Monday, October 22, 2007

Response from Durbin

Canned, of course. You'll notice that it doesn't address the key point, although I suspect that his is not one of the votes we have to worry too much about:

Dear Dr. and Mrs. drmagoo:

Thank you for your message regarding the surveillance of American
citizens by the National Security Agency (NSA). I appreciate hearing
from you on this important issue and share your concerns.

Protecting both the security and the freedom of the American people is
among my highest priorities. I share an obligation with my fellow
senators to ensure that the federal government protects and defends the
people of the United States while preserving the civil liberties that
have helped make the United States the greatest and most enduring
democracy in the world.

President Bush has stated that he authorized the NSA to conduct
warrantless electronic surveillance of communications made by American
citizens living within the United States. At the time of the
President's authorization, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
(FISA) required the government to seek a warrant from a special court in
order to conduct electronic surveillance of communications between
American citizens and anyone outside the country. The NSA did not
obtain approval from the FISA court or from any other court before
initiating its domestic surveillance program.

For most of its existence, the NSA's program has operated without
meaningful oversight. Few members of Congress were briefed about the
program until its existence was revealed by the media, and those members
were sworn to secrecy. The majority of the members of Congress still
have not been fully briefed about the program's operational details.
The Administration has also shut down its own Department of Justice
internal investigation into the NSA's program. In essence, the
Administration has attempted to operate this program without any
supervision or oversight. The lack of a mechanism for correcting
potential abuses in the program undermines our Constitutional system of
checks and balances and raises serious concerns about the possibility of
excessive intrusion.

In addition to the disclosure of the NSA's domestic wiretapping program,
it has been alleged that the NSA has undertaken a massive effort to
gather the telephone records of tens of millions of innocent Americans
into a searchable database. Again, this program has been conducted
without court approval or Congressional oversight.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has issued subpoenas to the Justice
Department, the White House, the Office of the Vice President, and the
National Security Council for documents relating to the legal
justification for the NSA's warrantless surveillance program. Although
Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the chairman of the committee, has
extended the deadline for subpoena compliance on two separate occasions,
the Administration has failed to comply.

Congress has tried to work with Administration officials to update FISA
in light of technological advances in communications. Too often,
however, the Administration has taken advantage of the program's secrecy
in its negotiations with Congress. In August 2007, the Administration
proposed a bill to amend FISA. I believe the bill provided too much
opportunity for excessive intrusion and potential abuse by the NSA and
other intelligence officials. I voted against the measure, as did
Chairman Leahy and the Intelligence Committee Chairman, Senator Jay
Rockefeller of West Virginia. Nonetheless, Congress passed the bill and
the President signed it into law. Fortunately, the law will expire six
months after the date it was signed.

When the President and his Administration order actions such as the
surveillance of American citizens, these actions must be conducted in a
manner consistent with the rule of law and the Constitution's commitment
to civil liberties. I am deeply concerned about the manner in which the
Executive Branch has initiated and conducted the NSA surveillance

I will continue to work to ensure that government surveillance of
American citizens is conducted in a manner consistent with the
Constitution, the rule of law, and our security needs.

Thank you again for sharing your views on this issue with me.


Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator


P.S. If you are ever visiting Washington, please feel free to join
Senator Obama and me at our weekly constituent coffee. When the Senate
is in session, we provide coffee and donuts every Thursday at 8:30 a.m.
as we hear what is on the minds of Illinoisans and respond to your
questions. We would welcome your participation. Please call my D.C.
office for more details.

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