Burr: Give law enforcement tools they need
(CNN) As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I regularly examine the scope and the scale of terrorist threats against the United States.
Our adversaries are countless, and each day they grow more capable and technically savvy, whether they come from al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Taliban or any number of the organized terror groups in the world seeking to bring down the United States and her allies.
Over the last 10 years, those on the front lines facing down these threats on our nation have thwarted, anticipated, or derailed numerous attacks through a documented process under the Patriot Act. It wasn't perfect, but it was effective. Everyone in the intelligence and law enforcement communities, from the President to the heads of agencies to analysts and FBI field agents, recognized the critical value of the program.
Now, however, our agents and analysts will be forced to track down our adversaries with greatly limited agility, while they beg phone companies for call logs on suspected terrorists who are in the process of plotting the next disaster. If companies refuse to cooperate with the government's request, the Justice Department will have to pursue the records through courts, which will likely render all information outdated and useless.
So, on Tuesday, the United States Senate voted to strip the intelligence community of a critical tool that has kept Americans safe for more than 10 years. Every day, I learn about new threats against our country, at home and abroad. And every night I lay awake worrying about what is coming next.
While some senators and House members took advantage of misinformation about an important provision in the Patriot Act, and the myths that have developed around it, I considered what could go wrong with this new legislation. There are several "great unknowns" about the bill that we sent to the President's desk.
The first is the gaping problem that arises with the complete lack of structure around the telecommunications companies' record keeping processes. In accordance with the new law, companies do not have to comply when asked for assistance determining a terrorist's communication network. It also means that companies can market their services based on their noncompliance with the new law, potentially resulting in a race to see who can hold their records for the shortest amount of time. This will render the entire program, which was once highly successful, completely useless. The little remaining value will be further suppressed by an even slower court review and query process than has been put in place by the administration.
The second is the unreasonably short time of six months to transition from our current system to one that the phone companies control and whose success is predicated on an entirely new technical solution and query process that has not yet been defined or built. The intelligence community, in exceptionally time sensitive situations, will now have to wait longer for the critical information needed to stop terrorist attacks using an unproven system. An amendment my colleagues rejected would have extended this transition period to one year, and would have therefore ensured that we had time to thoughtfully design a new system that would actually work. Sadly, even a simple accommodation to the officials tasked with keeping our country safe was rejected.
I have serious doubts that the legislative solution passed by the Senate on Tuesday will work, but I hope for the good of this country, that it will. I know that we collectively face a range of diverse and complex threats that were unknowable just 10 years ago and I've implored my colleagues to give the honorable men and women of our intelligence and law enforcement communities the tools they need to keep us safe.
I am saddened and shocked that instead of giving them at least some of the tools we know work, we are going to needlessly test them with an undefined and unproven system.
By: Chairman Richard Burr