President Bush says the House of Representatives risks reopening a dangerous gap in intelligence gathering by failing to pass a law expanding warrantless surveillance. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, opposition leaders in the House say the president has all the authority he needs to protect the nation.
President Bush wants retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that complied with government requests to monitor telephone and computer traffic between the United States and suspected terrorists abroad without a court warrant.
Many of those firms are now facing civil lawsuits for their actions following the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Mr. Bush says allowing those lawsuits to proceed would be unfair because those companies were told their assistance was legal and vital to national security.
"Allowing the lawsuits to proceed could aid our enemies because the litigation process could lead to the disclosure of information about how we conduct surveillance and it would give al-Qaida and others a roadmap as to how to avoid the surveillance," he said. "Allowing these lawsuits to proceed could make it harder to track the terrorists because private companies besieged by and fearful of lawsuits would be less willing to help us quickly get the information we need."
Without private sector cooperation, President Bush says the government cannot protect the country from terrorist attack. He says that protection is not a partisan issue as Republicans and Democrats in the Senate approved retroactive immunity. The bill is now stalled in the House.
"Republicans and Democrats in the House stand ready to pass the Senate bill if House leaders would only stop blocking an up-or-down vote and let the majority in the House prevail," the president said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she is certain that delaying the law does not place the nation at greater risk of terrorist attack.
The Democratic leader in the House says what is at stake is the separation of powers established under the 1978 Foreign Service Intelligence Act, which gave Congress the authority to decide the terms under which intelligence collection can take place.
"This president is saying it is not about the law and it is not about the courts," Pelosi said. "It's about the president deciding that he has inherent authority to spy on anyone. We do not want any president, Democrat or Republican, to have that authority. And that is why we are making this fight on protecting the American people and protecting and defending the Constitution of the United States."
President Bush wants to broaden the circumstances under which intelligence agents need not obtain a warrant from a secret court before listening in on communications between the United States and suspected terrorists abroad.
Pelosi says the president already has all the authority he needs under the original FISA law. President Bush says that law is out of date and does not allow intelligence agents to track foreign terrorists abroad quickly and effectively.