Progressives are in full hyperventilation mode over the possibility that Congress will meet its deadline next week to permanently reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to bring current United States intelligence agency practice under the law. Last August Congress temporarily amended FISA through the Protect America Act. But due to a dispute over whether telecommunications companies who cooperated with US intelligence despite FISA’s outdated restrictions ought to be punished civilly, Congress set the FISA fix to expire February 1st. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV) is confident the Senate will pass the bill with protections for the cooperative telcoms, but egged on by his netroots fans Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) is threatening to filibuster.

Writing in The Hill, Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas admits FISA needs “a single uncontroversial technical correction” but then goes on to demand that telecom companies be held liable for civil damages for violating those technical failings in the wake of 9/11. Besides their natural affinity for the oodles of money trial lawyers will earn from nuisance settlements if these suits are allowed to go forward, the real aim for the progressive crowd is the fresh Bush Administration documents the discovery process from these suits would produce.

National Journal‘s Stuart Taylor Jr. exposes this game clearly in his latest column. First he identifies the reason a large bi-partisan coalition of Republicans and Democrats want to protect cooperative telecom companies: FISA will never be able to keep up with changes in technology and we want to make sure that companies will rely on future government assurances that they will not be punished for cooperating. Taylor writes:

…doubts about the Legality of Bush’s actions are no justification for holding hostage telecoms that relied on the administration’s assurances of legality … not that is unless we want to risk the telecoms, credit card companies, banks, airlines, hospitals … whose cooperation is essential in finding terrorists before they strike.

Taylor then reminds us “that no evidence exists that Bush or anyone else has ever made any improper use of any intercepted communication” and then concludes: “But the bottom line is that a remote chance of exposing any Bush misconduct is simply not good enough reason to run even a small risk of losing potentially lifesaving intelligence.” And that’s why, despite personal assurance to Markos from Clinton and Obama, that Democrats in Congress will approve this bill … there are still enough Democrats in Washington that care more about this country’s security than hating Bush.

Quick Hits:

  • A panel of independent experts told the House of Representatives that “the sharp drop in violence that has accompanied the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq has given the war-torn country a rare opportunity for stability” and that “the fragile successes of recent months in Iraq could easily unwind if the United States is unwilling to maintain a large troop presence in the Gulf region for years to come.”
  • France’s Prime Minister Francois Fillon announced President Nicols Sarkozy is planning to freeze public spending for five years.
  • Immigrants protesting in New York City demanded the Mexican government do more to prevent deportations. The group also called for a boycott of Western Union.