- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 5, 2005

The USA Patriot Act is ‘crucial’ to stopping terrorist attacks, and repealing sections of it, as sought by civil rights groups and some members of Congress, would be a mistake, says the Justice Department official who helped guide the nation’s war on terrorism.

Assistant Attorney General Christopher A. Wray, who steps down today as the department’s Criminal Division chief, said in an interview that sections of the act under review ‘helped knock down the barriers that limited law-enforcement officials’ in targeting terrorists and have been ‘invaluable’ in preventing new attacks.

‘As the recent 9/11 congressional joint inquiry report confirms, before September 11 our capacity to ‘connect the dots’ was hampered by the difficulty of coordinating throughout our own government,’ he said. ‘The act has been vital to our success.’

Mr. Wray said the act improved communication and information sharing among the agencies tasked with fighting terrorists, allowed law enforcement to adapt to terrorists’ technologically sophisticated methods, and gave investigators and prosecutors ‘stronger tools to identify, pursue, disrupt, prosecute and punish terrorists.’

He said the capabilities afforded by the act ‘have been and will continue to be critical in bringing terrorists to justice and in ensuring the safety of our country against terrorist attacks.?

The Senate and House are holding oversight hearings to review sections of the Patriot Act that expire Dec. 31. The act was passed overwhelmingly in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks. The Bush administration has urged Congress to renew the sections, which it credits for the capture of terrorists and the disruption of terrorist plots.

Several lawmakers, led by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, have called the act overly broad. Former Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, who heads Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances, wants limits on the act to ensure Americans are not abused.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also has said the act needs congressional checks and judicial oversight to ensure it is not used as a spying tool.

Patriot Act opponents also have been critical of the so-called ?sneak and peek? provision that allows agents to search a home or business without immediate notice. That section does not expire at the end of the year, but critics, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, have questioned its use.

Mr. Wray, who will return as a partner at King & Spalding’s law offices in Atlanta and Washington, said the authority to delay notification can be used only with a court order and is intended to protect witnesses and informants, avoid the disclosure of undercover operations or prevent the destruction of evidence.

He said delayed notification is used against drug smugglers and organized crime and its inclusion in the Patriot Act brought the law up to date with current technology ‘so we no longer have to fight a digital-age battle with antique weapons.’ He said the section ‘simply leveled the playing field by allowing terrorism investigators to adapt to these methods.’

Mr. Wray said some opponents have ‘misled the public? on what the act allows the government to do.

‘The persisting myths notwithstanding, the American people should know that every provision is subject to oversight by the courts, Congress, the inspector general’s office and officials at the highest levels of the Justice Department,’ he said. ‘I believe it has helped preserve and protect liberty and freedom, not erode them.’

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