U.S. Attorney Defends the USA PATRIOT Act

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“Ed Kubo Image”

On September 11th, all Americans became extremely aware that we were
now prime targets for terrorist attacks. The extent of death and
destruction that day proved we were very vulnerable to violent
attacks, and that our attackers would not hesitate to use weapons of
mass destruction against innocent men, women and children.


In response, Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act. The purpose of
this Act was to give America’s law enforcement agencies the tools
necessary to intercept, prevent, and thwart future attacks like 9/11.

In today’s world, we must remain vigilant. September 11th cannot be
looked at as an isolated event because our intelligence information
continues to confirm that terrorists are still plotting their next
strike on our citizens and on our soil.

Last week, Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge said al-Qaida
remains intent on launching a new terrorist attack inside the United
States. This echoed the recent FBI warning that our intelligence
indicates that al-Qaida is very determined and planning to attack
Americans at home again.

“We are still their Number 1 target,” Ridge said to the media. “If
there is a consistent theme to all the intelligence we have received
over the past 2-plus years, its their interest in undermining the
United States economy, with an emphasis on aviation and

In May, the FBI warned law enforcement and the airline industry that
extremists may have smuggled Soviet designed missiles and Stinger
anti-aircraft missiles into the U.S. The reports were based on the
monitoring of Internet chat rooms which these extremists use to
communicate. These warnings were issued knowing that this past
November, there was a failed attempt to bring down an Israeli
passenger jet with 261 passengers and crew, with two
shoulder-launched missiles, while the plane was taking off from
Mombasa, Kenya.

At the same time, we know that there are persons out there who are
all too willing to assist terrorists by supplying them with the
weapons to massacre innocent Americans. Earlier this month, an arms
dealer was arrested in New Jersey on charges that he tried to sell
surface-to-air missiles to an undercover agent posing as an al-Qaida
terrorist. In today’s world, our law enforcement’s primary mission
is to aggressively take the fight to our enemy in order to prevent
future deadly attacks in America. In today’s world, we need the
tools to effectively protect our citizens from harm.

The PATRIOT Act has various provisions which are essential to assist
law enforcement in the war against terrorism. The legislation allows
agencies to share information more easily; it updated laws allowing
for the monitoring of a suspect’s use of the Internet; it increased
funding for the Border Patrol; and, it made harboring a terrorist a

Additionally, the PATRIOT Act increased the penalties for crimes
likely to be committed by terrorists, including arson, destruction
of energy facilities, material support to terrorist organizations
and destruction of national-defense materials. The Act also punishes
terrorist attacks on mass transit systems and bio-terrorism.

It must be emphasized that even the PATRIOT Act’s most aggressive
investigative tools against terrorists are under the watchful eye of
a federal court. Therefore, any electronic surveillance or searches
of terrorist suspects which affect constitutional rights must be
“court-ordered,” and this can only occur if the agent (involved in a
legitimate terrorism investigation) first satisfies the court with
facts sufficient to show that an individual is involved in terrorist
or other illegal activities, and that a court-ordered warrant is
appropriate to further a legitimate investigation.

Next, investigators have no interest in the habits of ordinary law
abiding Americans. In fact, portions of the PATRIOT Act specifically
prohibit investigators from using the Act to conduct any
investigation unless it is based on evidence of illegal conduct,
which is more than just First Amendment activity. Therefore, those
who would assert that the Act allows the government to monitor our
citizens based solely on First Amendment activities are inaccurate
and clearly misleading.

Now, common sense mandates that terrorism investigations need to be
kept secret. We also know that whenever a court becomes the
“gate-keeper” by considering and approving an investigative method
(“court-ordered” search warrants or electronic surveillance), these
inherent checks and balances assure the public that federal
investigators cannot conduct “fishing expeditions” on our citizens.

Most importantly, the PATRIOT Act has been successful. Utilizing the
provisions of this Act, several al-Qaida sleeper cells were
discovered operating in Oregon, Detroit and Buffalo. Additionally,
in Florida, investigators were able to catch a Palestinian Islamic
Jihad member who was instrumental in the April 4, 1995 suicide bus
bombing in Israel. Based on these, and other facts, we know that
terrorist groups still operate within the United States. I strongly
believe that the PATRIOT Act is largely responsible for their
failure to conduct another major attack on our soil since September

Equally important is the fact that while protecting our citizens,
the PATRIOT Act does NOT infringe on our rights as citizens under
our Constitution. Since its enactment, there have been
constitutional challenges made against the PATRIOT Act in our
courts. These challenges alleged that the Act infringed on our
constitutional freedoms. To date, every challenge has been
completely rejected by our courts, and the Act’s constitutionality
has been upheld.

I understand that there are those who do not agree with the PATRIOT
Act, and they have voiced their opinions accordingly. Such debate
about the pros and cons of a particular law within our community is
healthy for our nation, so long as it is based on facts and not

I am concerned, however, by those in our community who have been
creating a gross misunderstanding about the Act’s provisions and
scope. These individuals have been taking things out of context and
then spreading incorrect and misleading information to the public.
They have, to a degree, succeeded in creating a gross
misapprehension about this law.

Additionally, to support their opposition to the Act, these
individuals have been repeatedly making assertions and using
examples which are not even applicable to the PATRIOT Act. For
example, the controversy over issues such as closed immigration
hearings, enemy combatants, war tribunals, immigrant detentions,
monitoring certain attorney-client communications, and conducting
investigations in public places, among others, have been incorrectly
attributed to the PATRIOT Act.

As a result of these unfounded controversies created by certain
groups, legislative bodies like our State Legislature and City
Council have reacted by passing resolutions against this law.

It is time to set the record straight.

Opponents of the Act have stated that the law gives the government
too much power to secretly monitor citizens which violates their
First Amendment rights. For example, some have criticized the Act as
being so intrusive that Librarians and bookstores would be compelled
to monitor their patrons’ use of libraries and purchases. The
PATRIOT Act does allow the government to obtain “business records”
in the course of legitimate terrorism investigation. Although such
investigations could require the production of library and bookstore
records, the Act makes no mention of libraries or bookstores.

First, it must be remembered that several of the Sept. 11 hijackers
used public library computers to communicate with each other over
the Internet, and other terrorist allies. They also did research at
these locations in preparation for 9/11. Therefore, I cannot imagine
any reasonable person believing that a public library should be a
safe haven for such terrorist activities.

In any event, even before the PATRIOT Act, librarians and bookstore
owners could already be compelled by a grand jury subpoena to turn
over their business records of particular patrons if they were being
investigated for criminal activity. These subpoenas were issued in
the past for legitimate investigative reasons, like in the Unibomber
investigation, and for the murder of clothing designer Gianni

The PATRIOT Act merely extends that ability to compel necessary
business records where those being investigated are involved in
terrorist planning or activities. The Act never allows the
government to create a “watch list” based on the books people check
out from public libraries or buy from stores because it clearly
prohibits the use of this authority if based merely on First
Amendment activities. Those who would contend otherwise are creating
a false hysteria based on the dissemination of misinformation to the

Another criticism voiced against the Act is that it gives
investigators enhanced powers to conduct searches of their property
without immediately informing them. However, even before passage of
the PATRIOT Act, courts could approve delays in notifying suspects
of a lawful court-ordered search where investigators showed the
judge good cause for such a delay. These court orders to delay
notification of a search has been very effective in organized crime
and narcotic trafficking investigations. The PATRIOT Act merely
standardized these court procedures for all criminal investigations.

If one understands the provisions of the PATRIOT Act and its
requirement of judicial oversight and approval in the manner in
which terrorism investigations are conducted, then one will clearly
see that the Act certainly does not give federal agents “unilateral”
power to access business records as others would have you believe.

I am aware of the challenge facing our country in this unprecedented
time in history. We are at war against those in this world who are
sworn to kill all Americans, to destroy our liberties, our
Government, and our way of life, and these individuals are prepared
to die for their cause.

However, I agree that this burden must be balanced. It is our utmost
responsibility in these times to protect the public. Our citizens
need to live and enjoy their lives safe and with the knowledge that
we are aggressively and legally protecting them from harm. At the
same time, we must be mindful of the Constitutional mandate and our
Bill of Rights.

I am confident that the Federal Government can protect our people
while at the same time preserve their constitutional rights. These
are not mutually exclusive terms. The PATRIOT Act does just that: it
protects our citizens from terrorists while preserving our
constitutional rights.

For further information on the PATRIOT Act, please refer to the
Department of Justice’s Web site at https://www.lifeandliberty.gov which
contains a detailed view of the Act.