A controversial government surveillance program is being credited with alerting authorities to an alleged threat to bomb the Capitol and kill government officials.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, is a program that gives the government authority to eavesdrop under certain conditions. It was specifically mentioned by House Speaker John Boehner as being crucial in the apprehension of Christopher Lee Cornell, also known as Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah, a Cincinnati man who told an FBI informant they should “wage jihad,” and showed his plans for bombing the Capitol and shooting people.
He was arrested after he purchased the weapons.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement Wednesday: “Once again, the entire Congress owes a debt of gratitude to the FBI and all those who keep us safe.”
Averting the act of terrorism that Cornell plotted was certainly a shining moment for the FBI. However, it doesn’t change the concerns that have been expressed about the National Security Agency’s electronic surveillance programs and its collection of Americans’ telephone “metadata” under a strained interpretation of the Patriot Act.
Collecting intelligence about foreign terrorism is a national priority, but so is abiding by the letter and spirit of the Constitution. The fact that the government has access to the communications of U.S. citizens — even if there is no showing of individualized suspicion — should be disturbing to all Americans.
There is also a 4th Amendment issue in regards to criminal prosecutions. Under current law, if during the course of investigating a suspected terrorist, agents discover evidence of an unrelated crime by a U.S. citizen, they can pass that information on to law enforcement agencies. Thus, without a search warrant based on probable cause, information can be gathered that could lead to a criminal conviction of a U.S. citizen.
The United States Constitution is the greatest document in the world in regards to freedom. In fighting this war on terrorism, Americans need to be careful about stripping down the freedoms that make us a great nation.