In seemingly short order, discussion around the Patriot Act has
shifted from defense to offense.
Just two months ago, when Congress set out to consider renewal of
the antiterrorism law, civil libertarians were hopeful they could
rein in aspects that they felt went too far. Now, supporters of an
enhanced Patriot Act appear to be making headway as they push to
give the FBI new powers.
Thursday, President Bush weighed in on the side of a beefed-up
Patriot Act, including making permanent the 16 provisions set to
expire at the end of the year and giving FBI agents new powers. In a
speech at the Ohio Patrol Training Academy in Columbus, he called on
Congress to renew the act's temporary provisions.
"For the state of our national security, Congress must not
rebuild a wall between law enforcement and intelligence," he said.
Columbus, Ohio, was selected as the site for Bush's speech for a
reason: It was two years ago that Columbus truck-driver Lyman Faris
pleaded guilty to charges of aiding terrorism and conspiracy. Now
serving a 20-year prison sentence, Mr. Faris allegedly met with
Osama bin Laden in 2000 and provided material aid to Al Qaeda
members. Faris was also accused of plotting to sabotage the Brooklyn
Bridge and blow up an Ohio shopping mall.
According to White House spokesman Scott McClellan, the Patriot
Act was instrumental in gathering information that led Faris to
cooperate. The academy where Bush spoke was part of the joint
terrorism task force that worked on the Faris case.
On Wednesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee approved
legislation that would renew and expand the Patriot Act. One new
provision would allow FBI agents to write subpoenas without going
before a judge, under certain circumstances. The FBI would also gain
expanded authority to monitor mail in terrorism cases.
Opponents of an enhanced Patriot Act are caught in a paradox that
makes it difficult for them to prove that abuses have occurred,
because of the secret elements of the law. Civil liberties advocates
from both parties are concerned that people's rights are being
violated without their knowing it, because under certain
controversial provisions, organizations whose records have been
seized are barred by law from informing the person under
Though there are no documented cases of abuse under the Patriot
Act, civil libertarians argue that without an independent
investigation, that can't be verified. …