The Patriot Act Continues to Keep Americans Safe
By David H. Landon
The 10-year anniversary of 9/11 is almost upon us. The more time that passes, the more difficult it becomes to remember the raw feelings of fear and anger that were triggered by the cowardly attack on civilians who were simply going about their daily routine. Nearly 3,000 victims and the 19 hijackers died in the attacks. Among the 2,752 victims who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center were 343 firefighters and 60 police officers from New York City and the Port Authority. An additional 184 people were killed in the attacks on the Pentagon and 40 on Flight 93, which crashed at Shanksville, Pennsylvania. With the nation in shock over an attack by a committed enemy, we began searching for answers on how to prevent future attacks.
After the 9/11 attacks, the Patriot Act was signed into law, designed to reduce restrictions on law enforcement agencies; their ability to search telephone, e-mails and financial records. The critical function of it has been breaking down the bureaucratic wall between traditional criminal and intelligence-related investigations.
That wall had been created during the Clinton administration. It was under Clinton that Assistant Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, who ironically later served on the 9/11 Commission, helped erect the walls between the FBI, CIA and local investigators that made 9/11 inevitable. The 1995 memo by Gorelick not only created walls within the intelligence agencies that prevented information sharing among their own agents, but effectively walled these agencies off from each other and from outside contact with the prosecutors instrumental in helping them gather evidence to make the case for criminal charges.
Gorelick was merely expanding the policy Bill Clinton established with Presidential Decision Directive 24. What has been underreported is why that policy came into being. Clinton needed the “wall” to stop investigations into the Chinese funding of Clinton’s re-election campaign, and the favors he bestowed on them in return. Jamie Gorelick created the wall to protect the Clinton White House, and in the process made stopping the 9/11 attack more difficult. Although she had no training or experience in finance, her reward was to then be appointed as the vice chairman of Fannie Mae and she served in the role from 1997 to 2003. During that six-year period, she earned over $26 million. The Patriot Act ended the ridiculous notion that government agencies could not share information about threats to this country.
When the Bush administration drafted the Patriot Act, it was aware that it was expanding government’s ability to invade the privacy of U.S. citizens. Hopeful that there may be a day when those intrusions are no longer necessary, the Patriot Act was drafted with a sunset provision which allowed it to expire if not renewed by a later Congress. In 2005, 14 of the 17 provisions in the act were made permanent. The remaining three provisions included a sunset provision and unless extended by this Congress, were due to expire on February 28. These provisions grant the following authority to the government: roving wiretaps on terror suspects as they change phones or locations; examination of business records including library records of terror suspects; and the “lone wolf” provision allows surveillance of foreigners who are somehow tied to a foreign agent.
In recent action by Congress, the act was extended for 90 days when it will again be subject to debate and the need for an additional extension to prevent the expiration of the act. It is up for consideration again in May.
Americans need to be reminded that the Patriot Act is an extremely important tool in fighting the war on terror. Terrorist groups have been infiltrated and terrorist acts prevented as a direct result of the powers given by this act to law enforcement. Certainly there is a trade off. We have sacrificed some degree of our privacy. But it is hard to argue with the results. No attacks on the U.S. soil or on U.S. overseas institutions have occurred since the passage of the Patriot Act.
Opponents of the Patriot Act have repeatedly sought to repeal the act’s provisions or hamstring the act with yet another set of bureaucratic hoops. However, mindful that the original act was quickly passed only weeks after 9/11, Congress has extensively modified and tailored the act over the years. New safeguards have been added with substantial court oversight. Despite repeated attempts to demonstrate abuse, little evidence has been proffered to demonstrate that the provisions in the act have been misused. Tying the hands of investigators through more procedural safeguards would not make the country any safer.
The Patriot Act does not provide investigators with an unlimited ability to conduct surveillance on innocent Americans. The act simply ensures that those who protect our national security have the same tools to investigate terrorists that law enforcement agents have to investigate and prosecute domestic criminals. Although the act provides these tools to law enforcement, they come with significant procedural safeguards, oversight and reporting requirements. They are subject to routine and aggressive oversight by both the FISA court and Congress.
While critics can whine about intrusions of privacy because of the Patriot Act, very few Americans have actually been touched by the authority given to law enforcement as a result of the act. Until Islamic fundamentalists decide that it’s no longer their policy to want to kill us, I for one am comfortable with my government, with the current oversight and safeguards in place, having the tools provided by the Patriot Act to protect my country.
David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He has been involved in over 40 local campaigns, in addition to serving as county campaign manager on several statewide and one congressional campaign. In 2000, he was co-chairman of the Montgomery County Bush campaign.