Patriot Act III looming

Get ready. Here comes Patriot Act III. The Republicans are responding to recommendations of the 9/11 commission and preparing new legislation that House Democratic leaders and civil liberties advocates claim will go far beyond the previous acts and the commission’s proposals.

For one thing, the act will authorize electronic surveillance in terrorism investigations. House Republicans said the bill will include new authority for law enforcement not specifically requested by the commission. The commission called for reconfiguration of the FBI, the CIA and other intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies.

Rep. J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said criticism of the bill is premature and unwarranted because the final language of it has not been drafted, and it is not ready for release to the public. The legislation may be introduced as early as the end of this month.

Hastert’s spokesman, John Feehery, said the bill gives law enforcement and intelligence agencies powers that “will help us get terrorists and those who help terrorists.”

Among its provisions, he said, are ones to allow surveillance of what are termed “lone wolf” terrorism suspects, that is, those operating without the apparent support of known terrorist groups. The original Patriot Act leaves the definition of terrorist up to the Justice Department. A terrorist is whoever they say he/she is.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has seen drafts of some parts of the bill, terms it “Patriot Act II,” a reference to the original measure passed after the 2001 terrorist attacks. The Justice Department and the Republican-dominated Congress, however, have been quietly appending pieces of that second measure to other legislation for the past several weeks.

“Nowhere in its recommendations does the 9/11 commission ask Congress to pass a sequel to the Patriot Act,” said Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington office.

The ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers Jr., of Michigan, said the Republican proposal “scarcely resembles” what the 9/11 commission recommended. “It’s as if the commission’s recommendations have been supersized with irrelevant fat and lard, representing a wish list of past reactionary proposals that would diminish our civil liberties,” he said.

Criticism of the proposed bill came as the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee cast a unanimous vote to approve a bill that Senate leaders have earmarked as their platform for responding to the 9/11 commission’s suggestions for reorganizing the executive branch.

Senate leaders have hinted that the bill, which creates the post of national intelligence director, may be taken up on the Senate floor this week. The bill would also create a national counterterrorism center to oversee the work of counterterrorism agencies.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., termed the legislation “…the most sweeping and comprehensive reorganization of the intelligence community in more than half a century.” Sen. Collins chairs the Committee on Governmental Affairs, while Sen. Lieberman is the ranking Democrat on the committee.

President Bush has backed many of the commission’s principal recommendations, including the creation of a national intelligence director. The White House last week gave Congress draft legislation to establish that post, although granting the director less authority than the commission urged.

Neither the House nor the Senate is near agreement on how the recommendations on the way Congress oversees intelligence agencies are to be handled. The commission called the present system “dysfunctional.”

Source: The New York Times

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