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Congress extends Patriot Act sections for 4 years

Congress voted yesterday to extend several controversial parts of the Patriot Act for four more years.

The Senate approved S.990 on a 72 to 23 vote, with both of California’s senators in support; the House passed it on a 250 to 153 vote, with no support from any Bay Area member. President Obama signed it into law minutes before the provisions would’ve expired.

The votes made strange bedfellows, with libertarian-leaning Republicans standing with some of Congress’ most liberal Democrats in opposition.

Extended were provisions that authorize roving wiretaps on surveillance targets; provisions that let the government access “any tangible items,” such as library records, as a part of surveillance; and a “lone wolf” provision that allows surveillance of those in the United States without citizenship, a green card or political asylum who are not connected to an identified terrorist group.

Civil liberties advocates and much of the Bay Area’s House delegation had believed — especially now that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is dead – this was the right time to reassess the nation’s balance of security measures and civil liberties.

But the fix was in a week ago, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, struck a deal for an amendment-free extension until June 1, 2015.

In February, all Bay Area House members except Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, had voted against extending these provisions; McNerney had supported extending them until December, but ultimately they were extended for only 90 days and are set to expire at the end of the month. McNerney spokeswoman Sarah Hersh in February had said the congressman “has serious concerns with this legislation and believes that we must make substantial changes to the law in order to better preserve our country’s most fundamental civil liberties. However, in the meantime, allowing the policy to expire without warning and a comprehensive debate on our security policies would not be advisable.”

Earlier this month, Hersh said McNerney “continues to have major concerns about the Patriot Act. He believes there must be substantial changes made to the law in order to better preserve our civil liberties. A bill hasn’t been released yet, so Congressman McNerney wants to see the legislation before reaching a decision.”

On Thursday, McNerney joined the rest of the Bay Area delegation in opposing the extension. He issued a statement afterward reiterating his concern about freedoms and noting this extension continues the policies without reform. “That is simply not in our country’s best interest. Instead, we should pursue balanced policies that keep our country safe and protect our civil liberties.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, issued a statement saying the law doesn’t properly balance national security with protection of civil liberties.

“I opposed the extension of the PATRIOT Act because we cannot sacrifice fundamental freedoms, including the right to privacy, in our effort to manage the threat of terrorism. Our basic civil liberties, which include access to our library records, medical records, and personal information about private residences and businesses, are not safe from the PATRIOT Act,” she said. “I will continue to push for an end to invasive intelligence gathering tactics that come at the expense of vital civil liberties, many of which have been justified by the overly broad executive branch authorization I opposed in the wake of 9/11.”

American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel Michelle Richardson said the extension means “Congress has missed yet another opportunity to make necessary changes to protect our privacy. It means we’re likely to see more abuse of Patriot Act powers by law enforcement. Next time it’s given the opportunity, Congress should consider prioritizing Americans’ civil liberties by passing actual Patriot Act reform.”

U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., had authored legislation to extend the provisions through the end of 2013. Her office earlier this month referred me to a February floor speech in which she said these provisions are used often and believes “that being able to have good intelligence is what prevents an attack against a New York subway or air cargo plane. It is what keeps this homeland safe, and it is what allows us to get ahead of a terrorist attack. Without them “… we put our nation in jeopardy.”

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., voted for the Patriot Act in 2001, and its reauthorizations in 2006 and in February, saying it gives law enforcement the tools it needs to keep Americans safe. She had expressed concern, however, over provisions such as seizure of library records, and wanted those areas tightened up.

Boxer had supported an amendment authored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., which she said would’ve added some checks and balances. She was disappointed that it didn’t get a vote, but voted for the extension anyway because “any delays in providing law enforcement officials the tools they need to disrupt terrorist plots and to find those who would harm our country would be unacceptable.”

Posted on Friday, May 27th, 2011
Under: Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, Civil liberties, Dianne Feinstein, Harry Reid, Jerry McNerney, Mitch McConnell, national security, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, War on Terror | 2 Comments »

Ex state ed official to run U.S. border security

Alan Bersin – the former federal prosecutor turned education administrator who did a stint as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Secretary of Education – will be nominated to serve as U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said today.

Bersin, 63, already has been serving in the Obama Administration as Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Special Representative for Border Affairs — what some have called the “Border Czar.”

“Under Alan’s leadership over the past several months, we have forged new international and domestic partnerships along our borders to strengthen security,” Napolitano said in a news release. “I look forward to continuing to work with Alan in his new position, where he will lead the Department’s efforts to implement practical, innovative solutions to protect our country from threats to our national and economic security and facilitate legitimate travel and trade.”

As CBP Commissioner, Bersin will lead the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to secure America’s borders while overseeing enforcement of immigration, customs and drug laws. CBP has more than 57,000 employees working to secure U.S. land and maritime borders.

Before joining the Obama Administration in April, Bersin — a Democrat and a Brooklyn native — was chairman of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, appointed in December 2006. Earlier, he was Schwarzenegger’s Secretary of Education in 2005-06; superintendent of the nation’s eighth largest urban school district, in San Diego, from 1998 through 2005; and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California from 1993 to 1998. While U.S. Attorney, he was appointed as Special Representative for the Southwest Border in 1995 by former Attorney General Janet Reno, overseeing coordination of border law enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border for three years.

Schwarzenegger back in April said President Obama “could not have selected a more qualified, more experienced person to join his administration – especially when it comes to issues along our southwest border. Alan was a tremendous asset to my Administration, I’m grateful for his service to California, and I look forward to working with him on border issues that, as he knows well, significantly affect California.”

Posted on Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009
Under: Arnold Schwarzenegger, General, Immigration, national security, Obama presidency | Comments Off

Tauscher sails through confirmation hearing

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo

Flanked by close friend and ally Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, received nothing but bipartisan praise and encouragement at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this morning.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO AUDIO FILE OF THE 90-MINUTE HEARING.

Tauscher has been nominated for a State Department job as Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security. The full Senate confirmation vote has not been scheduled but it is generally expected to occur before Congress leaves for summer break.

House Majority Leader and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, spoke on Tauscher’s behalf and in the audience was her fiance, father and numerous friends.

Committee Chairman and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., touted Tauscher’s extensive experience as a member of the House Armed Services Committee and cited what he called his tremendous personal and professional respect for the California congresswoman’s expertise.

But the most significant sign of bipartisan support came from Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, a lawmaker who passionately promotes U.S. policies that help reduce worldwide threats from weapons of mass destruction.

Tauscher’s new job entails work on the next generation nuclear arms treaty with Russia, the development of a worldwide treaty on the containment of fissile nuclear materials, protection of sensitive technology, and nuclear nonproliferation policies particularly as they pertain to North Korea and Iran.

While few things in politics are done until they are done, Tauscher’s confirmation appears highly likely given the tone and tenor of this morning’s 90-minute hearing.

Once Tauscher is confirmed and she resigns her position in the 10th Congressional District, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will call for a special election to select her replacement.

CLICK HERE TO READ TAUSCHER’S WRITTEN COMMENTS THIS MORNING.

CLICK HERE TO READ KERRY’S OPENING STATEMENTS

CLICK HERE TO READ LUGAR’S OPENING STATEMENTS.

Posted on Tuesday, June 9th, 2009
Under: Congress, Congressional District 10, national security | 4 Comments »

Tauscher delivers speech at Munich Security Conference

Rep. Ellen Tauscher

Rep. Ellen Tauscher

House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee chairwoman and Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, spoke today at the Munich Security Conference.

Here is the text of her speech:

Non-Proliferation, Arms Control and the future of Nuclear Weapons: Is Zero Possible

First allow me to thank Foreign Minister Steinmeier and our German friends for hosting this critical international gathering of world leaders.

I have participated in the Munich Security Conference nearly every year since I was elected to the US Congress.

But this is the first time I have been able to address so many of the key decision makers in one room on a topic I have long worked on.

It is a great honor to be here to speak with friends like Bernard Kouchner.

Your country and the European Union’s recent contribution to the international fuel bank is an important step toward helping secure the nuclear fuel cycle at a time of growing energy demand.

I am pleased that you are hearing from Mohamed El Baradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, whom I visited with in Vienna very recently. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, February 6th, 2009
Under: Congress, national security | 7 Comments »