More Criminals Than Terrorists


The evidence has been growing practically from the day the PATRIOT Act was passed that law enforcement agencies have been using its provisions to trap criminal suspects rather than suspected terrorists. No particular surprise there, we all knew they would. What we didn’t expect is that it would turn out there were more terrorists than criminals in America.

WASHINGTON — Secret surveillance warrants in terrorism and espionage cases have eclipsed criminal wiretaps for the first time, and the statistics are raising red flags among open government advocates.Federal and state courts approved a total of 1,442 interceptions of wire, oral or electronic communications for criminal cases in 2003, according to statistics released by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts last week. By comparison, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issued 1,724 warrants in terrorism and espionage cases last year, according to recently released Justice Department figures.

The targets of the terrorism and espionage warrants approved by the ultra-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court are never informed about their surveillance.

The warrants last far longer than those issued by other courts, with little oversight to ensure intelligence is being gathered. And they can be approved even if law enforcement agents do not meet standards of probable cause for a criminal case.

“That these warrants are becoming the major form of surveillance in this country is very troubling,” said Tim Edgar, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington office. “They are shifting surveillance from a court where there is less secrecy, more oversight and a probable cause standard to a court where there is more secrecy, no oversight and no probable cause statute.”

The major reason for the large number is, of course, the ultra-low standard of proof. I’d be willing to bet that if we saw a list of the suspects’ names (we won’t), virtually all of them would have Arabic or Arabic-sounding surnames. Since 9/11, some 90% of the people arrested, detained, or deported for having suspected ties to ‘terrorist organizations’ have been either Arabs or Sikhs (who look like Arabs to profilers). They have been denied lawyers, hearings, and in many cases explanations for their treatment. Researchers who have looked into the groups on the govt’ watch-list say it includes charitable organizations that have never had a hint of irregularity attached to them; Arab-American leaders say many of the deportees were doing no more than sending money home to their families; and all say that at the very least the whole process is a mish-mosh of inaccurate information, incomplete investigation, and innuendo passing as evidence.

The high number of wiretaps revealed today suggests very strongly that in the wake of the failure to detect the 9/11 cabal, law enforcement agencies are going on massive fishing expeditions, and that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is letting them do it. It may have no choice; Ashcroft’s law is so broadly stroked that people can be–and have been–detained because they were reading the wrong book, wearing the wrong t-shirt, or maintaining the wrong websites.

The good news is that the over-zealousness of the tappers is making a lot of people in Congress nervous, even Republicans. The wide latitude, a standard of proof that doesn’t amount to much more than ‘We think he might be connected in some way to a terrorist organization, or maybe somebody in his family is. One of his friends must be!’ is giving everybody the jitters. As well it should.

Junior has been stumping the country, playing up how important the PA is and playing down how poor its results have been. Ashcroft is twisting Congressional arms first to make PA I’s ‘sunset provisions’ permanent, and second to get PA II–which extends PA I’s invasions even further–passed as quickly as possible. The Publican leadership is Bush’s domestic puppet govt, but they’re facing a potential open revolt over both of Ashcroft’s goals. PA II has been languishing in committee for months, and moderate Republicans–a majority of them–have been back-pedaling and foot-dragging over the sunsets, voicing legitimate concerns about the damage to the Constitution and patent disbelief in the sunsets’ efficacy.

Encourage them if you get the chance. The sunsets should be allowed to die, and PA II should never see the light of day. Things are bad enough without adding them to brew.

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