The Senate's pre-9/11 mindset

Published December 17, 2005

    "God forbid that there be a terrorist attack that could have been prevented by the Patriot Act after it has expired," Sen. Jon Kyl said yesterday after the Senate failed to overcome a filibuster of legislation that would have reauthorized the Patriot Act.  "If that happens, those who have supported the filibuster will have to answer for it, and the American people will have a very hard time understanding what their objections were."

    Got that, Sens. Larry Craig, Chuck Hagel, Lisa Murkowski and John Sununu?  As the four Republicans who voted to continue the filibuster, they now bear the unenviable task of defending their vote.  Conveniently, none of them is up for re-election in 2006.  Democrats predictably voted en masse in favor of the filibuster, with the exception of Sens. Tim Johnson and Ben Nelson, who we applaud for bucking their party's unfounded Patriot Act paranoia.  So, unless Majority Leader Bill Frist -- who had to vote for the filibuster as a matter of Senate procedure -- can pull a Christmas miracle, valuable provisions in the Patriot Act will expire Dec. 31.

    Along with the Feckless Four, we also have to throw in the New York Times, which ran a front-page article yesterday -- conveniently in time for the filibuster vote -- blaring the headline, "Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Court Orders."  Sen. Charles Schumer explained that the article "greatly" influenced his vote in favor of the filibuster.  "[T]oday's revelation that the government listened in on thousands of phone conversations without getting a warrant is shocking," he said.

    What that headline doesn't say -- and what Mr. Schumer obviously didn't read or care to mention -- is that the National Security Agency's program, started after September 11, monitors international communications only.  And why?  Paragraph 17 explains: "The program accelerated in early 2002 after the CIA started capturing top al Qaeda operatives overseas ...  The CIA seized the terrorists' computers, cellphones and personal phone directories ...  The NSA surveillance was intended to exploit those numbers and addresses as quickly as possible."

    The program helped uncover al Qaeda operative Iyman Faris, an Osama bin Laden associate who in 2002 was ordered to research the possibility of destroying New York City bridges.  He was caught and sentenced to 20 years in prison.  Remember that when Messrs. Craig, Hagel, Sununu and Mrs. Murkowski righteously claim they're only protecting Americans.