Admin Officials Claim Surveillance Law Lapse Has Led to Gaps in Intelligence

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The administration’s strategy became clear yesterday: there will be no compromise. The Democrats will back down and pass the Senate’s version of the surveillance bill (with retroactive immunity for the telecoms), or they will be consistently attacked for exposing the country to risk.

The strategy continued today. For the second day in a row, Republicans boycotted talks to reconcile the Senate and House versions of the surveillance bill.

And Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and Attorney General Michael Mukasey got in the act, sending a letter to House intelligence committee Chair Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) that claimed that the lapse of the Protect America Act this past weekend has already had a significant impact on intelligence collection. You can read that whole letter here. They write:

We have lost intelligence information this past week as a direct result of the uncertainty created by Congress’ failure to act. Because of this uncertainty, some partners have reduced cooperation. In particular, they have delayed or refused compliance with our requests to initiate new surveillances of terrorist and other foreign intelligence targets under existing directives issued pursuant to the Protect America Act.”

Democrats and experts have said that wiretapping of certain terrorist groups authorized under the Protect America Act will be good for a year. New wiretaps would be authorized under the old FISA law. But the DNI and AG are saying that the telecoms or other private sector partners in wiretapping are balking — at least in part because it’s now unclear whether they will be granted immunity for cooperating with the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. They write that “most partners” are still cooperating, but they’ve expressed “deep misgivings.”

Later on in the letter, they write that the “significant difficulties” the administration had working with the private sector due to the failure to get them immunity “have only grown since expiration of the Act without passage of the bipartisan Senate bill…. Exposing the private sector to the continued risk of billion-dollar class action suits for assisting in efforts to defend the country understandably makes the private sector much more reluctant to cooperate.”

In a statement responding to the letter and the Republicans’ continued boycott of the bill talks, the chairmen of the judiciary and intelligence committees charged that this was further evidence of Republican efforts to politicize the debate:

“They cannot have it both ways; if it is true that the expiration of the PAA has caused gaps in intelligence, then it was irresponsible for the President and congressional Republicans to block an extension of the law. Accordingly, they should join Democrats in extending it until we can resolve our differences.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) echoed a similar line:

“If this is true, then it was grossly irresponsible for the President to threaten to veto and Congressional Republicans to vote against a PAA extension and any intelligence gap would be one of their own creation. Again, if Republicans truly believe gaps are created by a PAA expiration, they should support a temporary extension and join us in quickly crafting a strong, bipartisan FISA modernization bill that represents the best of the House and Senate passed bills.”