Referring to the expiring revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Fox host Chris Wallace asserted that when Sen. John McCain "gets on the campaign trail and says, 'Look, here is a law that was going to provide the tools for the United States to be able to intercept communications of people who want to kill us and Congress went home, the Democratic Congress went home on a break' -- that's going to be a pretty effective weapon to use against the Democrats in the fall." In fact, contrary to Wallace's suggestion, the government has "the tools" to "intercept communications" of suspected terrorists.
NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams stated that the Republicans "left the House chamber to protest the Democrats' refusal to renew the foreign intelligence surveillance law, which expires this week." In fact, the House voted on a measure to extend the law in question, the Protect America Act, for another 21 days, but all 195 Republicans who voted on the matter voted against it. Moreover, the "foreign intelligence surveillance law" doesn't expire this week; the Protect America Act, giving the president broad authority to intercept communications involving people in the U.S. without a warrant, expires. Even without its renewal, the government has the authority to conduct foreign intelligence surveillance.
On Special Report, Carl Cameron reported that Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama "were both present for the debate and vote on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [FISA] being tweaked a little bit today." However, if the FISA amendments bill becomes law, it would do far more than "tweak" FISA "a little bit" -- as The Washington Post reported, it "include[s] major revisions to the 30-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which established a secret court to issue warrants for domestic spying on suspects in terrorism and intelligence cases."
While discussing the "dogfight under way" over the Protect America Act, Fox News' Megyn Kelly falsely claimed that "this bill," which "allows the president to, among other things, surveil the conversations between American citizens and those suspected of being terrorists overseas" is "set to expire on Friday," February 15. In fact, only revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act made in August 2007 would expire; the government would retain the authority to monitor the communications of suspected terrorists.
In a Washington Times op-ed, Discovery Institute senior fellow John Wohlstetter falsely suggested that if the August 2007 Protect America Act (PAA) expires on February 1 as scheduled, the government will not be "allow[ed] ... to continue to monitor communications for counter-terror purposes." In fact, the government would retain the authority to monitor the communications of suspected terrorists after the PAA expires; only the PAA's revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act would expire.
An item in The Washington Post, titled "Aye to Spy?" falsely claimed that "[t]he current FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] authorization will expire on Friday [February 1]." In fact, FISA does not "expire" on February 1; rather, the August 2007 revisions to FISA made through the Protect America Act are set to expire, but FISA will remain in effect.
An Associated Press article falsely asserted that the U.S. government would lose its "eavesdropping powers" if Congress does not reauthorize them by February 1. In fact, only revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act made in August 2007 would expire.
A Des Moines Register article reported that Mitt Romney "defended the Bush administration's use of wiretaps to spy on suspected terrorists," quoting Romney asserting that President Bush "has done what was necessary here with the Patriot Act, as well as by listening in when al-Qaida was calling." But the article simply ignored the central issue in the debate: whether the government should have to obtain warrants to eavesdrop on communications involving people in the United States.
In describing the Senate debate over granting retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies that allegedly cooperated with the government's program of warrantless domestic eavesdropping, Fox News' Jim Angle stated that the debate "is over whether or not to give immunity to the telecom companies who were told by the administration that they were acting lawfully and asked their cooperation, and they gave it." But Angle did not mention that, in a case challenging the legality of AT&T's alleged cooperation with the wiretapping program, a judge found that AT&T "cannot seriously contend that a reasonable entity in its position could have believed" that it would be lawful for the company to cooperate with the government.
In a report on the congressional debate over revisions to the 1978 FISA law , Fox News' Jim Angle reported that, "since about 80 percent of the world's Internet traffic passes through U.S. communications infrastructure, officials now find themselves in a bizarre situation, forced to treat foreigners overseas as if they were Americans inside the United States." But, in August, Congress passed the Protect America Act that temporarily revised FISA to allow the warrantless surveillance of these communications -- while also temporarily expanding the president's authority to wiretap without a warrant.
On The O'Reilly Factor, Newsmax.com chief Washington correspondent Ronald Kessler falsely claimed that Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton "voted to give Osama bin Laden the same rights that Americans have when it comes to intercepting his calls, even if he made calls within Pakistan, to Pakistan. They voted in August to not revise the FISA act." In fact, Obama and Clinton both voted for legislation sponsored by Sen. Carl Levin that would have amended FISA to allow warrantless wiretapping of foreign-to-foreign calls, regardless of whether they are transmitted through the United States.
Advancing a common straw man promoted by the Bush administration and repeated by the media, a Wall Street Journal editorial falsely claimed that under the "preferred rules" for wiretapping purportedly favored by "most House Democrats," "a U.S. President couldn't even eavesdrop on a foreign-to-foreign terror call if by chance that call was routed through an American telephone switch," which "would amount to unilateral disarmament in the war on terror." The assertion is false on two counts.
A New York Times article adopted House Republicans' characterization of their proposed measure to revise the RESTORE Act, a bill amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The article claimed that "on its face," the measure "asked lawmakers to declare where they stood on stopping Osama bin Laden from attacking the United States again." In fact, the measure would have exempted the president from requirements of the bill as long as he claimed to be acting to protect the country from attack.
A New York Post article reported that Congress plans to vote on "a bill that leaves in place the legal hurdles in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [FISA] -- problems that were highlighted during the May search for a group of kidnapped U.S. soldiers." Hurt suggested that the "legal hurdle" was that "[t]he FISA law applies even to a cellphone conversation between two people in Iraq, because those communications zip along wires through U.S. hubs, which is where the taps are typically applied." In fact, the bill specifically provides that "a court order is not required for the acquisition of the contents of any communication between persons that are not United States persons and are not located within the United States," even if those communications are routed through U.S. hubs.