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WORDS FROM WASHINGTON

Putting national security first

The tragic events of September 11th taught us that we must always stay one step ahead of those who wish Americans harm. We must be vigilant and work hard to prevent another attack on American soil. Unfortunately, a law that gives us the ability to track terrorist communications has this month been allowed to expire.

To ensure the safety of our communities, we need the ability to monitor the overseas communications of terrorists under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, commonly referred to as "FISA." This law was enacted by Congress in 1978, and it had two principle purposes. First, to protect the civil liberties of Americans by requiring the government to obtain a warrant before collecting electronic intelligence on U.S. citizens in our country. Second, the law specified how intelligence officials working to protect our national security could collect information on foreign persons in foreign places without having to get a warrant.

In the nearly 30 years since FISA became law, we have seen tremendous advances in communications technology such as the Internet, cell phones, and email. That's why Congress acted in a bipartisan manner last year to modernize FISA - ensuring that these advances did not hamstring the ability of intelligence officials to obtain vital communications and information abroad. This update was long overdue and marked a significant step forward in improving our national security. Unfortunately, this critical update was designed to expire after just six months.

Knowing that the expiration of this law would risk our security, the Senate approved a bipartisan bill known as the Protect America Act. This bill would permanently close loopholes in our laws and ensure that intelligence officials are able to monitor communications of suspected terrorists overseas, such as Osama Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders.

Despite bipartisan support in the Senate, Democrat leaders in the House refused to allow so much as a simple up-or-down vote on the Protect America Act. They instead chose to let our intelligence agencies go without the tools they need to intercept terrorist communications.

Now is not the time to tie the hands of our intelligence community. Recognizing that no responsibility of the federal government is more important than providing for the defense and security of the American people, Congress should be doing all it can to permanently close this terrorist loophole.

Congressman Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) represents Central Washington's Fourth Congressional District.

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