Published December 10, 2004
WASHINGTON – The intelligence reform bill (search) President Bush is about to sign contains anti-terrorism language long sought by outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft (search) and long opposed by civil libertarians.
The new legislation gives the Justice Department vast new powers to prosecute the War on Terror. Legal analysts say, in this regard, the bill might as well carry another name — Patriot Act II.
"The pressure to pass some intelligence reform ultimately worked to the advantage of the (Bush) administration," said George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley. "They were able to take a few of the provisions of what's called Patriot II and put them in this bill."
Ashcroft had long sought tougher anti-terror laws, and had long been formulating a second bill to build on the USA Patriot Act (search), passed just weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. But concerns about civil liberties stalled the measure in Congress. Lawmakers supporting the measures managed to tuck a few into the intelligence reform bill that passed overwhelmingly this week.
"If this had gone to the next Congress, it's very likely some of these provisions would have gotten much closer scrutiny and would have been opposed," Turley said.
One example of the new provisions: The Justice Department can now ask a federal court that operates in secret to allow surveillance of a so-called lone-wolf terrorist — a suspect with no connection to a terrorist organization like Al Qaeda (search) or to any nation. An example of someone who would qualify is Timothy McVeigh (search).
"We're always going to be faced with the Timothy McVeigh scenario, or the Unabomber (search), or a person who just wants to go out and wreak havoc. That is a gap that had to be filled," said James Carafano, senior research fellow for defense and homeland security at the Heritage Foundation.
Civil libertarians say they fear the court that adjudicates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (search), which grants authority to law enforcement personnel to watch individuals in secret, could grant federal agents the power to track anyone.
"You have a combination of a secret court that is operating below the constitutional standard for search and seizure and now against individuals who can simply be declared lone wolves without any connection to terrorists," Turley said.
The bill also allows the government to deport immediately any alien who knowingly received financial support for terrorists.
"When you find bad people who are doing bad things, you have to get them out of the country, even if you can't convict them of a crime," Carafano said.
The bill also gives federal judges the authority to deny bail to any terrorism suspect, currently permitted in federal drug cases. The goal is to keep indicted terrorists from fleeing before trial.
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Major Garrett.