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 voted to improve our nation’s military readiness, support military families, recommit to our efforts in Afghanistan and protect our nation from terrorism and unconventional threats.  He supported H.R. 5658, the fiscal year 2009 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes $601.4 billion to support our national defense, including $70 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Smith helped shape the legislation via his chairmanship of the House Armed Services terrorism subcommittee and an amendment he offered on the floor of the House of Representatives.  The bill passed by a vote of 384 to 23.

“This year's National Defense Authorization Act is a good product, especially considering its language and funding to restore readiness and support military families. Our forces are under a great deal of strain because of their deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, so we provided almost $2 billion above the President’s request to fill readiness gaps. The bill also prioritizes our troops by giving them a 3.9 percent pay raise to recognize their hard work and sacrifice and support them in every way we possibly can,” Smith said.

Recommitting to Afghanistan

  • Our efforts in Afghanistan continue to suffer due to a disproportionate focus on Iraq.  The NDAA attempts to rectify this imbalance in a region of the world critical to our fight against al-Qaida and their allies.  The bill:
  • Requires the Administration to de-link its future budget requests for Afghanistan from those for Iraq to enhance transparency and congressional oversight. 
  • Requires detailed reports on the training of the Afghan National Security Forces - the cornerstone of our counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.

“Our national security interests would be best served by a responsible redeployment from Iraq and a greater emphasis on our Afghanistan commitment.  Recently I introduced a resolution calling for such redeployment and a better balance in our defense policy.  I am pleased the NDAA this year will help Congress oversee and prioritize our efforts in Afghanistan,” Smith said.

Protecting Our Nation from Terrorism and Unconventional Threats

The Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee’s (HASC) portion of the NDAA fully resources and enhances the Defense Department’s ability to combat terrorism, fight smarter in the realm of irregular warfare, and counter other unconventional threats to our nation’s security.  Smith chairs the terrorism panel.  The bill:

  • Supports expansion of our special operations forces (SOF) – the “tip of the spear” in our fight against terrorism and extremism – and provides needed equipment and support.  The legislation includes $185 million above the President’s request to fund eight top priorities of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), including advanced aircraft survivability systems, advanced sniper scopes and body armor vests.
  • Prioritizes “irregular warfare,” including counterinsurgency, stability operations, and strategic communications.  The NDAA requires an Assistant Secretary of Defense be tasked to manage irregular warfare to ensure needed support and attention from the Pentagon.  The bill includes a $90 million increase for embedded cultural advisors in Iraq and Afghanistan and requires the creation of a management board to enhance coordination of the Defense Department’s (DoD) counter-terrorism strategic communication efforts. 
  • Enhances DoD’s use of technology and includes language and funding to help protect the United States from unconventional attacks.  The NDAA funds needed science and technology (S&T) research, streamlines our acquisition process for commercial information technology (IT) for the military, and mandates greater coordination and collaboration between DoD and the VA.  The bill adds funds for the Chemical-Biological Defense Program, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and other homeland defense initiatives.  The NDAA also clarifies the President’s authority to use the Reserves during national emergencies.  These provisions ensure our military remains up-to-date and ready to prevent and respond to major attacks on the homeland.

The bill must be approved by the Senate before the President can sign it into law.