- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Seizures eyed in terror plots


The FBI yesterday asked Congress for sweeping new powers to seize business or private records, ranging from medical information to book purchases, to investigate terrorism without first securing approval from a judge.

Valerie Caproni, FBI general counsel, told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that her agency needed the power to issue what are known as administrative subpoenas to get information quickly about terrorist plots and the activities of foreign agents.

Civil liberties groups have complained that the subpoenas, which would cover medical, tax, gun purchase, book purchase, travel and other records and could be kept secret, would give the FBI too much power and could infringe on privacy and free speech.

?This type of subpoena authority would allow investigators to obtain relevant information quickly in terrorism investigations, where time is often of the essence,? Miss Caproni testified.

The issue of administrative subpoenas dominated the hearing, which was called to discuss reauthorization of clauses of the USA Patriot Act due to expire at the end of this year.

The act was passed shortly after the September 11 attacks. However, administrative subpoena power was not in the original law. The proposed new powers, long sought by the FBI, have been added by Republican lawmakers, acting on the wishes of the Bush administration, to the new draft of the USA Patriot Act.

Committee chairman Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, noted that other government agencies already had subpoena power to investigate matters such as child pornography, drugs and medical malpractice. He said it made little sense to deny those same powers to the FBI to investigate terrorism or keep track of foreign intelligence agents.

But opponents said other investigations usually culminated in a public trial, whereas terrorism probes would likely remain secret and suspects could be arrested or deported or handed over to other countries without any public action.

Mr. Roberts intends to hold a closed meeting tomorrow, over the objections of some Democrats, to move the legislation forward out of his committee. But the provision still faces a long road before it becomes law, because the Senate Judiciary Committee also has jurisdiction over the bill, while the House is drawing up its own legislation.

Democrats on the committee expressed concerns and pressed Miss Caproni to give examples of cases where the lack of such powers had hampered an investigation.

?I am not aware of any time in which Congress has given directly to the FBI subpoena authority. That doesn’t make it right or wrong. It just needs to be thought about,? said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat.

Miss Caproni said she could not cite a case where a bomb had exploded because the FBI lacked this power, but that did not mean one could not explode tomorrow.

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