Group Launches Ads Pressuring Dems on Surveillance Bill

Stepping up the pressure on House Democrats, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies has launched a national ad campaign criticizing Democrats for not passing the Senate’s surveillance bill.

According to the group’s press release, the ad “will be seen on cable and satellite stations throughout the country and is also seen locally in 17 media markets across the United States.” The ads target 15 House Democrats, such as Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN). Brian Wise, the spokesman for the group, told me that the group had chosen the 15 because they were Dems “who we believe understand the issue and who would be the most effective to pushing the House leadership to vote on this.” He added: “politics really has nothing to do with it.”

You can see the ad here:

It’s similar in tone to an ad the House Republicans put together last week — and similarly misleading. It claims that the lapse of the Protect America Act has meant that “new surveillance against terrorists is crippled.”

Dems, including Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the force behind the Senate bill, vehemently disagree. And as even The Washington Times concluded, the lapse of the law would have “little effect” on surveillance collection.

Wise said that the lapse of the act has meant that “we can no longer do electronic surveillance on new targets” without a warrant and that such warrants “can take hours, days, weeks to process.” Administration officials have claimed that the lapse has “impaired” intelligence collection.

You can see the group’s press release below. The ad is actually paid for by an affiliated 501(c)(4) group called Defense of Democracies, which Wise said was formed last week.

The group claims to be “non-partisan,” but has a decided rightward slant in its leadership. Wise said that the group had never run ads before, but that “the importance of this issue” had pressed the group to act. He said a “number of donors, patriotic Americans, we like to call them,” had provided the money for the buy. He would not disclose who they were, and such non-profits are not required to disclose their donors.

Update: The Minnesota blog Bluestem Prairie, which got on the case this weekend, lists the following Dems as targets:

Joe Courtney and Chris Murphy (CT); Carol Shea-Porter and Paul Hodes (NH); Jason Altmire (PA); Ron Klein and Tim Mahoney (FL); Gabrielle Giffords and Harry Mitchell (AZ); Jerry McNerney (CA); Melissa Bean (IL); Joe Donnelly (IN); Nancy Boyda (KS); Michael Arcuri and Kirsten Gillbrand (NY) ; Steve Kagen (WI)

Defense of Democracies, a non-partisan, non-profit 501(c)(4) advocacy organization, is calling on the US House of Representatives to pass a bi-partisan bill that will allow U.S. intelligence agencies to monitor communications between suspected terrorists outside of the United States. This national ad buy will be seen on cable and satellite stations throughout the country and is also seen locally in 17 media markets across the United States.

“Terrorists could be plotting a major attack now, but without this legislation, our intelligence agencies may not be able to listen in,” said Clifford D. May, president of Defense of Democracies. “Regrettably, the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives has put our lives in more danger by playing politics with this bill.”

Under the leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the House of Representatives refused to take up a bi-partisan Senate bill to close dangerous gaps in U.S. intelligence law, including critical surveillance authority that was due to lapse February 16. Instead, it left for a recess, leaving America’s espionage capabilities severely weakened.

Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell – a retired Vice Admiral in the Navy who served as Director of the National Security Agency under President Bill Clinton – says that the country is in “increased danger” as a result, and that the danger will increase “more and more as time goes on.” DNI McConnell has further explained that before Congress acted to provide the surveillance authority that lapsed this weekend, the U.S. intelligence community “lost … about two-thirds of our capability” to collect information.

Andrew C. McCarthy, a former Federal terrorism prosecutor and director of the Center for Law and Counterterrorism at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said: “The expiration of the Protect America Act has opened a huge gap in surveillance coverage. Previously, our intelligence agencies were permitted to collect foreign-to-foreign communications without restrictions. As of February 16, they must seek court authorization by proving probable-cause, a standard that is not required by the Constitution and will in many instances be impossible to meet. It is absurd to suggest that this huge drop-off in collection will have no impact on our security.”

“Democrats and Republicans in the Senate joined together to pass a sensible intelligence reform bill that preserves essential surveillance authority. President Bush is prepared to sign it,” added Cliff May. “Only the House of Representatives stands in the way.”

Defense of Democracies is running ads calling on Democratic members of Congress to immediately reverse course and pass the bipartisan Senate bill restoring the full power of our intelligence agents to monitor overseas terrorist communications.

Defense of Democracies is affiliated with the non-profit, non-partisan Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focused on defeating terrorism and promoting democratic values.

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