'We Are Safer Than We Were a Year Ago'; New Laws, Equipment, Vigilance Make U.S. Better Prepared to Face terrorism.(NATION)
Byline: Ellen Sorokin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The United States is better prepared for terrorism than it was last year, when President Bush pledged to track down and punish those responsible for the September 11 attacks.
Cities and counties are guarding their water supplies and have evacuation plans. The USA Patriot Act expanded the government's ability to conduct secret searches, and monitor telephones and Internet lines. Border security is tighter than ever.
"We are safer than we were a year ago," said former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, who leads a commission that gauges U.S. capabilities for defense against weapons of mass destruction. "But a lot more work still needs to be done."
One of the most visible changes was a massive effort to improve airport security. New screening equipment, beefed-up security personnel and random searches have added to the delays and hassles that are part of the new air-travel experience.
"Do we have progress to go? Yes, we do. But we're making an intense full-court press," said Transportation Security Administration spokesman David Steigman.
Some of the policies intended to keep Americans safe, however, have triggered debate - and legal challenges - among civil rights advocates about the extent to which the new security measures may infringe on civil liberties, particularly among immigrants.
During the past year, critics argue, the government's actions have targeted immigrants, rolled back Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, and undermined the principle of separation of powers.
"Viewed separately, some of the changes may not seem extreme, especially when seen as a response to the September 11 attacks," said Michael Posner, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in New York.
"But when you connect the dots, a different picture emerges," Mr. Posner said. "The composite picture shows that too often the U.S. government's mode of operations since September 11 has been at odds with core American and international human rights principles."
The chorus of critics included an unusual alliance of conservative Republicans and the American Civil Liberties Union, who joined forces to thwart creation of a federal program that sought tips on suspicious behavior from residents and volunteers, including letter carriers and utility workers.
Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, rallied against the Justice Department's Terrorism Information and Prevention System, or Operation TIPS, calling it "the very type of fascist or communist government we fought so hard to eradicate in other countries in decades past."
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, in his markup of legislation to create a Homeland Security Department in July, rejected the idea.
A July poll found that 63 percent of Americans said they were very or somewhat concerned that measures enacted to fight terrorism could end up restricting individual civil liberties. Others disagree.
"The government hasn't overreacted to the situation. It has been more or less right," said Paul Rosenzweig, senior legal research fellow with the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. …