- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2004


People indicted on terror charges will have a much harder time getting free on bail under a provision in the new intelligence bill. The provision also broadens the government’s authority to spy on terror suspects.

Critics say the enforcement powers, attached to the bill with little debate in Congress, weaken civil liberties and privacy rights that already were undermined by the Patriot Act approved shortly after the September 11 attacks.

The new legislation broadens prohibitions against providing material support to terror groups, makes it a crime to visit a terror camp that provides military-style training, and allows the FBI to obtain secret surveillance warrants against “lone wolf” extremists not known to be tied to a specific terrorist group. It also makes terrorism hoaxes a federal crime and toughens penalties against people who possess weapons of mass destruction.

The Bush administration pushed to include the law-enforcement package in the intelligence measure to augment the Patriot Act, which expanded the government’s surveillance and prosecutorial powers against suspected terrorists, their associates and financiers.

“We are pleased that Congress agreed that we still needed to improve our defenses,” Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo said.

Critics say the provisions escaped close scrutiny because they were tucked into the massive bill creating a new national intelligence director.

“Overall, it’s another threat to civil liberties in this country,” said Charlie Mitchell, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. “It’s just a continuation of what the administration’s been doing.”

Under the bill, a legal presumption would be established denying bail for anyone indicted by a grand jury on terrorism charges. Although the suspect could appeal to a judge, the burden of proof would be on the suspect to show that release would be prudent.

That stipulation has long been in place for suspects in many violent and drug crimes, but not for terrorism.

Skeptics say the provision has the potential to be abused, possibly resulting in long detentions for people ultimately found innocent.

“Unfortunately, this Justice Department has a record of abusing its detention powers post-9/11 and of making terrorism allegations that turn out to have no merit,” said Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat.

The bill also allows federal prosecutors to share secret information obtained in grand jury proceedings with state, local or foreign law-enforcement officers if it might help prevent a terrorist attack.

The legislation also plugs a gap in the FBI’s ability to obtain eavesdropping warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. Under current law, these secret warrants are reserved for non-U.S. citizens the government can show are affiliated with a foreign power or international terrorist group, such as al Qaeda.

Shortly before the September 11 attacks, the FBI attempted to get a FISA warrant for surveillance on Zacarias Moussaoui, who had aroused suspicion by taking flight training in Minnesota. FBI agents sought help from the CIA to tie Moussaoui to such a group but ultimately failed.



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