|For Immediate Release
May 12, 2011
Contact: Kim Smith Hicks, 202-225-3951
Statement of Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith
Full Committee Mark-Up of
H.R. 1800, the FISA Sunsets Reauthorization Act
Chairman Smith: The death of Osama bin Laden is a significant victory in America’s efforts to combat terrorism. Even though bin Laden is dead, the terrorist threat we face is still very much alive.
In the years since 9-11, al Qaeda has expanded and splintered into smaller groups and rogue terrorists around the world. This makes it harder for us to detect and deter plots against Americans both here at home and abroad.
The PATRIOT Act has helped keep America safe for nearly a decade. Three important national security provisions of the Act are scheduled to expire at the end of this month.
H.R. 1800 reauthorizes the expiring provisions of the PATRIOT Act. Enacted in the wake of 9-11 to update our counterterrorism laws, the PATRIOT Act is an integral part of our offensive against terrorists and has proved effective at keeping America safe from terrorist attacks.
Some argue that because we have gone without a major terrorist attack since September 11th we no longer need these tools. But these provisions continue to play a vital role in America’s counter-terrorism efforts--not only to prevent another large-scale attack but also to combat an increasing number of smaller terrorist plots.
Earlier this year, a 20-year-old student from Saudi Arabia was arrested in Texas for attempting to use weapons of mass destruction.
Khalid Aldawsari attempted to purchase chemicals to construct a bomb against targets including the Dallas residence of former President George W. Bush, several dams in Colorado and California, and the homes of three former military guards who served in Iraq.
A Section 215 business records order was used to obtain information essential in this investigation.
The expiring provisions of the PATRIOT Act are both constitutional and common sense. There is no record of their having been misused by any law enforcement official or national security agency.
For example, the roving wiretap provision allows intelligence officials -- after receiving approval from a federal court -- to conduct surveillance on terrorist suspects regardless of how many communication devices they use. We know terrorists use many forms of communication to conceal their plots, including disposable cell phones.
Roving wiretaps are nothing new. Domestic law enforcement agencies have had roving wiretaps for criminal investigations since 1986. If we can use roving wiretaps to track down a drug lord, why shouldn’t we also use it to prevent a terrorist attack?
The business records provision allows the FBI to access tangible items, including business records, in foreign intelligence, international terrorism and espionage cases. Again, this provision requires the approval of a federal judge.
That means the FBI must prove to a federal judge that the documents are needed as part of a legitimate national security investigation.
These two provisions have been effectively used for the last ten years, without any evidence that they have been misused. H.R. 1800 extends these two provisions for another six years.
The third provision amends the legal definition of an agent of a foreign power to include a "lone wolf" terrorist. National security laws allow intelligence gathering on foreign governments, terrorist groups, and their agents. But what about a foreign terrorist who either acts alone or cannot be immediately tied to a terrorist organization?
The lone wolf definition simply brings our national security laws into the 21st Century to allow our intelligence officials to answer the modern day terrorist threat.
Since 9-11, we have seen terrorist tactics change. In addition to coordinated attacks by al Qaeda and other groups, we now we face the threat of self-radicalized terrorists who are motivated by al Qaeda but may not be directly affiliated with such groups.
The lone wolf provision ensures that our laws cover would-be terrorists, not just those who have a current membership card in a terrorist organization. H.R. 1800 makes the lone wolf provision permanent.
On September 11th we will mark the ten year anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. America is fortunate not to have suffered another attack of such magnitude and devastation in the past decade.
But it is not because terrorists haven’t tried. There have been numerous attempts by terrorists to kill innocent Americans. We must beware the folly of complacency.
We cannot afford to leave our intelligence community without the reliable resources it needs to dismantle terrorist organizations, identify threats from both groups and individuals, and interrupt terrorist plots of all sizes.
I want to specifically thank my colleagues, Mr. Issa, Mr. Gohmert, Mr. Poe, and Mr. Chaffetz, for participating in the process that led to this legislation including sunsets for the business records and roving provisions.
Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder told this Committee that he supports these provisions and encouraged Congress to reauthorize them for as long of a period of time as possible. H.R. 1800 accomplishes this goal.