Bush signs parts of Patriot Act II into law - stealthily

Vector Vector vector620022002 at yahoo.com
Mon Dec 29 19:11:00 EST 2003


http://www.sacurrent.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=10705756&BRD=2318&PAG=461&dept_id=482778&rfi=6

WITH A WHISPER, NOT A BANG 

By David Martin  12/24/2003 

Bush signs parts of Patriot Act II into law — stealthily 


On December 13, when U.S. forces captured Saddam Hussein, President
George W. Bush not only celebrated with his national security team, but
also pulled out his pen and signed into law a bill that grants the FBI
sweeping new powers. A White House spokesperson explained the curious
timing of the signing - on a Saturday - as "the President signs bills
seven days a week." But the last time Bush signed a bill into law on a
Saturday happened more than a year ago - on a spending bill that the
President needed to sign, to prevent shuttng down the federal
government the following Monday. 


By signing the bill on the day of Hussein's capture, Bush effectively
consigned a dramatic expansion of the USA Patriot Act to a mere
footnote. Consequently, while most Americans watched as Hussein was
probed for head lice, few were aware that the FBI had just obtained the
power to probe their financial records, even if the feds don't suspect
their involvement in crime or terrorism. 


By signing the bill on the day of Hussein's capture, Bush effectively
consigned a dramatic expansion of the USA Patriot Act to a mere
footnote.  
  
The Bush Administration and its Congressional allies tucked away these
new executive powers in the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal
Year 2004, a legislative behemoth that funds all the intelligence
activities of the federal government. The Act included a simple, yet
insidious, redefinition of "financial institution," which previously
referred to banks, but now includes stockbrokers, car dealerships,
casinos, credit card companies, insurance agencies, jewelers, airlines,
the U.S. Post Office, and any other business "whose cash transactions
have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax, or regulatory
matters." 


Congress passed the legislation around Thanksgiving. Except for U.S.
Representative Charlie Gonzalez, all San Antonio's House members voted
for the act. The Senate passed it with a voice vote to avoid individual
accountability. While broadening the definition of "financial
institution," the Bush administration is ramping up provisions within
the 2001 USA Patriot Act, which granted the FBI the authority to obtain
client records from banks by merely requesting the records in a
"National Security Letter." To get the records, the FBI doesn't have to
appear before a judge, nor demonstrate "probable cause" - reason to
believe that the targeted client is involved in criminal or terrorist
activity. Moreover, the National Security Letters are attached with a
gag order, preventing any financial institution from informing its
clients that their records have been surrendered to the FBI. If a
financial institution breaches the gag order, it faces criminal
penalties. And finally, the FBI will no longer be required to report to
Congress how often they have used the National Security Letters. 


Supporters of expanding the Patriot Act claim that the new law is
necessary to prevent future terrorist attacks on the U.S. The FBI needs
these new powers to be "expeditious and efficient" in its response to
these new threats. Robert Summers, professor of international law and
director of the new Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University,
explains, "We don't go to war with the terrorists as we went to war
with the Germans or the North Vietnamese. If we apply old methods of
following the money, we will not be successful. We need to meet them on
an even playing field to avoid another disaster." 

"It's a problem that some of these riders that are added on may not
receive the scrutiny that we would like to see." 
— Robert Summers  
  
Opponents of the PATRIOT Act and its expansion claim that safeguards
like judicial oversight and the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits
unreasonable search and seizure, are essential to prevent abuses of
power. "There's a reason these protections were put into place," says
Chip Berlet, senior analyst at Political Research Associates, and a
historian of U.S. political repression. "It has been shown that if you
give [these agencies] this power they will abuse it. For any
investigative agency, once you tell them that they must make sure that
they protect the country from subversives, it inevitably gets
translated into a program to silence dissent." 


Opponents claim the FBI already has all the tools to stop crime and
terrorism. Moreover, explains Patrick Filyk, an attorney and vice
president of the local chapter of the ACLU, "The only thing the act
accomplishes is the removal of judicial oversight and the transfer of
more power to law enforcements agents." 


This broadening of the Patriot Act represents a political victory for
the Bush Administration's stealth legislative strategy to increase
executive power. Last February, shortly before Bush launched the war on
Iraq, the Center for Public Integrity obtained a draft of a
comprehensive expansion of the Patriot Act, nicknamed Patriot Act II,
written by Attorney General John Ashcroft's staff. Again, the timing
was suspicious; it appeared that the Bush Administration was waiting
for the start of the Iraq war to introduce Patriot Act II, and then
exploit the crisis to ram it through Congress with little public
debate. 


The leak and ensuing public backlash frustrated the Bush
administration's strategy, so Ashcroft and Co. disassembled Patriot Act
II, then reassembled its parts into other legislation. By attaching the
redefinition of "financial institution" to an Intelligence
Authorization Act, the Bush Administration and its Congressional allies
avoided public hearings and floor debates for the expansion of the
Patriot Act. 


Even proponents of this expansion have expressed concern about these
legislative tactics. "It's a problem that some of these riders that are
added on may not receive the scrutiny that we would like to see," says
St. Mary's Professor Robert Summers. 


The Bush Administration has yet to answer pivotal questions about its
latest constitutional coup: If these new executive powers are necessary
to protect United States citizens, then why would the legislation not
withstand the test of public debate? If the new act's provisions are in
the public interest, why use stealth in ramming them through the
legislative process? • 

 


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