Philip Shenon / The New York Times – 2004-09-26 22:05:17
WASHINGTON (September 23, 2004) — House Democratic leaders and civil liberties advocates said Wednesday that a Republican bill responding to the findings of the Sept. 11 commission would go well beyond the panel’s recommendations. It would call for broad new powers for law enforcement agencies, they said, and include new authority to conduct electronic surveillance in terrorism investigations.
House Republican officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the bill would incorporate new law enforcement authority that was not specifically requested by the commission, which called for an overhaul of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency and other federal agencies responsible for intelligence and counterterrorism.
A spokesman for Representative J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, the House speaker, said pre-emptive criticism of the bill was unwarranted because as of Wednesday evening, the legislation was still not in final form and was not ready for release to the public.
Bush/Cheney Seek ‘Broader Powers’
But the spokesman, John Feehery, acknowledged that the bill would call for broadened surveillance powers for law enforcement and intelligence agencies that “will help us get terrorists and those who help terrorists.”
Among the provisions, Mr. Feehery said, are ones to permit surveillance of so-called lone-wolf terrorism suspects who operate without the clear support of terrorist groups.
The American Civil Liberties Union said it had seen drafts of chapters of the bill, which is expected to be introduced as early as Thursday, and described it as “Patriot Act 2,” a reference to the landmark antiterrorism bill passed after the Sept. 11 attacks to give sweeping new powers to law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
“Nowhere in its recommendations does the 9/11 commission ask Congress to pass a sequel to the Patriot Act,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the Washington office of the ACLU.
‘A Wish List of Reactionary Proposals’
Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said the House Republican proposal “scarcely resembles” what the Sept. 11 commission recommended. “It’s as if the commission’s recommendations have been supersized with irrelevant fat and lard, representing a wish list of past reactionary proposals that would diminish our civil liberties,” Mr. Conyers said.
The criticism of the bill came on the same day that the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee voted unanimously to approve a bill that Senate leaders have designated as their legislative vehicle for responding to the major recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission for restructuring the executive branch.
Senate leaders have indicated that the bill, which calls for establishing the job of national intelligence director, the commission’s central recommendation, could be taken up on the Senate floor next week. The bill would also create a national counterterrorism center to coordinate the work of government counterterrorism agencies, another of the commission’s major recommendations.
The chairman of the Committee on Governmental Affairs, Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and the ranking Democrat, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, said in a joint statement that “the legislation that we passed today is the most sweeping and comprehensive reorganization of the intelligence community in more than half a century.”
The bill “remains faithful to the 9/11 commission’s recommendations,” the two senators said.
Judging by the accounts from House Democrats and civil liberties advocates on Wednesday, there may be major differences between the Senate bill and whatever bill is offered by House Republican leaders, suggesting a more complicated and time-consuming path to final Congressional approval of legislation to respond to the Sept. 11 commission’s findings. Any differences would need to be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee.
House Republican leaders have moved more slowly than their counterparts in the Senate in responding to the findings of the commission, which delivered its final report in July, creating a whirlwind of activity on Capitol Hill over the summer as House and Senate committees met to debate the panel’s findings.
President Bush has endorsed many of the commission’s main recommendations, including the creation of a national intelligence director to oversee the government’s intelligence agencies. Last week, the White House provided Congress with draft legislation to establish the intelligence director’s job, though with less authority than the commission recommended.
Neither the House nor the Senate is close to agreement on how to respond to the recommendations for an overhaul of the way Congress oversees intelligence agencies, a system that the commission described as “dysfunctional.”
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