Saturday, February 08, 2003

U.S. May Seek Wider Anti-Terror Powers

By Charles Lane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 8, 2003; Page A01

The Justice Department is considering legislative proposals that would significantly expand the federal government's power to investigate, detain and punish suspected terrorists in secret and without court supervision, according to a preliminary draft of the bill disclosed yesterday.

The draft, a potential successor to the Patriot Act that passed Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, would authorize the Justice Department to conduct clandestine searches or eavesdrop on any suspected terrorist or foreign agent for 15 days after the beginning of a military conflict or "national emergency," rather than after a formal declaration of war, as current law provides. It would also permit wiretaps of U.S. citizens in terrorism cases for longer periods and with less court oversight than now permitted; and allow the department to collect a DNA-sample database from both convicted and suspected terrorists.

Under the draft, the government could declare individuals, not just groups, "foreign powers" subject to clandestine surveillance under looser standards than would apply in criminal cases, and it would permit such surveillance against a U.S. citizen suspected of spying for a foreign power, even if the alleged suspicious conduct was not itself criminal.

Taken as a whole, the proposals would constitute a far-reaching invitation to Congress to ratify the Bush administration's get-tough legal approach to the war on terrorism. The Jan. 9 document, labeled "confidential -- not for distribution" and titled the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, was posted on the Internet by the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington-based nonprofit organization.

Civil liberties advocates immediately expressed alarm about the draft.

"There are some truly breathtaking provisions here. In some respects it is bolder even than the Patriot Act," said Jim Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit organization based in Washington.

"It raises a wide range of very troubling questions that deserve a lot of thoughtful debate and attention," said David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor.

The Justice Department declined to comment specifically on the proposals, but did not dispute the authenticity of the draft, which is being developed in the Office of Legal Policy.

"We are continually considering anti-terrorism measures and would be derelict if we were not doing so," Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock said in a statement. "The Department's deliberations are always undertaken with the strongest commitment to our Constitution and civil liberties.

"During our internal deliberations, many ideas are considered, some are discarded and new ideas emerge in the process along with numerous discussion drafts. Department staff have not presented any final proposals to either the Attorney General or the White House. It would be premature to speculate on any future decisions, particularly ideas or proposals that are still being discussed at staff levels."

Democratic aides in Congress grumbled privately that the Bush administration's proposals are timed to take advantage of the Republican takeover of the Senate, and that the administration has brushed aside inquiries about its deliberations until now.

At an Oct. 9 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) asked Justice Department official Alice Fisher to "describe what efforts are being made within the department to broaden the powers of the USA Patriot Act."

Fisher replied that officials "are still studying that."

The Center for Public Integrity's Web site suggests that a routing slip attached to the proposal indicates that it was sent to Vice President Cheney and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) on Jan. 10.

Comstock said that neither man had been sent the document.

The proposal also contains language that would specifically exempt the names of persons who are detained in connection with terrorism investigations from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, a position similar to what the Bush administration has asserted in several court cases challenging its policy of closing immigration hearings for terror suspects.

And the proposal would make it easier for the government to strip U.S. citizens of their citizenship if they serve in a foreign enemy army or terrorist group. Under current law, such service must be done with clear intent to renounce U.S. citizenship. The proposal would make service in a foreign army or terrorist group, such as John Walker Lindh's assistance to the Taliban, evidence of intent to renounce U.S. citizenship that the citizen would then have to rebut.