Act Protects U.S. From Terrorism
Disposable cell phones, split-second international monetary transfers and the Internet are the tools of today’s terrorists. These 21st-century tools allow our enemies to go across borders, withdraw money from any ATM they come across, and coordinate their operations with precision and stealth.
Before Sept. 11, 2001, our intelligence and law-enforcement agencies were fighting these new threats shackled by last century’s laws. Government agencies were not allowed to talk to one another, and
there was no central clearinghouse for all of our intelligence and law-enforcement information.
In any conflict, intelligence, communication and maneuver are the critical components of success. And Congress significantly improved our abilities in these areas with the passage of the PATRIOT Act.
The act significantly improved our ability to investigate terrorists and their activities. It also permitted our agencies to work together, as a team, to share information instead of each seeing only part of the puzzle. By reforming our anti-terrorism laws to meet the challenges of new technology and new threats, we allow our frontline agencies to move faster and more effectively against those who threaten our interests.
The results of these abilities have been stunning.
In the short time since passage of the PATRIOT Act, our agencies have broken up terrorist cells in Buffalo, Detroit, Portland and Seattle. More than 130 individuals have been convicted or pleaded guilty to engaging in terrorist activities, and we have frozen $130 million in terrorists’ assets. We’ve gained important information on terrorist safe houses, training camps and recruitment efforts in the United States. These successes would not have been possible without the PATRIOT Act.
As I have listened to those concerned by some provisions of the PATRIOT Act, I have been struck by several misconceptions. Many of them center on the idea the powers granted to our law-enforcement agencies were somehow new, unprecedented and outside the normal court supervision. This could not be further from the truth.
The PATRIOT Act allows our intelligence and law-enforcement agencies to have the same capabilities against terrorists they already had against criminals. The majority of the act’s provisions have been upheld by courts in other contexts for decades. Accordingly, I would like to address some of the more prominent misconceptions advanced by the PATRIOT Act’s critics.
Section 206 of the act authorized our frontline agencies to conduct “roving surveillance” when an individual may have been trained to avoid surveillance. Such individuals often change cell phones as they move from location to location to avoid regular wiretaps. Some groups have charged that roving surveillance is a troubling breach of privacy rights. However, the courts do not agree and have repeatedly upheld roving surveillance as consistent with the Fourth Amendment. PATRIOT Act roving wiretaps can only be authorized by court order after a finding of probable cause, just like normal roving surveillance used in other cases.
Section 213 allows our frontline agencies to give delayed notice that a search warrant has been executed. Again, groups have charged that this is an undesirable expansion of the government’s ability to search private property.
However, delayed-notice search warrants have long been available in organized crime, drug and child pornography cases. The PATRIOT Act delayed-notice searches follow the guidelines from these previous cases and only apply to a very narrow set of cases in which immediate notice may result in the escape of a suspected terrorist or the premature launch of a planned attack. In all cases, however, notice is always given and the search is always under a court’s supervision.
Section 215 allows court orders requiring the production of business records, including library records. Unfortunately, this section has been subjected to some of the worst demagoguery. Critics argue the section allows government “monitoring” and the “thought police” will descend on innocent citizens because of the books they read or Web sites they visit on a library computer.
Of course, they ignore the fact that the Justice Department has yet to request anyone’s library records.
These examples are indicative of arguments against the PATRIOT Act. The act’s critics contend that it has diminished citizens’ freedoms. They point at those who are defending us and accuse them of improper motives and actions. This is unfair.
The terrorists who seek to harm us are smart, well-informed and well-funded. They understand our openness and our freedoms and know how to exploit them to their advantage.
When we consider future legislation, we must not forget the fact that our intelligence and law-enforcement agencies are locked in a struggle with these vicious people who are capable of more horrible acts of terror.
As Sept. 11 fades in the memory of some, the rest of us must ensure our intelligence and law enforcement agencies continue to have the tools they need to be successful in the war on terrorism.
Is the PATRIOT Act perfect? No, but I have never seen a perfect piece of legislation.
Are some of the powers of the PATRIOT Act susceptible to abuse? Of course, every government power is susceptible to such if used incorrectly and without proper oversight.
However, I know that the people on the front lines of the war on terror are our neighbors, friends and family members. They are giving their all, and sometimes even their lives, to detect and prevent future attacks on our nation. While I will continue to discharge my oversight duties, I believe they will continue to protect our lives and liberties.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is a member of the Armed Services Committee.