- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2001

The House Judiciary Committee last night passed a package of counterterrorism measures to aid the Justice Department's manhunt, despite lawmakers' concerns about giving federal agents more power.
"The left is not completely happy with the bill, neither is the right, and it certainly doesn't represent the Justice Department's wish list," said Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican. "I think this means we've got it just about right."
The measure, which passed on a 36-0 vote, includes greater authority for the FBI to conduct wiretaps and secret searches of property, as well as allowing authorities to detain aliens who are suspected terrorists for up to seven days without filing charges.
But it stopped short of Attorney General John Ashcroft's request in several respects, including his proposal to indefinitely detain illegal immigrants suspected of links to terrorist groups.
The Senate, meanwhile, reached agreement with the administration on a similar bill, with indications that work could be completed today. Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 that killed nearly 6,000 people, Mr. Ashcroft has been lobbying Congress aggressively to give him more effective tools to hunt down terrorists and prevent more attacks.
And Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson yesterday outlined steps the government is taking to strengthen defenses against bioterrorism, including development of a new smallpox vaccine that should be ready by next year.
The concerns of some House lawmakers about eroding civil liberties in the anti-terrorism measure were eased by a provision requiring the new law to expire in only two years. They said they were mindful of examples of past government transgressions, such as the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
"My friends in law enforcement tell me that they can be trusted not to abuse the sweeping new powers they have requested," said Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat. "I wish that were true, but history has proven otherwise, regardless of the political party in charge."
The bill would modernize wiretap laws written in the age of rotary telephones, making it easier for authorities to monitor a suspect using disposable cellular phones.
It also would allow investigators with search warrants to obtain e-mail messages from Internet providers. And the measure would extend the statute of limitations for crimes of terror and increase the penalties for such offenses.
Changes made to the bill over the last two weeks persuaded even conservative Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, who had voiced strong objections, to support it yesterday.
Mr. Barr said he was encouraged by new provisions limiting the detention of aliens to seven days, curbing "roving" wiretaps and stopping the government from executing search warrants without giving notice.
"While I continue to disagree with the broad reach of many provisions in the legislation that go beyond addressing specific anti-terrorism needs, we were able to eliminate or severely limit the most egregious violations of Americans' civil liberties that were contained in the original proposal," Mr. Barr said.
Still, lawmakers clearly were leery of moving so swiftly with legislation that, they said, could result in federal agents eavesdropping on innocent people's phone conversations.
Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, said if there is anyone who isn't worried about the government conducting surveillance on any part of his life, "you have my sympathies."
Rep. Robert C. Scott, Virginia Democrat, worried aloud that roving wiretaps would ensnare many people who are not the subjects of federal terrorism investigations.
"We want to make sure the target is the only one being listened to," Mr. Scott said.
Committee members approved an amendment by Mr. Conyers and Mr. Sensenbrenner that would prevent government prosecutors from "forum shopping" for friendly federal judges to approve search warrants.
They also struck down provisions that would have allowed using foreign wiretaps and allowed schools to turn over confidential student records to law enforcement.
"Is this a perfect bill?" Mr. Conyers asked. "Of course not. But it does represent a marked improvement over the administration's initial proposal."
The full House is expected to vote on the measure early next week. Senate leaders also hope to bring such a bill to the floor next week.
On the federal response to potential bioterrorism attacks such as smallpox or anthrax, Mr. Thompson testified that doctors and nurses need more training to recognize symptoms and protect themselves.
He said he also wants at least one "outbreak specialist" trained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in every state. Currently 13 states lack such a specialist.
Despite those shortcomings, Mr. Thompson said the public should not be scared into purchasing gas masks or hoarding food.

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