By BRUCE SCHREINER
Associated Press Writer
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told a national police conference Monday that congressional action to expand the government's eavesdropping powers against suspected foreign terrorists was needed to make the United States safer.
Speaking to the national Fraternal Order of Police conference, the Kentucky Republican hailed the recently passed update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, saying "we're safer for it." He ridiculed concerns from some critics that the changes went too far.
"Now to me, the idea that we were supposed to extend the Bill of Rights to a bunch of noncitizens overseas, let alone terrorists, wasn't only dangerous, it was the height of stupidity," McConnell said, drawing applause from the police group.
The legislation that cleared Congress this month gives the government leeway to intercept, without warrants, communications between foreigners that are routed through equipment in the United States, provided that "foreign intelligence information" is at stake.
The Bush administration has said the update to the FISA law was needed to speed the National Security Agency's ability to intercept phone calls, e-mails and other communications involving foreign nationals believed to be outside the United States.
Civil liberties groups and some Democrats have said the measure went too far, and could enable the government to wiretap U.S. residents communicating with people overseas without adequate oversight from courts or Congress.
In his speech to police officers from across the country, McConnell also pledged cooperation to break down any impediments preventing the sharing of national intelligence information with affected local and state law enforcement.
"The only way we'll detect and smash terror cells is by working across city, state and federal lines," he said.
Referring to the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, McConnell said "we've seen the horror these people can inflict on our cities, and we should take them at their word when they say they plan to do it again."
McConnell, a leading supporter of President Bush's Iraq war policies, included the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq as part of the offensive against terrorism.
"The war we are fighting against terrorism is real, and we will not have a shot at winning unless we've got a strong defense," he said. "But we've got to have a potent offense as well. And I guarantee you that it's because we've gone on offense in places like Afghanistan and Iraq that we haven't been hit again at home since Sept. 11."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)