Friday, October 2, 2009

Administration Noncommittal on Patriot Act Privacy Changes

The White House has been less than transparent about changing the Patriot Act, according to
A senior Justice Department official on Wednesday [September 23] refused to tell the Senate Judiciary Committee what changes the Obama administration might support to the USA PATRIOT Act, even though Democrats on the panel said additional safeguards must be built into the law.
"I think what has happened is that Congress has seized the initiative here," David Kris, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's National Security Division, told the panel during a hearing
Kris was repeatedly asked his opinion about two recently introduced bills that would reauthorize and modify three provisions of the PATRIOT Act that expire at the end of this year
The Washington Examiner has the story of what Patriot Act critics on Capitol Hill have in mind:
You might not have heard, but some key parts of the nation's most important anti-terrorism law are set to expire in December. When the Patriot Act was originally passed in the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Congress put time limits on three of its most far-reaching provisions: "Roving wiretaps," which allow investigators to keep up with suspects who use dozens of cell phones to avoid being traced; "business records" authority, which lets investigators ask a special national-security court for access to records of a suspect's dealings with private businesses; and the "lone wolf" provision, which allows investigators to track individual terror suspects even if they are not a member of a terrorist group, like al Qaeda. Congress renewed those provisions in 2005 and now must give them another four-year renewal, or they will disappear.
Some Democratic lawmakers have long wanted to weaken the act, and now, with big majorities in the House and Senate, they have their chance. But the renewal debate just happens to come at a time when recently uncovered domestic terror plots -- most notably the Denver shuttle bus driver and his colleagues caught with bomb-making materials and a list of specific targets in New York City -- are highlighting the very threats the act was designed to counter. Republicans are fighting to keep the law in its current form.
In the Wall Street Journal, Former AG Mukasey says don't mess with the Patriot Act:
One would think that the arrests last week of Najibullah Zazi, charged with plotting to bomb New York City subways—and of two others charged with planning to blow up buildings in Dallas, Texas, and Springfield, Ill.—would generate support for the intelligence-gathering tools that protect this country from Muslim fanatics. In Mr. Zazi's case, the government has already confirmed the value of these tools: It has filed a notice of its intent to use information gathered under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was specifically written to help combat terrorists and spies.
Nevertheless, there is a rear-guard action in Congress to make it more difficult to gather, use and protect intelligence—the only weapon that can prevent an attack rather than simply punish one after the fact. The USA Patriot Act, enacted in the aftermath of 9/11, is a case in point....Rather than simply renew these vital provisions, which expire at the end of this year, some congressional Democrats want to impose requirements that would diminish their effectiveness, or add burdens to existing authorizations that would retard rather than advance our ability to gather intelligence.
Meanwhile, Newsweek says that the threat from homegrown terrorists is increasing:
The threat from Al Qaeda to the U.S. homeland is arguably more acute now than at any time since September 11. This is not because Al Qaeda has become a stronger foe. (On the contrary, Osama bin Laden's terrorist network has actually been weakened in the last two years by intensified U.S. missile strikes against its leadership in FATA and a sharp backlash among Muslims worldwide against its violent excesses.) It is because a growing number of Americans have gone to FATA, the global hub of Al Qaeda's terrorist operations, to join the jihad in Afghanistan—something which was very rare until recently—and Al Qaeda, opportunistically, has recruited them for attacks on their country.