Daniel Malloy at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:
National security policy provides a rare area where Congress does not cleave on its predictable partisan axis. And so it was last week in the Senate, when the hawks of our post-9/11 security state – led by U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, and Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat – defeated an alliance of liberals and a few Republican civil libertarians to reauthorize warrantless wiretapping and keep it secret.
Chambliss, as vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was among the most visible proponents of extending the amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and parried its foes on the floor throughout the day Thursday and Friday morning.
The law “has enabled the intelligence community to identify and neutralize terror networks before they harm us either at home or abroad,” Chambliss said in a floor speech. “While I can’t get into specific examples here, I can say definitively that these authorities work extremely well.”
Chambliss’ foes took the biggest exception with “I can’t get into specific examples.” They pushed for more openness from the secret FISA courts that can approve monitoring of Americans’ phone calls and emails if intelligence officials believe they include foreign citizens.
But measures to require warrants for the surveillance or reveal the secret court’s rulings if they do not threaten national security or to require an estimate of how many Americans were being spied on all were defeated.
Chambliss argued on the floor that more openness could threaten the public.
“These folks that we’re dealing with are very smart individuals; these bad guys carry laptops,” he said. “… They are going to be reviewing those [court] opinions and they are going to pick up on some small piece of information that’s going to give them a shortcut the next time they are planning an attack on America or Americans.”
The last extension of the FISA amendments came as Chambliss’ 2008 re-election campaign heated up and provided attack fodder for Libertarian candidate Allen Buckley. The Libertarian ended up stealing enough votes from Chambliss that it forced him into a runoff against Democrat Jim Martin.
Brett Bittner, executive director of the Libertarian Party of Georgia, said there will be a Libertarian candidate to challenge Chambliss in 2014. But the biggest threat to Chambliss’ third Senate term comes from within his own party, amid concerns about conservative apostasies such as trying to make a budget deal with Democrats that might include increased taxes.
Chambliss’ rumored GOP challengers do not inspire Bittner. Mentioning former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel and Rep. Tom Price of Roswell, Bittner said, “The names that I’ve heard don’t ring as civil liberties champions.”
He also doubted that a surveillance backlash would seriously harm Chambliss in a primary.
“In the Republican Party, especially in the South, you see a very strong support of things like the Patriot Act, FISA, anti-terror acts of law that are on the books,” Bittner said.
But the tea party has added a more libertarian streak to the GOP in recent years. Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky carry that banner most prominently in the Senate, and Bittner said newcomers such as Sen.-elect Jeff Flake of Arizona will add to that list.
“I think you would see most [opposition to Chambliss] coming from his colleagues within Washington,” Bittner said.
Still, Friday’s 73-23 vote to extend the FISA amendments through 2017 indicates that foes of aggressive secret anti-terror measures are a long way from a critical mass.