Sunday, March 2, 2008

Surveillance ads under fire

Surveillance ads under fire

Nationwide TV campaign touting anti-terror measure to U.S. House is described by critics as inaccurate

Beth Duckett

Go To Original

A nationwide TV ad campaign urging Arizona Congressman Harry Mitchell and the U.S. House to pass a surveillance law has come under fire from critics, who describe the ad as inaccurate "fear-mongering."

Defense of Democracies, the group behind the commercial, said delaying the bill only widens the door to terrorist attacks.

The ad, which ran locally this week on cable and satellite channels, urges Congress to reauthorize the Senate-approved Protect America Act, which expired Feb. 16.

The reauthorization would update the 30-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, passed in the wake of President Nixon's use of federal resources to spy on political and activist groups.

The reauthorization would allow the government to conduct overseas surveillance without a special court warrant in an effort to fight international terrorism.

House Democrats questioned the retroactive immunity it would grant telecommunications companies that aided the federal government's wiretapping without warrants after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

If approved, the bill would free the companies from lawsuits and public exposure.

The ad targeted Mitchell, of Tempe, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Tucson and 13 other House Democrats.

"The response from (Gifford's) constituents has been minimal," said CJ Karamargin, a spokesman for Giffords. "The voters in southeastern Arizona . . . know how to recognize hyperbole and fear-mongering."

'Tell House to do its job'

Blanketed by pictures of the White House and Osama bin Laden, the ad claims surveillance is "crippled" without the bill.

It asks viewers to "tell the House of Representatives to do its job" and pass House Resolution 3773. The ad displays contact information of local representatives.

"We looked to see who we felt would be the most effective people to take a message to the House leadership," said Brian Wise, spokesman for Defense of Democracies, which has ties to the non-profit Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The group, headed by prominent Republicans and Democrats, has been criticized as one of the "top neo-con think tanks," though it describes itself as nonpartisan, dedicated to "promoting pluralism, defending democratic values, and fighting the ideologies that drive terrorism."

Wise said the clock is ticking and surveillance is waning.

"Without this bill, we are not able to monitor new terrorists' threats," Wise said.

The House, which passed its own version without the retroactive-immunity clause, has failed to initiate a vote on the Senate bill.

Giffords said through her spokesman that she believes it "failed to strike the right balance between personal freedom and national security."

Mitchell spokesman Seth Scott said the congressman has "very serious" concerns about the immunity, among other issues.

"The congressman believes very strongly that the system that works best is a system of checks and balances," Scott said.

President Bush and House Republicans this week urged passage of the bill, citing "dangerous" consequences.

Defense of Democracies president Clifford D. May said lives are in danger.

"Terrorists could be plotting a major attack now, but without this legislation, our intelligence agencies may not be able to listen in," May said. "Regrettably, the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives has put our lives in more danger."

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