Intel Chief: Telecom Immunity a Security Issue

The Bush administration and House Democrats are locked in a standoff over an electronic surveillance bill passed by the Senate. The bill provides retroactive immunity to telecom companies that helped the government gather intelligence after the Sept. 11 attacks. The current rules expire Saturday.

The president warns that terrorists are planning new attacks that could make the Sept. 11 attacks "pale by comparison" and says that failure to pass the Protect America Act could have dire consequences. Democrats say they are trying to balance concerns about civil liberties against the government's spy powers.

Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence, told Renee Montagne the main issue is liability protection for the private sector.

"We can't do this mission without their help," he said. "Currently there is no retroactive liability protection for them. They're being sued for billions of dollars."

He said the lawsuits are causing them to be less cooperative and that their actions are not illegal.

"The Senate committee that passed the bill examined the activities of the telecom companies and concluded they were not violating the law," he said.

If the current law were extended while the House and Senate work out their differences, there would be no retroactive protection for the companies, McConnell said, "and we'd lose the capability to protect the country."

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