President Bush campaigned today against weakening the Patriot Act, saying Congress must renew parts of the counterterrorism law...
McLEAN, Va. — President Bush campaigned today against weakening the Patriot Act, saying Congress must renew parts of the counterterrorism law that are set to expire on behalf of those “on the front line” of the fight to avert new attacks.
“One of the most important tools to combat terror is the Patriot Act,” Bush said in remarks at the National Counterterrorism Center outside Washington. “The Patriot Act has helped save American lives and it has protected American liberties. For the sake of our national security, the United States Congress needs to renew all the provisions of the Patriot Act and, this time, Congress needs to make those provisions permanent.”
On his visit to the nation’s new facility charged with pooling and analyzing information about terrorist threats, Bush also announced his selection of retired Vice Adm. John Scott Redd as its director. If confirmed by the Senate, Redd, 60, who recently held an operations post in Iraq and was executive director of the presidential commission on intelligence failures, would replace John O. Brennan, the center’s interim chief.
Redd served 36 years in the U.S. Navy, commanding eight organizations at sea, from a destroyer to a fleet. He founded and commanded the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in the Middle East in 1995 and has held top policy posts at the Pentagon. Since retiring in 1998, he has served as chief executive officer of a high-tech education company and deputy administrator and chief operating officer of the now-defunct Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.
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The center Bush visited was created as part of the wide-ranging overhaul of the nation’s spy community, spurred by what critics called the government’s failure to collect, understand and share critical information before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Computers that flash with sometimes classified information 24 hours a day were shut down for the president’s tour. Workers, however, demonstrated for the president visual technology that allowed them, in seconds, to zoom in on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and Boston’s Logan International Airport.
The Patriot Act, Congress’ nearly immediate reaction to the attacks, allowed expanded surveillance of terror suspects, increased use of material witness warrants to hold suspects incommunicado and permitted secret proceedings in immigration cases.
Now, more than a dozen provisions are set to expire later this year. Congress has begun working on renewing them amid fresh criticism — from members of both parties — that the law undermines basic freedoms.
Among the 16 provisions set to expire are sections allowing the use of roving wiretaps on multiple telephones and secret warrants for “tangible items” held by libraries, financial firms and other businesses.
“Letting those provisions expire would leave law enforcement in the dark,” Bush said yesterday. The Patriot Act expanded the power of the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies to intercept information and data and share information obtained through foreign and domestic surveillance. Bush and many lawmakers want to make it even easier for the FBI to obtain information in terrorism cases.
Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., responded that if the president is serious about protecting individual rights, “The way to prove that those are not just empty words is to engage in an honest debate about fixing the Patriot Act and abandon efforts to expand law-enforcement powers in ways that threaten our freedoms.”
Intelligence committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and other senators want to permit the FBI to subpoena records in national-security probes without the approval of a judge or grand jury and make it easier for the bureau to get copies of mail.
The ACLU and other groups say the act is ripe for abuse, such as government reviews of personal records and information on law-abiding Americans without their knowledge. But Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who are pushing a bill to reduce the government’s powers, recently told a Senate committee they cannot show any specific abuses.
The public strongly backs the Bush position, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed said the act should be renewed, while 39 percent said it should not.
Support, however, turned to opposition when people were asked whether the FBI should be permitted to demand records without first getting the approval of a judge or prosecutor. Sixty-eight percent said they opposed this idea. Even Republicans, who overwhelmingly support the Patriot Act, are concerned about this, with 58 percent opposing it.
Material from the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post is included in this report.