WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following are prepared remarks of Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey at the American Bar Association National Security Law Breakfast:
Thank you Stewart for that introduction. It's a pleasure to be here with you today. I want to talk to you this morning about the need to put in place--permanently--the national security tools that we use for the war on terror--and in particular, about the need to modernize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or "FISA" as it's commonly called.
Since becoming Attorney General, I've learned quite a lot, from my perspective, about how vital it is that we get timely intelligence to protect Americans from those who think it is their religious duty to do us harm. We have seen what happens when terrorists go undetected. We have to do everything possible, within the law, to prevent terrorists from translating their warped beliefs into action.
To stop them, we have to know their intentions, and one of the best ways to do that is by intercepting their communications. The United States has tremendous technological capabilities in such disciplines as computer science, telecommunications, and cryptology, but we've not been allowed to use that capability to full advantage.
The same cannot be said of our enemies. Our adversaries adhere to fanatical ideologies based on their tortured views of teachings from the seventh century. But they take full advantage of twenty-first century technologies to recruit, organize, and command their international network of terrorist operatives. It is critical that we leverage our capabilities to intercept and monitor their communications to the fullest extent.
The main law that governs our ability to intercept communications of foreign powers and agents of foreign powers, including international terrorists, is outdated. That statute, FISA, was enacted in 1978, and thus is almost thirty years old. FISA, as many of you know, regulates when the Government must obtain a court order to conduct foreign intelligence surveillance, including the interceptions of communication of our foreign adversaries.
Much has changed from the time when FISA was enacted.
First, the statute was enacted before some of the most dramatic changes in communications technology in world history. For example, the statute was passed long before the use of the internet and cell phones became commonplace. It was also written at a time when international communications traveled more frequently by radio, as opposed to by wire.
FISA defined key terms--most notably its definition of "electronic surveillance," which establishes the circumstances under which court approval is required--by reference to the technologies of that time. The dramatic changes in telecommunications technology since 1978 resulted in an expansion of the scope of activities covered by FISA, and caused FISA to apply increasingly to our efforts to surveil the communications of terrorists and other intelligence targets located overseas.
The government often had to obtain an order from the FISA Court - a process that includes the burdensome completion of detailed paperwork and can result in significant delays--before monitoring the communications of these foreign targets. In certain cases, this requirement of obtaining a court order slowed, and in some cases may have blocked, surveillance efforts that were potentially vital to the national security.
As the Director of National Intelligence has stated publicly, these requirements resulted in an intelligence gap.
These requirements also gave terrorists located in foreign countries the protections Americans enjoy, and diverted resources that would have been better spent on protecting the privacy interests of people here in the United States .