Al Franken on Homeland Security

DFL Jr Senator (MN)


Worked since 2009 on fighting ISIS recruitment in Minn

Mike McFadden, the Republican, has accused Democratic incumbent Sen. Al Franken of failing to stop Minnesota from becoming a recruiting ground for extremists, [including] the Islamic State, Somalia-based Al Shabab and other Islamist organizations aimed at Minnesota immigrant young people.

Franken counters that he's been on top of the issue for years: "In 2009, we knew that Shabab in Somalia was beginning to recruit from our communities. The first days I was in office I went to the FBI and got a briefing," he said during a debate last week "I have worked with law enforcement. I pressed the secretary of Homeland Security. I pressed the director of the FBI in [Senate Judiciary Committee] hearings on this recruitment."

It is estimated that anywhere between 20 and 40 Minnesotans recruited from the state's sizable Somalian emigre population have left the U.S. and joined the Al Shabab terror network since 2008, and another 10 or 12 have joined ISIS.

Source: Washington Times on 2014 Minnesota Senate debate , Oct 8, 2014

Let companies reveal how much data NSA has gathered

Franken said Americans are still in the dark about the clandestine monitoring of their phone calls, e-mails and Internet search data. The US government has not revealed how much information has been actively reviewed by government officials, and not merely collected for databases.

Documents leaked by now infamous contract employee Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA has been collecting the phone & web records of millions of Americans using secret court orders. "Americans still have no way of knowing whether the government is striking the right balance between privacy & security--or whether their privacy is being violated," Franken said. "There needs to be more transparency."

Google offered support for Franken's legislation, which would lift gag orders on companies & allow them to report information about data requests they get from the government. [An opponent] said that disclosing the requests would give terrorists an advantage; they'd gravitate to companies that receive no requests.

Source: Star-Tribune on 2014 Minnesota Senate debate , Nov 14, 2013

2005: Coleman should've held hearings on post-war corruption

In his 2005 book, "The Truth (With Jokes)", Franken wrote about Coleman's chairmanship of the Senate Subcommittee on Permanent Investigations, a panel charged with looking into, among other things, corruption in defense and security contracts in Iraq. Asserting that Coleman had failed to hold "a single hearing on postwar corruption," Franken called Coleman "one of the administration's leading butt boys," and wondered if Coleman's ambition was "to become vice president in the third Bush administration."

Thus the emotional and personal groundwork was laid for a brutal campaign years before Franken announced his own ambitions. Franken-Coleman 2008 was not Wellstone-Coleman 2.0.

Source: This Is Not Florida, by Jay Weiner, p. 67 , Sep 16, 2010

Fund UN Peace Operations in Darfur

Q: Will you support and actively work to fully fund the U.S. contribution to UN Peace Operations in hot spots like Darfur?

A: Yes.

Q: Will you cosponsor a resolution in Congress supporting the establishment of a UN Emergency Peace Service if one is introduced?

A: Yes. I would support anything that helps shorten the time it takes for peacekeepers to be deployed.

Source: Citizens for Global Solutions: 2008 Senate questionnaire , Sep 9, 2008

Reduce our arsenal & abandon plans for new nuclear weapons

Q: Do you oppose the development of new nuclear weapons by the US or any other nation?

A: Yes. The US has numbers of nuclear weapons way beyond what we might need as a deterrent. The most senior officials from earlier administrations are all stressing the urgency of reducing our arsenal. As we work to stop nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea, reductions on our part will help us regain the moral high ground. And, of course, a good first step is to abandon any plans to build new nuclear weapons.

Q: Do you support U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty?

A: Yes. Nuclear weapons tests are a key threshold for aspiring nuclear powers, as we saw recently in North Korea. The CTBT is an important pillar of the nonproliferation effort, and I support it.

Source: Citizens for Global Solutions: 2008 Senate questionnaire , Sep 9, 2008

Renew our commitment to our men and women in uniform

Not only do we need to stop shortchanging our veterans, we need to revitalize and renew our commitment to our men and women in uniform. I want to start with these steps:
Source: 2008 Senate campaign website, www.AlFranken.com, “Issues” , Aug 12, 2008

Investigate waste, fraud, & abuse in Iraq contracts

According to a new CBO report, one in every five dollars devoted to Iraq has gone to private contractors, who now have more people in Iraq than the US military. The Times describes this as “a second, private, army--one whose roles and missions and even casualties among its work force have largely been hidden from public view.” As Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Norm Coleman failed to hold a single hearing on the waste, fraud, & abuse that sabotaged the reconstruction of Iraq.
Source: Press release, “Tales from the Oversight-Free Zone #5” , Aug 12, 2008

Better screenings for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Estimates suggest that a third of all troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from some form of Traumatic Brain Injury--and not all suffer from easily visible symptoms. And perhaps as many as one in five veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. We are only beginning to understand how to prevent, diagnose, & treat these ailments, so we should continue to fund research into how to do that better. (One good way of preventing TBI would be to guarantee that when we send our men & women to combat, they receive appropriate equipment--especially helmet liners.) But we also need to commit ourselves to screening more veterans as they return home and seeking out potential combat stress sufferers who otherwise might end up in prison or on the streets. We have to do a better job of tracking at-risk vets to make sure problems don’t arise later without detection--and because these issues don’t come with statutes of limitations, we should retroactively expand coverage of these conditions.
Source: 2008 Senate campaign website, www.AlFranken.com, “Issues” , May 14, 2008

Respect the sacrifice made by military families

I’ll fight to raise military pay and benefits so that families who lend us their loved ones don’t forfeit their economic security. We should also allow families of mobilized Guards members and reservists access to military health care benefits so that their spouses and children don’t lose coverage, and offer grants to community organizations that bring military families together to provide support and counseling during the difficult time when a loved one is away.
Source: 2008 Senate campaign website, www.AlFranken.com, “Issues” , May 14, 2008

Do for the VA bureaucracy what we did for VA hospitals

Make it more streamlined, efficient, and effective. In addition to fully funding the VA, we must make its benefits readily accessible for all veterans. In the Senate, I’ll work to cut red tape. The first step is to make the transition from Department of Defense health care to VA health care easier by moving the military to electronic medical records, automatically transferring information between systems, and providing advocates, especially for combat-wounded vets, to help them make use of the VA.
Source: 2008 Senate campaign website, www.AlFranken.com, “Issues” , May 14, 2008

Help veterans re-integrate into their communities

Returning veterans should receive clear information regarding what benefits they’re entitled to, how they can access them, and where they can find resources to help them navigate the system. But that’s not enough. To address the epidemics of homelessness and unemployment among veterans, we should create new housing vouchers and increase funding for programs (and incentives for employers) that assist veterans in transitioning to civilian employment.
Source: 2008 Senate campaign website, www.AlFranken.com, “Issues” , May 14, 2008

We must renew our commitment to our veterans

Even as our overseas commitments stretch our military to its limits, many who claim that Democrats don’t “support our troops” are consistently failing to support our veterans. Bush has sent budgets to Congress that actually contain cuts to veterans’ health care. Republicans in Congress tried last year to cut in half research into traumatic brain injury--the signature wound of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have to do better for the men and women who have worn the uniform of the US into battle.
Source: 2008 Senate campaign website, www.AlFranken.com, “Issues” , May 14, 2008

Create a new G.I. Bill to pay for 100% of college

Creating a new G.I. Bill. With the cost of college skyrocketing, the G.I. Bill now only pays for around 60% of a public college education. Even worse, service members must pay $1,200 or more out of their paychecks in their first year of service in order to qualify. We should expand the current G.I. Bill to cover 100% of a public college education--including tuition, fees, and expenses--and eliminate the $1,200 pay reduction, as well as cap student loan rates for vets.
Source: 2008 Senate campaign website, www.AlFranken.com, “Issues” , Mar 9, 2008

9/11 Commission says Bush failed to prevent 9/11

George W. Bush had failed to prevent the most deadly terrorist attack in American history.

As an official, bipartisan body, the 9/11 Commission couldn't come right out and say, as I did, that Bush had dropped the ball on terrorism over and over again from the minute he came into office. But anyone who reads the report can't come to any other conclusion.

To me, the most infuriating passage deals with Bush's nonreaction to the August 6 Presidential Daily Brief, memorably titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike Inside US." The brief warned, among other things, "preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in NY."

Furthermore, the 9/11 Commission found that following the August 6 PDB, "We have found no indication of any further discussion before September 11th between the President and his advisors about the possibility of a threat of al Qaeda attack in the US."

It is my firm belief that President Bush never read the August 6 PDB.

Source: The Truth (with jokes), by Al Franken, p. 35-36 , Oct 25, 2005

Terror alerts are politicized; purpose is to scare people

Could it be that terror alerts like the August 1, 2004, warning, which was based almost entirely (if not entirely entirely) on the intelligence obtained prior to 9/11, were more geared toward freaking people out than protecting them? Could it be, as cynics charged, that the much-vaunted Homeland Security apparatus was less about homeland security and more about politics?

Sorry, cynics! Asked about a possible political motive the day after the suspiciously unwarranted August 1 alert, Tom Ridge was firm: "We don't do politics in the Department of Homeland Security."

On the other, cynical, hand, it did come out after the election that Ridge had met with hotshot GOP pollsters [regularly]. What we don't know is whether the pollsters specifically focus-group-tested the phrase "We don't do politics in the Department of Homeland Security."

The terror alerts served no purpose other than to remind people that they could be incinerated at any moment. But that reminder was exactly the point.

Source: The Truth (with jokes), by Al Franken, p. 28-29 , Oct 25, 2005

War on Terror failing: number of terrorist attacks has risen

An obvious metric of the success of the War on Terror is the number of terrorist attacks worldwide. At least that's what the State Department boasted when it initially released its annual "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report in 2004. The report showed that the incidence of terrorist attacks was down to its lowest level in more than 30 years--a 45% decrease since 2001.

But the State Department had made a number of small mistakes, including leaving out the terrorist attacks that had taken place during an unusually busy terrorist attack season from Nov. 12 through Dec. 31. [After those corrections], the number of "significant" terrorist attacks had shot up from the previous year, reaching, not the lowest, but the HIGHEST level ever recorded.

The next year, the State Department's report on terrorism did not include statistics on terrorist attacks--the very activity that defines terrorism. Which isn't to say they didn't COLLECT the statistics: [they just stopped reporting them].

Source: The Truth (with jokes), by Al Franken, p.284-285 , Oct 25, 2005

Voted YES on extending the PATRIOT Act's roving wiretaps.

Congressional Summary: A bill to extend expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 and Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 relating to access to business records, individual terrorists as agents of foreign powers, and roving wiretaps until December 8, 2011.

Proponent's Argument for voting Yes:
[Rep. Smith, R-TX]: America is safe today not because terrorists and spies have given up their goal to destroy our freedoms and our way of life. We are safe today because the men and women of our Armed Forces, our intelligence community, and our law enforcement agencies work every single day to protect us. And Congress must ensure that they are equipped with the resources they need to counteract continuing terrorist threats. On Feb. 28, three important provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act will expire. These provisions give investigators in national security cases the authority to conduct "roving" wiretaps, to seek certain business records, and to gather intelligence on lone terrorists who are not affiliated with a known terrorist group. The Patriot Act works. It has proved effective in preventing terrorist attacks and protecting Americans. To let these provisions expire would leave every American less safe.

Opponent's Argument for voting No:
[Rep. Conyers, D-MI]: Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows a secret FISA court to authorize our government to collect business records or anything else, requiring that a person or business produce virtually any type record. We didn't think that that was right then. We don't think it's right now. This provision is contrary to traditional notions of search and seizure which require the government to show reasonable suspicion or probable cause before undertaking an investigation that infringes upon a person's privacy. And so I urge a "no" vote on the extension of these expiring provisions.
Status: Passed 86-12

Reference: FISA Sunsets Extension Act; Bill H.514 ; vote number 11-SV019 on Feb 17, 2011

Repeal Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell, and reinstate discharged gays.

Franken signed HR1283&S3065

Repeals current Department of Defense policy [popularly known as "Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell"] concerning homosexuality in the Armed Forces. Prohibits the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of Homeland Security with respect to the Coast Guard, from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation against any member of the Armed Forces or any person seeking to become a member. Authorizes the re-accession into the Armed Forces of otherwise qualified individuals previously separated for homosexuality, bisexuality, or homosexual conduct.

Nothing in this Act shall be construed to require the furnishing of dependent benefits in violation of section 7 of title 1, United States Code (relating to the definitions of 'marriage' and 'spouse' and referred to as the 'Defense of Marriage Act').

Source: Military Readiness Enhancement Act 10-HR1283 on Mar 3, 2010

Non-proliferation includes disposing of nuclear materials.

Franken signed Letter from Congress on nuclear material security

Press Release from Sen. Merkley's officeCiting the dangers to US national security posed by terrorists and rogue states seeking nuclear weapons, a bipartisan group of 26 senators sent a letter last week to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), calling on the President to support increased funding in the FY2016 budget to more rapidly secure and permanently dispose of nuclear and radiological materials. The letter comes in response to the President's proposals in recent years to decrease funding for nuclear material security and nonproliferation programs.

The senators indicated that unsecured nuclear material poses unacceptably high risks to the safety of Americans and argued that the rate at which nuclear and radiological materials are secured and permanently disposed of must be accelerated. The senators expressed concern that cutting funds would slow what has been a successful process of elimination and reduction of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and separated plutonium in the international community. In just the last five years, nuclear security and non-proliferation programs have proven successful in eliminating HEU and separated plutonium from 13 countries, including Ukraine.

"Reducing budgets for agencies and programs that help keep nuclear and radiological materials out of the hands of terrorists is out of sync with the high priority that the President has rightly placed on nuclear and radiological material security and signals a major retreat in the effort to lock down these materials at an accelerated rate," the senators wrote. "The recent spate of terrorism in Iraq, Pakistan, and Kenya is a harrowing reminder of the importance of ensuring that terrorist groups and rogue states cannot get their hands on the world's most dangerous weapons and materials."

In the past two fiscal years, Congress has enacted $280 million additional dollars to the President's proposed funding for core non-proliferation activities.

Source: Merkley/Feinstein letter to OMB 14_Lt_HS on Aug 18, 2014

Restrict domestic monitoring of phone calls.

Franken signed restricting domestic monitoring of phone calls

The Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ensuring Effective Discipline Over Monitoring Act of 2014 or the USA FREEDOM Act: Congressional Summary:

  • Requires the FBI, when seeking phone call records, to show both relevance and a reasonable suspicion that the specific selection term is associated with a foreign power engaged in international terrorism.
  • Requires a judge approving the release, on a daily basis, of call detail records; and to limit production of records to a period of 180 days.
  • Requires a declassification review of each decision issued by the FISA court; and make such decisions publicly available, subject to permissible redactions.

    Opposing argument: (ACLU, "Surveillance Reform After the USA Freedom Act", June 3, 2015): The USA Freedom Act that passed by a 67-32 margin is not as strong as we wanted. It is markedly weaker than the original version of the USA Freedom Act that the ACLU first supported in 2013. We supported a sunset of the provisions in an effort to advance more comprehensive reform, including rejecting surveillance through cybersecurity information-sharing legislation. Notwithstanding this, however, it is very clear that the USA Freedom Act is a historic step forward.

    Opposing argument: (Cato Institute , "Cato scholars differ on USA Freedom Act", Oct., 2015): The privacy community remained divided over the USA Freedom Act. The final version of the bill reauthorized several expiring Patriot Act provisions, but limited bulk collection. Some legislators argued that to pass new legislation would only provide the government convenient new legal justification for its spying--which it would interpret broadly. On the opposite side of the argument stood some pro-privacy groups who held that modest reforms were better than no reforms at all.

    Source: USA FREEDOM Act 14-S1123 on Apr 28, 2015

    End bulk data collection under USA PATRIOT Act.

    Franken co-sponsored USA FREEDOM Act

    Congressional summary:: Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection, and Online Monitoring Act or the USA FREEDOM Act: