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Gutting National Security. (The last word).

More than three weeks before the suicidal attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, FBI agents arrested Zacarias Moussaoui in Minneapolis. A 46-year-old Moroccan holding French citizenship, he had aroused suspicions at a flight training school in Eagan, Minnesota, when he informed an instructor that he didn't want to learn how to take off and land a large Boeing jet plane, but only to steer one. He even paid $8,000 in cash for the training he sought. Nervous flight school officials notified the FBI, and Moussaoui was arrested for immigration violations on August 17th.

On September 1st, FBI headquarters in Washington received information from French intelligence that Moussaoui had "Islamic extremist beliefs" and had spent two months in Pakistan before coming to the United States. The French cable noted that Pakistan was known to be a stopping-off point for those en route to Osama bin Laden's terrorist training facilities in Afghanistan.

But when the FBI agents in Minnesota requested authority to dig more deeply into Moussaoui's computer and telephone records, their request was denied. They were told that no evidence had been supplied showing that the suspect was working for a foreign terrorist group or engaged in terrorism. So the FBI tried a second approach, this time seeking search warrants under other laws dealing with crimes not connected to terrorism. This, too, was denied because current law precludes eventual investigations for possible terrorism if a criminal investigation is already underway. Obviously, officials at FBI headquarters already had suspicions of their own about this man's potential for terrorism.

After September 11th, the authorities did examine Moussaoui's records and learned that he had gathered information about cropdusting aircraft and had initiated a telephone conversation with the landlord of a German residence once rented by Mohamed Atta, one of the leading suicide hijackers. They now suspect that he was scheduled to be the fifth terrorist aboard United Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania on that fateful day.

The way to thwart terrorism, of course, is with counterintelligence enabling authorities to put a stop to it before it happens. But, beginning in the late 1970s, the U.S. government erected significant barriers dramatically impeding this vitally important work. The horrible fruits resulting from these barriers not only cost roughly 5,000 lives but are being used to justify the further erosion of personal freedoms.

There was a time when this nation had congressional agencies watching out for America's safety. But the House Committee on Un-American Activities and its successor, the House Internal Security Committee, were abolished. So was the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. Also gone are the Subversive Activities Control Board and the Internal Security Division of the Justice Department. And along with the scrapping of these agencies came the emasculation of FBI counterintelligence work. America all but broadcast to enemies, "We're wide open; come and get us!"

Much of the impetus for targeting the FBI came in the aftermath of congressional hearings chaired by two liberal Democrats, former Senator Frank Church of Idaho and former Representative Otis Pike of New York. Intelligence expert Herb Romerstein, once a top investigator for the House committees, recently told Human Events that the activities of all U.S. intelligence agencies were impacted by false accusations of spying on ordinary Americans. In 1976, Ford administration Attorney General Edward Levi ordered the FBI to cease surveillance on any suspected terrorist groups until they had developed an "open case," i.e., after a terrorist act had been committed. In other words, don't investigate suspicious characters until they perform criminal acts.

In 1979, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requiring the FBI to obtain a warrant before wiretapping someone suspected of being a foreign intelligence agent possibly planning terrorism. Moreover, the FBI was allowed surveillance only of leaders of suspected groups, not rank and file operatives. As Romerstein put it, "the FBI could wiretap bin Laden but not the guys who took over the airlines."

Under FISA, the chief justice of the United States is required to appoint seven judges to a super-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court whose function is to grant permission to eavesdrop on suspected terrorists. FBI requests to this court must first be approved by the Justice Department's Office of Intelligence Policy Review (OIPR) and the Attorney General. If the request is OK'd at that level, OIPR attorneys bring the matter to the FISA court, whose lawyers are well-known adversaries of the FBI. It was here that the Minnesota agents who wanted to look more deeply into Zacarias Moussaoui's records received their initial rebuff. Their request never even got to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

In the wake of the September 11th attack, Attorney General John Ashcroft has petitioned Congress to expand the power of the FISA court so that it can deal with criminal as well as terrorist activities. But such a move would invite using that authority against ordinary citizens. What is needed, instead, is a repeal of FISA, a rebuilding of congressional watchdog committees, and the unshackling of the FBI so its men can do the work they did in the past.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:legal impediments in investigation and prevention of terrorist activity
Author:McManus, John F.
Publication:The New American
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 3, 2001
Previous Article:Correction, Please!
Next Article:Why Not a Constitutional Convention? (Letters to the Editor).

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