Friday, September 16, 2011

A Quick Look At The Patriot Act

The kitchen-sink approach to national security.
by Benjamin Wallace-Wells, New York Magazine

The authors of the Patriot Act always intended that its provisions would be permanent. The politically expedient thing to do would have been to include a sunset provision, to acknowledge a temporary moment of crisis that required special measures for prosecutors to pursue terrorists. But the lawyers wanted no sunsets; some of them had been working Al Qaeda cases since the first World Trade Center bombing and imagined a long-term struggle that could last a generation.

“I said, ‘Don’t think of this as an emergency measure,’ ” Viet Dinh recalled on July 20. At the time, Dinh was an assistant attorney general under John Ashcroft and was tasked on the morning of September 12 with writing a bill to fix whatever laws might impede investigation. The scholarship provided little guidance for how to make terror investigations easier, so Dinh sent an

Delayed-notice search warrants
issued under the expanded pow-
ers of the Patriot Act, 2006–2009.

e-mail to the nation’s U.S. attorneys and FBI agents, asking for ideas. G-men are not constitutional lawyers, and excesses were rife: Someone wanted to send neighborhood watches in search of sordid types. The attorneys at Justice made piles, winnowing as they went:                         Viet Dinh - The author of   “Crazy Ideas,” “Quarter-Baked,” “Half-Baked.”               America's new security state

In those patriotic weeks, partisan conflict dissipated easily. The Democratic Senate and the Republican House each had their own bills, and Ashcroft, smiling, said every idea in each of the drafts would be adopted unless it conflicted with another provision. Jim Sensenbrenner, the bombastic, rotund Wisconsin Republican, leaned back in his chair and said his bill was called the USA Patriot Act. There were no conflicts with that; the name was in.

“Patriot Act” was appropriately overt. Before 9/11, when politicians spoke of “patriots,” they usually meant soldiers. Now prosecutors and the FBI were reaching for the same vanity—that they were the hard tip of freedom—and the same license to pursue enemies without much oversight or meddling. When it was signed into law six weeks after the attacks, the act made it easier to wiretap American citizens suspected of cooperating with terrorism, to snoop through business records without notification, and to execute search warrants without immediately informing their targets (a so-called sneak-and-peek [P2]). Privileges once reserved for overseas intelligence work were extended to domestic criminal investigations. There was less judicial oversight and very little transparency. The bill’s symbolism mattered also, signaling that the moral deference previously given to the Special Forces would be broadened until it encompassed much of the apparatus of the American state. Local prosecutors, military policemen, CIA lawyers—these were indispensable patriots too.

The Patriot Act was mostly a Republican project at its origin, but it would have died long ago without the support of Democrats.. (Continue to the rest of the article..)

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