Domestic Terrorism: The "USA PATRIOT Act" of 2001 Serial Assaults on Constitutional Liberties
Such double standards as U.S. government policies on the planning and preparation for first-strike nuclear war, offensive biological weapons, and aggressive Iraq -- where disdain and disrespect for the rule of law is blatantly exercised -- tragically comprise only part of the assault upon world peace now being fomented and directed by Bush II.
Domestically as well as internationally, dissembling has become rampant among official pronouncements from Washington since 9-11. According to Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas), members of the House were not able to get printed copies of the "PATRIOT Act of 2001", passed last October, to read before voting on it:
"It's my understanding the bill wasn't printed before the vote -- at least I couldn't get it. They played all kinds of games, kept the House in session all night, and it was a very complicated bill. Maybe a handful of staffers actually read it, but the bill definitely was not available to members before the vote." 
The FNCL again identifies the nature of what is being done in our name but against the fundamental tenets of our constitutional system of law and civilian protections against unwarranted government intrusion into our personal and private lives:
"The events of September 11 did not destroy the Bill of Rights. But the USA-Patriot Act and the continuing maneuvers of the Department of Justice under Attorney General Ashcroft threaten to turn the U.S. into a permanent security state. . . .
"The events of September 11 did not damage the constitutional system of checks and balances nor public accountability. But constitutional protections and democratic government are under great threat from an Administration that seeks to aggrandize power and from members of Congress who are both reluctant to exercise legitimate oversight and eager to strip the courts of their responsibility for oversight." 
There has been much written about the anti-constitutional basis of Attorney General Ashcroft's reactionary and anti-constitutional "PATRIOT Act" as well as subsequent unilateral anti-civil liberties measures such as the monitoring of lawyer-client conversations in federal prisons, unleashing the FBI on the American public, and approving such devices as the Magic Lantern, which allows the FBI to secretly record one's every computer keystroke. Kelly O'Meara wrote last November about our new "Police State":
"If the United States is at war against terrorism to preserve freedom, a new coalition of conservatives and liberals is asking, why is it doing so by wholesale abrogation of civil liberties? They cite the Halloween-week passage of the antiterrorism bill -- a new law that carries the almost preposterously gimmicky title: "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act" (USA PATRIOT Act). Critics both left and right are saying it not only strips Americans of fundamental rights but does little or nothing to secure the nation from terrorist attacks." 
An attached list of materials has been compiled concerning the array of dangers posed to people in the United States by the "PATRIOT Act." 
"Repeal the USA Patriot Act" by Jennifer Van Bergen is an article in six parts, exemplary for its elucidation of the wide range of serial assaults on constitutional liberties through mechanisms now defined and on the legal books in the U.S. An excerpt from Part I provides an understanding of what we are now up against:
"The USA Patriot Act . . . should be called the Constitution Shredding Act. In particular, it utterly relinquishes any semblance of due process, violates the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments, and unacceptably mixes aspects of criminal investigations with aspects of immigration and foreign intelligence laws. . . . [D]espite the fact that the USA Patriot Act was passed hastily without any debate or hearings and under a cloak of fear, its provisions were obviously very carefully thought out and crafted to take power out of the hands of courts and ensure absolute lack of oversight of law enforcement and intelligence gathering.
"There is no way that the USA Patriot Act came into existence solely in response to September 11th. In fact, it is clear from prior legislative and case history that law enforcement and intelligence have been trying for many years to obtain these powers. It is only the unreasoning `bunker mentality' that followed September 11th that allowed its planners to pass it.
"Indeed, one might question whether Congress could sincerely have intended this Act, given that portions of it are re-enactments of the 1996 anti-terrorism laws which had been repeatedly ruled unconstitutional by federal courts. . . . Most troubling is that most of these powers do little to increase the ability of law enforcement or intelligence to bring terrorists to justice -- but, they do much to undermine the Constitution and violate the rights of both immigrants and American citizens alike."
A summary of the six parts conveys more of what this article examines and explains:
- Part I states briefly why we should demand the immediate repeal or amendment of the USA Patriot Act.
- Part II looks back in time to look at two acts, which were also passed hastily and in a time of fear. The Alien & Sedition Acts of 1798 parallel the USA Patriot Act in many respects, and offer some important warnings.
- Part III discusses the recent emergence of troubling evidence of violations of civil rights under the USA Patriot Act, and looks at the disturbing possibility of torture being used.
- Part IV covers how sections of the Act mixes criminal law and foreign intelligence work, puts the CIA back in the business of spying on Americans, allows law enforcement to enter your home without you knowing it, and can track your emails and internet activity.
- Part V discusses how the sections of the Act punishes some people for engaging in innocent First Amendment associational activity, violates other civil rights of immigrants, uses secret evidence, curbs judicial oversight, and invades financial and student records.
- Part VI discusses national security concerns, sums up, and closes with a potent exhortation to Americans, made over 200 years ago by Senator Edward Livingston.
One of the most tangible and disturbing threats to our constitutional system of liberties posed by the "PATRIOT Act" is a return to the era of domestic spying and counter intelligence exemplified by the FBI's COINTELPRO programs conducted against American citizens. Committed to the web-as-library paradigm, Paul Wolf has assembled a reading room area in the virtual stacks focusing on the history and consequences of COINTELPRO at www.cointel.org:
COINTELPRO is an acronym for the FBI's domestic "counterintelligence programs" to neutralize political dissidents. Although covert operations have been employed throughout FBI history, the formal COINTELPRO's of 1956-1971 were broadly targeted against radical political organizations.
The origins of COINTELPRO were rooted in the Bureau's operations against hostile foreign intelligence services. Counterintelligence, of course, goes beyond investigation; it refers to actions taken to neutralize enemy agents.
"Counterintelligence" was a misnomer for the FBI programs, since the targets were American political dissidents, not foreign spies. In the atmosphere of the Cold War, the American Communist Party was viewed as a serious threat to our national security. Over the years, anti-Communist paranoia extended to civil rights, anti-war, and many other groups. As John Edgar Hoover, longtime Director of the FBI, put it
The forces which are most anxious to weaken our internal security are not always easy to identify. Communists have been trained in deceit and secretly work toward the day when they hope to replace our American way of life with a Communist dictatorship. They utilize cleverly camouflaged movements, such as peace groups and civil rights groups to achieve their sinister purposes. While they as individuals are difficult to identify, the Communist party line is clear. Its first concern is the advancement of Soviet Russia and the godless Communist cause. It is important to learn to know the enemies of the American way of life.
Although today this may sound ridiculous, the implications were deadly serious for the thousands of people who became COINTELPRO targets. After many years of investigating and disrupting these groups, the Bureau could not find evidence that any of them were foreign-controlled.
These programs were exposed to the public following an unsolved break-in into the FBI's Media, PA resident agency, separate lawsuits by NBC correspondent Carl Stern and the Socialist Workers' Party, and then a US Senate investigation led by Senator Frank Church. Although the FBI's COINTELPRO's officially ended in 1971, there have been many examples of counterintelligence-type operations against political dissidents since.
Lest anyone think we are not again deeply into a resurgence and resurrection of that era's nightmarish police-state tactics against such supposedly sacred rights as freedom of thought and freedom of speech, consider the corrosive effects already being discovered by the establishment of heretofore unimaginable secrecy and surveillance operations now under consolidation by Bush II:
Secrecy Cloaks Patriot Act:
Administration Loath to Spell Out How Law Being Used
by Frank Davies, Seattle Times, 9/9/02
"Ten months after it was passed because of the Sept. 11 attacks, the USA Patriot Act remains shrouded in complexity and secrecy. The legislation, overwhelmingly approved by Congress after the White House demanded new tools to prevent the next terrorist assault, resulted in the largest expansion of police powers in decades. Yet Americans know little about it, Congress is having difficulty getting questions answered, and Bush administration officials won't say how it has been used. . . .
"The CIA and FBI for the first time ever are allowed to mix foreign intelligence with law enforcement on U.S. soil. Citing the act, Attorney General John Ashcroft also authorized FBI agents to spy on domestic groups without having to show evidence of a crime. The legislation is an amalgam of changes to dozens of federal statutes in 300 subject areas. Businesses, libraries, colleges and Internet service providers still have lawyers and consultants scurrying to decipher how they are affected. . . .
"`What's really dangerous is this administration is using these powers with the attitude that because this is a war, it's not really the business of Congress, or in some cases, the courts,' said Susan Herman, a constitutional law professor at Brooklyn Law School. Bush officials defend the legislation. They say it has helped foil terrorist plots and has been used carefully. But they won't provide details.
"There is no doubt the act is wide-ranging. The Treasury Department recently announced rules that tighten requirements on all financial institutions to check the identity of their customers and whether they appear on lists of terrorist groups and to report "suspicious activity." The act also reduces privacy in libraries and threatens state confidentiality laws that protect book and computer use. Federal agents can easily obtain warrants to review a patron's reading and computer habits. Under the law, a librarian cannot disclose the request for records."
Now They Check the Books You Read
by Joan E. Bertin, Newsday, 9/16/02
"Among the less well-known aspects of the Patriot Act are provisions permitting the Justice Department to obtain information secretly from booksellers and librarians about customers' and patrons' reading, Internet and book-buying habits, merely by alleging that the records are relevant to an anti-terrorism investigation. The act prohibits librarians and booksellers from disclosing these subpoenas, so the objects of investigation don't know and therefore cannot defend themselves and their privacy, or contest the government's actions in court.
"In a sample of 1,000 libraries responding to a survey last February, 85 reported receiving requests to turn over information about patrons to police or FBI agents. We have no way to know how many other libraries, and how many booksellers, received similar requests. We don't know how many requests were made under the Patriot Act, because of its secrecy provisions. What we do know is that the Patriot Act authorizes the government to obtain information secretly from librarians and booksellers about customers' and patrons' interests and activities, and that law enforcement officials are seeking such information. The Justice Department has refused to provide any data about these investigations, even to Congress.
"Librarians and booksellers have voiced their dismay at being conscripted, under court order and threat of prosecution, to report covertly on their patrons and customers. Secretly obtaining information about what people read, to try to figure out what they think, undermines more than privacy; it threatens core First Amendment principles, as many librarians and booksellers understand.
"The Constitution clearly protects the right to read a book, embrace an idea or express a thought -- even an unpopular or `unpatriotic' book, idea or thought. The freedom of thought and expression is so fundamental to our democracy that, as the Supreme Court recently noted, the ``government may not prohibit speech because it increases the chance an unlawful act will be committed `at some indefinite future time'.'' In so holding, the court relied on the `vital distinction between words and deed, between ideas and conduct.' In other words, the government is free to prohibit and punish illegal conduct, but may not criminalize ideas or punish people for their thoughts. Perversely, under the Patriot Act, reading certain books or researching certain topics -- both constitutionally protected activities -- now apparently provide grounds for criminal investigation.
"The Justice Department's recent decision to repeal the domestic terrorism surveillance guidelines unmistakably sends this signal. The guidelines were adopted in 1976 in response to revelations that, under the infamous COINTELPRO (`counterintelligence') program, civil rights and anti-war activists who were neither accused nor suspected of crimes became targets of government investigation because of their outspoken criticism of government policies. To prevent such abuses, the 1976 guidelines authorized surveillance of political, religious and other groups only if there was actual evidence of criminal activity. Without this restriction, covert surveillance of political dissidents with no known connection to criminal activity is bound to resume.
"According to a brief recently filed by the Justice Department in defense of secret immigration hearings, the `First Amendment creates no general right of access to government information or operations.' The gag order imposed on librarians and booksellers goes even further in withholding information from the object of an investigation. As a result, proceedings under the act will be shrouded in secrecy, not only making it impossible for targeted individuals to counter the government's allegations, but also preventing the public at large from making an informed judgment about whether the government is effectively countering terrorism or unfairly targeting innocent people.
"The rush to enact programs with reassuring-sounding names may have been understandable a year ago. Now, however, it would be patriotic to consider whether, despite their appealing acronyms, some hastily enacted programs threaten the freedoms we value most. It is peculiar, to say the least, for our government to fight terrorists by adopting their techniques -- secrecy and intimidation. Besides, exactly how many terrorists does the FBI expect to find through the local library or the bookstore?"
Joan E. Bertin is executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship.
Statement of James X. Dempsey Deputy Director
Center for Democracy & Technology
before the House Committee on the Judiciary
Forum on National Security and the Constitution, 1/24/02
"COINTELPRO had several key characteristics: It was intended to be absolutely secret. Its tactics were never meant to see the light of day. The FBI assumed that its conclusions about individuals would never be tested by the adversarial process. COINTELPRO was not aimed at arresting those planning criminal conduct. The FBI knew that if a black bag job uncovered evidence of a crime, that information could not be used as the basis for an arrest and indictment. COINTELPRO was at base an intelligence operation cut loose from the guidance of the criminal code: it focused not on the investigation of crimes but on collecting information about legal activity. The program relied on guilt by association. Success was defined in part by how large a net could be cast, how many people could be identified as adherents of a group or movement or ideology. And in the end, one of the most important facts about COINTELPRO is this: the exercise was essentially worthless from a security standpoint. Millions of dollars were expended investigating non-violent activity."
Ashcroft Watch - The Terror of Pre-Crime
by Nat Hentoff, The Progressive, September 2002
"John Ashcroft recently released his guidelines for investigating people he suspects as terrorists, and these guidelines exceed even J. Edgar Hoover's contempt for due process. . . .
"On page four of the Ashcroft Guidelines: `The nature of the conduct engaged in by a [terrorist] enterprise will justify an inference that the standard [for opening a criminal intelligence investigation] is satisfied, even if there are no known statements by participants that advocate or indicate planning for violence or other prohibited acts.' (Emphasis added.)
"The Attorney General, furthermore, extends the dragnet to make individuals in a group under suspicion responsible for what other members say or write: `A group's activities and the statements of its members may properly be considered in conjunction with each other. A combination of statements and activities may justify a determination that the threshold standard for a terrorism investigation is satisfied, even if the statements alone or the activities alone would not warrant such a determination.' (Emphasis added.) . . .
"Keep in mind the massive, pervasive electronic surveillance -- with minimal judicial supervision under the USA Patriot Act -- of inferential `pre-crime' conversations and messages, both sent and received. Add to that the FBI's power, under the same law, to break into your home or office, with a warrant, while you're not there, and inset `The Magic Lantern' into your computer to record every one of your keystrokes, including those not sent. Then add the Patriot Act's allowing the FBI to command bookstores and libraries to reveal the books bought or read by potential domestic terrorists.
"You may now appreciate the prophecy of Senator Frank Church -- who was instrumental in exposing the constitutional crimes of J. Edgar Hoover's Cointelpro operation -- when he said in 1975 that future government intelligence capabilities could `at any time be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left -- such is the capacity to monitor everything, telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter.' And that was before the omnivorous, permeable Internet. The Web can be a spider web.
"Senator Church, referring to `potential' enemies of the state, warned: `There would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know.'
"There is still time to fight back."
It is both chilling and inspiring to see what the American Library Association (ALA) now presents on its web site about the "PATRIOT Act" and how it is affecting rights to privacy and confidentiality. The Office for Intellectual Freedom page provides a good entry point into issues involving intellectual freedom, censorship, the freedom to read, and a host of other concerns relevant to the "PATRIOT Act," government surveillance and secrecy.
Fulfilling its purpose of providing the means to educate and inform one's self, Privacy: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights provides a wealth of information in a 3-page document. It affirms that
"[i]n a library (physical or virtual), the right to privacy is the right to open inquiry without having the subject of one's interest examined or scrutinized by others. Confidentiality exists when a library is in possession of personally identifiable information about users and keeps that information private on their behalf. . . The ALA has affirmed a right to privacy since 1939. Existing ALA policies affirm that confidentiality is crucial to freedom of inquiry. Rights to privacy and confidentiality also are implicit in the Library Bill of Rights guarantee of free access to library resources for all users." (http://www.ala.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Our_Association/Offices/Intellectual_Freedom3/Statements_and_Policies/Intellectual_Freedom2/Interpretations/Privacy.htm)
A section on "FBI in Your Library" includes extremely relevant quotes such as "Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us," Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. Other sections include the "ALA Policy on Government Intimidation," information on "The Attorney General's Guidelines," "In the News," links and more.
"Confidentiality and Coping with Law Enforcement Inquiries: Guidelines for the Library and its Staff" includes a very detailed and sobering description of "Recommended Procedures for Law Enforcement Visits" covering the contingencies for:
- "Before any visit",
- "During the visit",
- "If the court order is in the form of a subpoena",
- "If the court order is in the form of a search warrant",
- "If the court order is a search warrant issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (USA Patriot Act amendment)", and
- "After the visit".
People now working in public libraries must feel something similar to what their counterparts experienced in Germany in the middle and later 1930s.
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