Real-time intel: Congress finally gets it on updates

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: July 13, 2008
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MANY Americans probably look at the long tussle between President Bush and the Congress over modernizing the nation's foreign surveillance law and wonder why it took so long to ensure the people tasked with protecting this country have the tools to do their jobs.

In the end, all that Democratic leaders had to show for months of opposing Bush was a worsening political posture that forced Sen. Barack Obama, the party's presidential candidate, into a flip-flop to keep from being painted as soft on national security.

And in the end, Senate passage last week of updates to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act added to a string of security issue defeats to a president with historically low job-approval ratings, supposedly nearing lame-duck status.

The 1978 law governs the government's ability to intercept communications from foreign enemies of the United States. Changes were needed because the law had been bypassed by technological advances, leaving U.S. officials short of the means to keep up with terrorists in real time.

Relatively few in Congress opposed updating the law. But many Democrats balked at Bush's demand that U.S. telecommunications companies that aided the government after 9/11 be granted immunity from privacy lawsuits. The administration insisted on immunity to ensure the private sector would keep working with legitimate government efforts to monitor suspected terrorists.

For whatever reason — and the suspicion is large that ties to the nation's trial lawyers was a chief motivator — Democrats dug in on immunity.

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