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?And on the Sixth Day, the Intelligence Programs Plunged Into Uncertainty

Spying.jpg
Spying.jpg

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

For House Democrats, who left Washington last week without acting on legislation to expand White House spying powers, Attorney General Michael Mukasey has a few words of caution: The nation’s intelligence programs, he wrote in a Feb. 22 letter (pdf here) to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), are now officially plunged into uncertainty due to your inaction.

The comments come six days after the Protect America Act (PAA) expired. That law granted the White House the power to conduct electronic surveillance on some U.S. residents without judicial oversight. It also offered legal amnesty to the phone companies that had cooperated with the warrantless wiretapping program before the PAA arrived.

A Senate-passed bill granted the White House both of those stipulations, but House leaders refused to consider the proposal last week. As a result, Mukasey wrote today, the phone companies are less cooperative, and the country is in greater peril.

“We have lost intelligence information this past week as a direct result of the uncertainty created by Congress’ failure to act,” reads the letter, which was also signed by Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell.

Seemingly unfazed, House Democrats — who tried unsuccessfully last week to extend the PAA for 21 days — are moving forward with their plan to remove the telecom immunity provision. And what of the imminent threat posed by the Democrats’ inaction? “If Republicans believed that, then they should have joined us in passing the extension,” said Stacey Farnen Bernards, spokeswomen for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Meanwhile, House and Senate Democrats met yesterday and today to hash out differences between the two chambers’ proposals. They were alone because the Republicans didn’t show up.

Don Stewart, spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said there’s been plenty of negotiation on the topic already, and Republicans are satisfied with the bill they’ve got.

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