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Anti-terror bill worries liberties groups
People indicted on terror charges will have a much harder time getting free on bail under a provision in the new intelligence bill. The provision also broadens the government's authority to spy on terror suspects.

Critics say the enforcement powers, attached to the bill with little debate in Congress, weaken civil liberties and privacy rights that already were undermined by the Patriot Act that was approved shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The new legislation broadens prohibitions against providing material support to terror groups, makes it a crime to visit a terror camp that provides military-style training and allows the FBI to obtain secret surveillance warrants against "lone wolf" extremists not known to be tied to a specific terrorist group. It also makes terrorism hoaxes a federal crime and toughens penalties against people who possess weapons of mass destruction.

The Bush administration pushed to include the law enforcement package in the intelligence measure to augment the Patriot Act, which expanded the government's surveillance and prosecutorial powers against suspected terrorists, their associates and financiers.

"We are pleased that Congress agreed that we still needed to improve our defenses," Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo said.

Critics say the provisions escaped close scrutiny because they were tucked into the massive bill creating a new national intelligence director.

"Overall, it's another threat to civil liberties in this country," said Charlie Mitchell, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "It's just a continuation of what the administration's been doing."

Under the bill, a legal presumption would be established denying bail for anyone indicted by a grand jury on terrorism charges. Although the suspect could appeal to a judge, the burden of proof would be on the defendant to show release would be prudent.

That stipulation has long been in place for suspects in many violent and drug crimes but not for terrorism.

Skeptics say the provision has the potential to be abused, possibly resulting in long detentions for people ultimately found innocent.

"Unfortunately, this Justice Department has a record of abusing its detention powers post-9/11 and of making terrorism allegations that turn out to have no merit," said Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis.

The bill also allows federal prosecutors to share secret information obtained in grand jury proceedings with state, local or foreign law enforcement officers if it might help prevent a terrorist attack.

Another provision would adjust parts of the law that make it a crime to provide "material support" to terrorist organizations. Two federal courts in California have ruled the statute unconstitutionally vague.

The bill provides more detailed definitions of what constitutes illegal "expert advice and assistance" and broadens the law to prohibit "any tangible or intangible property or any service" to terror groups.

Most of the Justice Department's major terrorism prosecutions since Sept. 11 have used the material support law.

The legislation also plugs a gap in the FBI's ability to obtain eavesdropping warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. Under current law, these secret warrants are reserved for non-U.S. citizens the government can show are affiliated with a foreign power or international terrorist group, such as al-Qaeda.

Shortly before the Sept. 11 attacks, the FBI attempted to get a FISA warrant for surveillance on Zacarias Moussaoui, who had aroused suspicion by taking flight training in Minnesota. FBI agents sought help from the CIA to tie Moussaoui to such a group but ultimately failed — missing a potential tip-off prior to the attacks, according to the commission that investigated the attacks.

Moussaoui now is awaiting trial in Alexandria, Va., as the only person charged in the United States in connection with the attacks.

Under the intelligence bill, FISA warrants could be obtained for surveillance against people the government believes are involved in terrorism but are "lone wolves," with no known affiliation to a foreign nation or group. The change does not apply to U.S. citizens, but the ACLU still has concerns.

"This is really going to make it easier to get wiretaps on non-citizens," Mitchell said. "This is really separating it from its constitutional moorings."


Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
 
 
 
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