Senate Working to Continue Key Counterterrorism Program

‘We shouldn't be disarming unilaterally as our enemies grow more sophisticated and aggressive, and we certainly should not be doing so based on a campaign of demagoguery and disinformation’

WASHINGTON, D.C. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the following remarks on the Senate floor regarding legislation to preserve important counterterrorism tools to protect American lives:

“Last week, I proposed giving the Intelligence Committee the time it would need to work toward the kind of bipartisan legislative compromise Americans deserve — a compromise that would preserve important counterterrorism tools necessary to protect American lives.
“That effort was blocked.
“Just now, I proposed an even narrower extension that would only have extended some of the least controversial, but still critical, tools to ensure they do not lapse as Senators work toward a more comprehensive legislative outcome.
“But even that narrow offer was blocked.
“I think it's worrying for our country.
“Because the nature of the threat we face is serious, it’s aggressive, it’s sophisticated, it’s geographically dispersed, and it’s not going away.
“As the L.A. Times recently reported, ‘the Obama administration has dramatically stepped up warnings of potential terrorist attacks on American soil after several years of relative calm,’ and the paper reported that this is occurring in the wake of ‘FBI arrests of at least 30 Americans on terrorism-related charges this year in an array of “lone wolf”’ plots.’
“So these aren’t theoretical threats. They’re with us every day. We have to face up to them.
“We shouldn't be disarming unilaterally as our enemies grow more sophisticated and aggressive, and we certainly should not be doing so based on a campaign of demagoguery and disinformation launched in the wake of the unlawful actions of Edward Snowden.
“The opponents of this program have not been able to provide any examples of the NSA abusing the authorities provided under Section 215. And the record will show that there has in fact not been one documented instance of abuse of it.
“I think it’s also important to remember that the content of calls are not captured. That’s the general view, but it’s an incorrect one. That’s what I mean about a campaign of disinformation. The only things in question are the number dialed, the number from which the call was made, the length of the call, and the date. That’s it. Detailed oversight procedures have been put in place too, in order to protect Americans’ privacy.
“I believe this is a program that strikes a critical balance between privacy and national security. That doesn't mean the Senate still shouldn't have the opportunity to make some changes to it; that's precisely the outcome I'd been hoping to facilitate by seeking several short-term extensions.
“And considering all that’s come to light about the House-passed bill in recent weeks, I believed this was more than reasonable.
“The Administration’s inability to answer even the most basic questions about the alternate bulk-data system it would have to build under that legislation is, to say the least, troubling. And that’s not just my view. That’s the view of many in this body, including colleagues who’d been favorably predisposed to the House bill.
“In particular, I know Senators from both parties have been disturbed by the Administration’s continuing inability to guarantee whether the new system would work as well as the current one, or whether there would even be any data available to analyze. Because while the Administration has let it be known that this non-existent system could only be built in time if telephone providers cooperate in building it, providers have made it abundantly clear that they will not commit to retaining the data for any period of time unless legally required to do so -- and there is no such requirement in the House-passed bill. Here's how one provider put it: ‘[We are] not prepared to commit to voluntarily retain documents for any particular period of time pursuant to the proposed USA Freedom Act if not otherwise required by law.’ Quote, unquote.
“These are just a few of the reasons I thought it prudent to try and give the Senate more space to advance better legislation through committee consideration and regular order, with input from both sides.
“But it's now clear that that will not be possible in the face of a determined opposition from those who simply wish to end this counterterrorism program altogether.
“So this is where we find ourselves. This is the reality. It essentially leaves us with two options.
“Option one, allow the program to expire altogether without attempting to replace it. That would mean disarming completely and arbitrarily, based on a campaign of disinformation, in the face of growing, aggressive, and sophisticated threats. It’s a totally unacceptable outcome. We won’t be doing that.
“And so, we're left with option two, the House-passed bill. It's not ideal but, along with votes on some modest amendments that attempt to ensure the program can actually work as promised, it's now the only realistic way forward. And I remain determined to continue working toward the best outcome for the American people possible under the circumstances.”

Related Issues: National Security, Al Qaeda, Iran, War on Terror, ISIL