Press Releases

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) today voted for the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, a bipartisan compromise bill that provides intelligence agencies tools to conduct surveillance while protecting Americans' privacy rights.

"We can and must fight terrorism without sacrificing our most basic freedoms as Americans.   While not perfect, this compromise is a major improvement over both the Senate-passed bill and current law.  It gives intelligence agencies needed tools to conduct surveillance on foreign targets while protecting Americans' constitutional rights through judicial oversight and ensuring the President can never again go outside the law," Smith said.

The compromise bill contains a number of critical safeguards to protect civil liberties and prevent executive overreach.  The bill:

  • Ensures the President can never again go outside the law, by clarifying that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and existing criminal statues are the exclusive means by which the government may conduct surveillance on U.S. soil.  The President justified his extralegal surveillance program by claiming the 2001 authorization to use force against terrorists provided the administration the authority to circumvent FISA.  This bill makes it clear that's not the case.
  • Clarifies that to conduct surveillance of a person in the U.S., or any U.S. citizen abroad, the government must first obtain an individual warrant from the FISA court based on probable cause.
  • Requires prior review and approval by the FISA Court of the targeting and minimization procedures used in foreign surveillance to ensure that U.S. citizens are not targeted and that any inadvertently intercepted communications are not disseminated.
  • Requires the Inspectors General of four key U.S. government agencies to conduct a review of the President's warrantless wiretapping program and provide those reviews to Congress.

The debate over surveillance laws emerged after September 11, 2001 as the need to conduct counterterrorism surveillance suggested that the 1978 FISA law needed to be modernized.  While surveillance of foreign targets had always been legal without a warrant, the question became what to do when information about Americans was inadvertently collected in the process of seeking information on targets abroad – a growing problem since an increasing amount of global electronic communication was being routed through U.S. locations.  FISA required that any time that might happen; a separate individual warrant was required in advance.  U.S. intelligence agencies complained that the 1978 law hampered their ability to conduct effective counterterrorism surveillance on foreign targets. 

With that challenge in mind, in addition to safeguarding civil liberties, this compromise bill provides critical authority and flexibility for U.S. intelligence agencies to acquire foreign intelligence information.  In an emergency, the government may authorize surveillance and apply to the FISA Court for approval within seven days.

The bill also rejects the Senate bill's provisions granting automatic retroactive immunity for telecommunications providers.  Instead the bill requires federal courts to determine companies' liability, and allows them to grant immunity only if shown substantial evidence that the U.S. government ordered companies to comply.  All parties will be allowed to participate in the legal proceedings, with caveats to protect access to highly classified information.

"This bill's approach on telecommunications company liability isn't perfect, but it's a vast improvement over the Senate bill in that it keeps the decision in the federal courts' hands.  What's most important is that government officials can still be held accountable, as the bill provides no immunity to them and requires aggressive investigations into the President's warrantless wiretap program," Smith said.

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) today issued the following statement after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled on Boeing’s protest of the Air Force’s aerial refueling tanker contract process:

“The GAO’s decision is an unequivocal vindication of our position regarding the bidding process for the Air Force’s refueling tanker contract.  The process was not fair and did not provide equal consideration for both companies’ products based on the Air Force’s solicitation.  GAO recommends what amounts to a complete reopening of the bidding process which could result in the termination of the contract awarded to Northrop Grumman.  In addition to ensuring that American workers get a fair shot at the contract, I hope this decision will also cause our government to reevaluate the wisdom of awarding major contracts to companies that have benefited from illegal government subsidies.”
 

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) yesterday offered an amendment to H.R. 6003, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 to encourage collaboration between Amtrak and local and regional commuter rail agencies on train schedules and routing in shared rail corridors.  The U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 6003 by a vote of 311 to 104 after voting to include Smith’s amendment.

Local commuter rail transit agencies often share rails with Amtrack, and several agencies across the nation have made substantial investments in tracks and signal capacity in shared rail corridors to enhance commuter rail service.  However, Amtrak’s first right to schedule their service often causes delays to commuter rail passengers and undermines the on-time performance of commuter rail systems.  High gas prices increase demand for passenger commuter rails, so efficient and effective use of rail infrastructure is critical. 

“Amtrak should work in collaboration with commuter rail carriers to facilitate the most efficient flow of intercity Amtrak and commuter rail passengers.  In the Puget Sound region, Sound Transit worked with BNSF and invested substantial sums of public funds in the rail corridor between Tacoma and Everett.

Investments like these all around the country benefit freight rail, Amtrak and commuter rail passengers.  Amtrak should respect these investments and work with our local commuter rail agencies to help maximize commuter rail service so commuters and taxpayers can see improved returns on our public investment,” Smith said.

Smith’s amendment does not replace or affect the existing process for adding additional passenger service on freight rail networks, but rather simply requires Amtrak to engage in good-faith discussions on scheduling with commuter rail agencies to ensure that passenger movement is maximized and a balance is struck between Amtrak’s intercity rail service and commuter rail service.

H.R. 6003 must be approved by the Senate before the President can sign it into law.

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) today issued the following statement regarding the Democratic budget plan for fiscal year 2009 passed by the House of Representatives this afternoon:

“I am proud to announce that the 110th Congress passed a budget plan for the second year in a row, establishing a pattern that differs sharply from past Congresses.  Budget resolutions are fundamental pieces of any larger attempt to reign in our budget process.  The framework we have established in this report gives us a chance to return to fiscal responsibility, a trait sadly lacking from federal budgets for some time now. 

“Our national debt and deficit have not received sufficient attention in our national dialogue, and we absolutely must get both of these factors under control so we can address long-term economic priorities including a more affordable health care system, a better education and skills training policy, greater innovation investment and infrastructure improvements.  Addressing these challenges will be essential to our future prosperity.  However, I do not believe this process will be successful unless we get back to a fiscally responsible budget process. 

“The budget conference report is a good first step in returning to a path of fiscal discipline.”

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) today won approval for his amendment to the fiscal year 2009 National Defense Authorization Act to enhance U.S. efforts to combat the spread of violent terrorist ideology.  The Smith Amendment would address major gaps in our counter-terrorism strategy by requiring the President to develop a comprehensive interagency strategy for strategic communication and public diplomacy.  The House of Representatives approved the amendment during consideration of H.R. 5658, which passed by a vote of 384 to 23.

“Strategic communication and public diplomacy were central to our fight against communism in the Cold War, and they should remain front-and-center as we work to roll back al-Qaeda’s and other violent extremists’ influence among disaffected populations.  Various organizations within our government work in some way to counter terrorist messages, but we lack a coordinated, comprehensive, adequately resourced plan to confront al-Qaeda’s ideology through a strategic message campaign,” Smith said.

The Smith Amendment:

  • Requires the President to develop a comprehensive interagency strategy for strategic communication and public diplomacy by the end of 2009; 
  • Increases Congressional oversight by requiring the Administration to report to Congress on the State and Defense Departments’ respective roles in strategic communication and public diplomacy; and 
  • Requires the Administration to assess and report back to Congress on the Defense Science Board’s recommendation that the U.S. establish an independent, non-profit organization to support the U.S. government’s strategic communication efforts.

Our nation’s multifaceted fight against al-Qaida and their allies includes efforts to counter their ideology – a war of ideas.  Terrorist groups aggressively push their narrative through new and traditional media with the aim of radicalizing and recruiting from new populations.  Through clever use of the Internet and a steady trickle of video messages distributed to and through the media, al-Qaeda drives its central messages and takes us on in the marketplace of ideas.  Numerous commissions and experts recommend improving the United States’ engagement with foreign audiences beyond traditional government-to-government relations.  Unfortunately, U.S. efforts remain insufficient to counter violent extremist narratives around the world.  Smith’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threat, and Capabilities repeatedly receives testimony that:

  • The U.S. doesn’t have a coherent, high-level interagency strategy on these issues;
  • The State Department and Defense Department aren’t coordinating sufficiently; and
  • We lack focus and nuance in our strategic communication messaging.

To address these gaps in our counter-terrorism strategy, Smith offered his good-government amendment through bipartisan cooperation and with support of the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairmen.   The Senate and the President must approve H.R. 5658 before the Smith Amendment becomes law.