunity on a key earlier motion to end debate. Mrs. Clinton, campaigning in Texas, issued a statement saying she would have voted to oppose the final measure.

The measure extends, for at least six years, many of the broad new surveillance powers that Congress hastily approved last August just before its summer recess. Intelligence officials said court rulings had left dangerous gaps in their ability to intercept terrorist communications.

The bill, which had the strong backing of the White House, allows the government to eavesdrop on large bundles of foreign-based communications on its own authority so long as Americans are not the targets. A secret intelligence court, which traditionally has issued individual warrants before wiretapping began, would review the procedures set up by the executive branch only after the fact to determine whether there were abuses involving Americans.

“This is a dramatic restructuring” of surveillance law, said Michael Sussmann, a former Justice Department intelligence lawyer who represents several telecommunication companies. “And the thing that’s so dramatic about this is that you’ve removed the court review. There may be some checks after the fact, but the administration is picking the targets.”

The Senate plan also adds one provision considered critical by the White House: shielding phone companies from any legal liability for their roles in the eavesdropping program approved by Mr. Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks. The program allowed the National Security Agency to eavesdrop without warrants on the international communications of Americans suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda.
This is commonsense legislation, frankly. To most folks who would make a rational trade-off in a little less liberty for a greater promise of security, the surveillance bill is a no brainer.

Importantly, the vote was a dramatic repudiation of the antiwar, terrorist-enabling retreatists of the hard-left Democratic Party coalition.

Take a look around at the online handwringing among radical surrender mavens (here and here). While the Senate vote is a realistic response to the new security of international interdependence (as technology increasingly links our enemies to the U.S. market), American antiwar nihilists continue to beat the drum - louder and louder - for the radicalization of Democratic Party foreign policy.

For now, the wiretap vote illustrates the impotence of much antiwar interest group mobilization on the issue. The balance of power could change, of course, if the unleavened masses elect more appeasement-minded Democrats to Congress in the fall.

We're beginning to see the formation of the real constellation of electoral choices for the year ahead.

President Bush and moderate Democrats and Republicans won this round. A Republican presidential victory in November would work to keep this anti-terror legislative momentum rolling.