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Pelosi: 'We Want to Use Every Tool to Collect Intelligence, But We Must Do so Under the Law'

Washington, D.C. - Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke this evening on the House floor in support of H.R. 3356, a bill that improves the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to defend the nation and the Constitution.  A majority of the House voted for the bill but it failed to receive the two-thirds vote needed for passage.  Below are the Speaker's remarks:

'Mr. Speaker, in my service in Congress, I have had the privilege of serving on the Intelligence Committee longer than anyone - 10 years as a Member directly and now in my fifth year ex officio as Democratic Leader and Speaker of the House.  I consider it a service to our country that is important to our national security.  I salute the men and women who serve our country in the intelligence community for their bravery and their patriotism.

'Congress has always had a special interest in intelligence.  We all recognize that we want our President and our policymakers to have the best possible intelligence.  We want to do so in a way though that balances liberty and security.  We want to use every tool at our disposal to collect the intelligence that we need to protect the American people, but we must do so under the law.  And that is what we are talking about here tonight.

'In 1978, it was recognized that Congress had a role, that checks and balances were needed to determine how our intelligence was collected, analyzed, and disseminated.  Those are the three aspects of intelligence.  Tonight, we are talking largely about collection.  In 1978, when the FISA law was passed, we were in a different era.  It is clear that as it established Congress's rights in this arena and the checks and balances necessary to protect the American people, we also have to recognize today that technology is vastly different than it was at that time.  And so, Congress has always stood willing, in a bipartisan way, to make amendments to the FISA act that would reflect the changes in technology.

'If anything we do should be non-partisan, it should be intelligence.  It should be analyzed in a way that has no political approach to it, and the laws governing it should be written in a non-partisan way.  That is why so many of us worked so closely, the distinguished Chairs of the committees of jurisdiction - Judiciary and Intelligence - including the Majority Leader.  We worked closely with the Senate leadership and with the Administration, trying to work in a bipartisan way to meet the needs of the American people. 

'As Mr. Hoyer indicated, this involved a series of communications both in person, on the telephone, and otherwise with the Director of National Intelligence.  He presented to us, as I believe Congresswoman Harman and Chairman Reyes have indicated, his three must-have provisions in the FISA law, and we wrote a bill that reflected, in fact echoed, the request of the Director of National Intelligence.  When we sent that to him, he came back and said: 'I have additional changes that I am requesting.'  And we accommodated them as far as we could under the balance of liberty and security.

'As Mr. Hoyer said, when we asked in the presence of the Majority Leader of the Senate; the Chairs of the Intelligence Committees - House and Senate; and Chair of Armed Services Committee in the Senate; the Director of DNI said that the bill would make us significantly safer.  It was a positive contribution. 

'Why were we going back and forth with this trying to accommodate the DNI?  I know that he was negotiating in good faith.  I hope that he will accept what we are proposing in that same good faith.

'Some of the things that have been rejected since those conversations that I hope will reappear in the Senate bill are to diminish the role of the Attorney General in the decision making on this.  We have always said there would be a third branch of government, the courts, to issue the warrants.  The discretion in this situation is now given to the Attorney General.  Without any reference to the current Attorney General, and there may be some who might question his judgment, I don't want Alberto Gonzales to have this much power, but in a Democratic Administration, I would not want that Attorney General to have that much power.  It should be a different branch of government that decides. 

'We have seen the Administration come up with these pieces of legislation that substitute the Attorney General for the FISA courts.  It is just totally unacceptable.  While we are trying to address the emergency concerns of the Director of National Intelligence, we know that we will have a bigger bill down the road to go into some other issues of concern but without the same urgency.  That is why this legislation must be sunsetted.  No matter how you look at it, it gives extraordinary power to the Administration beyond the intent of the FISA law and certainly outside the values of our Founding Fathers to balance liberty and security.

'Having made the changes to our proposal that respond to each of the Director's concerns, and having him describe our proposal as a significant improvement in his current capabilities, I would have expected he would be leading the charge for this bill's passage.  That is not happening.  But that does not mean that this bill is inadequate.  The judgment of the Director of National Intelligence stands.  He knew to whom he was speaking that evening, and he was clear in that assessment.

'All of us in Congress want to do everything within our power to protect the American people from terrorism.  As a 15-year member of the Intelligence Committee, both as a member and ex officio, I know full well the threats to our country.  I know full well the capabilities that we have and some that we need.  Every person, as Congresswoman Harman said, in this body is fully committed to collecting the intelligence we need to protect the American people, but we must do it under the law.  And that is where we differ.

'You will hear our Republican colleagues stand on this floor and say, 'Terrorist to terrorist in foreign lands, the Democrats don't want us to collect information on them and want to make us have a warrant to do it.'  When I hear my colleagues say that, I think they don't know or don't care about the truth because that is patently untrue.

'So let's put that aside and talk about how we can work together to honor the needs of our people, recognize the changes in technology, and to honor the oath of office we take here to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States as we protect and defend the American people.

'I urge a yes vote on this important legislation.'