The Bush administration is keeping pressure on the U.S. Congress to reauthorize a domestic terrorist surveillance program involving communications between people in the United States and terror suspects abroad. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from the White House that top officials are making the administration's case on national television.
The terrorist surveillance law lapsed Sunday.
A few hours later, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell, in a rare broadcast interview, warned of the consequences. He said at a time when al-Qaida is regrouping in the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan, America is at increased danger.
"We do not have the agility and the speed that we had before to be able to move and try to capture their communications to thwart their plan," said Mike McConnell.
During an appearance on the FOX News Sunday television program, McConnell said the problem is getting legal guarantees for private telecommunications companies that cooperate with the wiretaps.
They now face a series of invasion of privacy lawsuits for aiding the surveillance program in the years before it was formally authorized by Congress.
McConnell said if they are not given retroactive immunity they will be unlikely to help in the future unless compelled by the government. And the director of intelligence said going to court can take valuable time.
"We cannot do this mission without help and support from the private sector," he said. "And the private sector, although [it] willingly helped us in the pass, is now saying 'you can't protect me, why should I help you.'"
McConnell said this is the issue holding up renewal of the six-month Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act passed last August.
Wiretap orders authorized under that law remain valid until August 2008, and Democratic leaders in the Congress say they will not be rushed and vow to tackle the immunity issue properly.
Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island has accused the administration of exaggerating the danger of letting the measure lapse for political reasons. He told CNN's Late Edition that the president was wrong to oppose a request from Congress for more time for deliberations.
"If this is just an issue about immunity, a highly technical legal question, then why didn't we extend the bill," asked Senator Reed. "Why didn't the president allow the bill to be extended - the existing legislation - so we could deal in an orderly manner with this highly technical issue?"
But the White House maintains it is the Democrats that are playing political games, saying Congress had six months to deal with the immunity problem before the old authorization bill ran out.