Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) - Protecting Our Country from Terrorists

Posted on July 13, 2008

This week, Congress took an important step toward ensuring our country is protected from terrorists by passing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act of 2008, which the President signed into law the next day. This bipartisan legislation continues the valuable Terrorist Surveillance Program that allows electronic surveillance of suspected terrorists when at least one party is outside the United States. Passing this bill is the most important thing Congress can do to help defeat al Qaeda by allowing our intelligence agencies to monitor terrorists overseas before they attack so we can prevent future plots against our country. Electronic surveillance of individuals with suspected links to terrorism is a serious matter that involves balancing national security with the protection of civil liberties. The FISA modernization bill does this through a bipartisan compromise that includes a number of safeguards to protect individual Americans. For example, there are provisions in the bill to protect American citizens from being targeted. The bill also requires frequent reports to Congress about the program. Most of the debate about this bill involved whether to provide legal protections to telephone companies that helped our government with the Terrorist Surveillance Program in the wake of the September 11th attacks, but now faced dozens of lawsuits seeking billions of dollars in damages because of that cooperation with the government. The intelligence community relies on cooperation to do its job. Any law that would make it less likely for these companies to cooperate with the government in the future would make it harder to protect Americans from future attacks. Under this bill, the lawsuits would be dismissed if the companies could show that they were given assurances by the government that the Terrorist Surveillance Program was lawful. The Senate Intelligence Committee investigated and found that the companies had all received such assurances. It’s just common sense that companies that were given written assurances from the government shouldn’t be sued for relying on those assurances, which is why efforts to cut back on those legal protections were all defeated. Tennesseans expect Congress to give our intelligence community what they need to get their job done to protect the American people, and that’s what this bill does. The Senate worked together to pass this bill months ago, but it was stalled by the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives. I’m glad we were finally able to break this logjam and pass this compromise that won the support of more than twenty Senate Democrats. This new law will protect our country from terrorists that want to kill us, and I’m glad that Congress was finally able to put political games aside and pass this bill with the bipartisan support it deserves.