Science and International Studies, Huntingdon
College. FOIA index.
Released: Field Report on the PATRIOT Act: /USstatutes/docs/071304_report_from_the_field.pdf
The Department of Justice’s first priority is to prevent future
terrorist attacks. Since its passage following the September 11, 2001 attacks,
the Patriot Act has played a key part - and often the leading role - in
a number of successful operations to protect innocent Americans from the
deadly plans of terrorists dedicated to destroying America and our way
of life. While the results have been important, in passing the Patriot
Act, Congress provided for only modest, incremental changes in the law.
Congress simply took existing legal principles and retrofitted them to
preserve the lives and liberty of the American people from the challenges
posed by a global terrorist network.
The USA PATRIOT Act: Preserving Life and Liberty
(Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required
to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism)
Congress enacted the Patriot Act by
overwhelming, bipartisan margins, arming law enforcement with new tools
to detect and prevent terrorism: The USA Patriot Act was passed nearly
unanimously by the Senate 98-1, and 357–66 in the House, with the support
of members from across the political spectrum.
The Act Improves Our Counter-Terrorism Efforts in Several Significant
1. The Patriot Act allows investigators to use the tools that
were already available to investigate organized crime and drug trafficking.
Many of the tools the Act provides to law enforcement to fight terrorism
have been used for decades to fight organized crime and drug dealers, and
have been reviewed and approved by the courts. As Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE)
explained during the floor debate about the Act, “the FBI could get a wiretap
to investigate the mafia, but they could not get one to investigate terrorists.
To put it bluntly, that was crazy! What’s good for the mob should be good
for terrorists.” (Cong. Rec., 10/25/01)
Allows law enforcement to use surveillance against more crimes of terror.
Before the Patriot Act, courts could permit law enforcement to conduct
electronic surveillance to investigate many ordinary, non-terrorism crimes,
such as drug crimes, mail fraud, and passport fraud. Agents also could
obtain wiretaps to investigate some, but not all, of the crimes that terrorists
often commit. The Act enabled investigators to gather information when
looking into the full range of terrorism-related crimes, including: chemical-weapons
offenses, the use of weapons of mass destruction, killing Americans abroad,
and terrorism financing.
Allows federal agents to follow sophisticated terrorists trained to
evade detection. For years, law enforcement has been able to use “roving
wiretaps” to investigate ordinary crimes, including drug offenses and racketeering.
A roving wiretap can be authorized by a federal judge to apply to a particular
suspect, rather than a particular phone or communications device. Because
international terrorists are sophisticated and trained to thwart surveillance
by rapidly changing locations and communication devices such as cell phones,
the Act authorized agents to seek court permission to use the same techniques
in national security investigations to track terrorists.
Allows law enforcement to conduct investigations without tipping off
terrorists. In some cases if criminals are tipped off too early to
an investigation, they might flee, destroy evidence, intimidate or kill
witnesses, cut off contact with associates, or take other action to evade
arrest. Therefore, federal courts in narrow circumstances long have allowed
law enforcement to delay for a limited time when the subject is told that
a judicially-approved search warrant has been executed. Notice is always
provided, but the reasonable delay gives law enforcement time to identify
the criminal’s associates, eliminate immediate threats to our communities,
and coordinate the arrests of multiple individuals without tipping them
off beforehand. These delayed notification search warrants have been used
for decades, have proven crucial in drug and organized crime cases, and
have been upheld by courts as fully constitutional.
2. The Patriot Act facilitated information sharing and cooperation
among government agencies so that they can better “connect the dots.”
The Act removed the major legal barriers that prevented the law enforcement,
intelligence, and national defense communities from talking and coordinating
their work to protect the American people and our national security. The
government’s prevention efforts should not be restricted by boxes on an
organizational chart. Now police officers, FBI agents, federal prosecutors
and intelligence officials can protect our communities by “connecting the
dots” to uncover terrorist plots before they are completed. As Sen. John
Edwards (D-N.C.) said about the Patriot Act, “we simply cannot prevail
in the battle against terrorism if the right hand of our government has
no idea what the left hand is doing.” (Press release, 10/26/01)
Allows federal agents to ask a court for an order to obtain business
records in national security terrorism cases. Examining business records
often provides the key that investigators are looking for to solve a wide
range of crimes. Investigators might seek select records from hardware
stores or chemical plants, for example, to find out who bought materials
to make a bomb, or bank records to see who’s sending money to terrorists.
Law enforcement authorities have always been able to obtain business records
in criminal cases through grand jury subpoenas, and continue to do so in
national security cases where appropriate. These records were sought in
criminal cases such as the investigation of the Zodiac gunman, where police
suspected the gunman was inspired by a Scottish occult poet, and wanted
to learn who had checked the poet’s books out of the library. In national
security cases where use of the grand jury process was not appropriate,
investigators previously had limited tools at their disposal to obtain
certain business records. Under the Patriot Act, the government can now
ask a federal court (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court), if needed
to aid an investigation, to order production of the same type of records
available through grand jury subpoenas. This federal court, however, can
issue these orders only after the government demonstrates the records concerned
are sought for an authorized investigation to obtain foreign intelligence
information not concerning a U.S. person or to protect against international
terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such investigation
of a U.S. person is not conducted solely on the basis of activities protected
by the First Amendment.
3. The Patriot Act updated the law to reflect new technologies and
new threats. The Act brought the law up to date with current technology,
so we no longer have to fight a digital-age battle with antique weapons—legal
authorities leftover from the era of rotary telephones. When investigating
the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, for example,
law enforcement used one of the Act’s new authorities to use high-tech
means to identify and locate some of the killers.
Prosecutors can now share evidence obtained through grand juries with intelligence
officials -- and intelligence information can now be shared more easily
with federal prosecutors. Such sharing of information leads to concrete
results. For example, a federal grand jury recently indicted an individual
in Florida, Sami al-Arian, for allegedly being the U.S. leader of the Palestinian
Islamic Jihad, one of the world’s most violent terrorist outfits. Palestinian
Islamic Jihad is responsible for murdering more than 100 innocent people,
including a young American named Alisa Flatow who was killed in a tragic
bus bombing in Gaza. The Patriot Act assisted us in obtaining the indictment
by enabling the full sharing of information and advice about the case among
prosecutors and investigators. Alisa’s father, Steven Flatow, has said,
“When you know the resources of your government are committed to right
the wrongs committed against your daughter, that instills you with a sense
of awe. As a father you can’t ask for anything more.”
4. The Patriot Act increased the penalties for those who commit terrorist
crimes. Americans are threatened as much by the terrorist who pays
for a bomb as by the one who pushes the button. That’s why the Patriot
Act imposed tough new penalties on those who commit and support terrorist
operations, both at home and abroad. In particular, the Act:
Allows law enforcement officials to obtain a search warrant anywhere
a terrorist-related activity occurred. Before the Patriot Act, law
enforcement personnel were required to obtain a search warrant in the district
where they intended to conduct a search. However, modern terrorism investigations
often span a number of districts, and officers therefore had to obtain
multiple warrants in multiple jurisdictions, creating unnecessary delays.
The Act provides that warrants can be obtained in any district in which
terrorism-related activities occurred, regardless of where they will be
executed. This provision does not change the standards governing the availability
of a search warrant, but streamlines the search-warrant process.
Allows victims of computer hacking to request law enforcement assistance
in monitoring the “trespassers” on their computers. This change made
the law technology-neutral; it placed electronic trespassers on the same
footing as physical trespassers. Now, hacking victims can seek law enforcement
assistance to combat hackers, just as burglary victims have been able to
invite officers into their homes to catch burglars.
The government’s success in preventing another catastrophic attack on the
American homeland since September 11, 2001, would have been much more difficult,
if not impossible, without the USA Patriot Act. The authorities Congress
provided have substantially enhanced our ability to prevent, investigate,
and prosecute acts of terror.
Prohibits the harboring of terrorists. The Act created a new offense
that prohibits knowingly harboring persons who have committed or are about
to commit a variety of terrorist offenses, such as: destruction of aircraft;
use of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons; use of weapons of mass
destruction; bombing of government property; sabotage of nuclear facilities;
and aircraft piracy.
Enhanced the inadequate maximum penalties for various crimes likely
to be committed by terrorists: including arson, destruction of energy
facilities, material support to terrorists and terrorist organizations,
and destruction of national-defense materials.
Enhanced a number of conspiracy penalties, including for arson,
killings in federal facilities, attacking communications systems, material
support to terrorists, sabotage of nuclear facilities, and interference
with flight crew members. Under previous law, many terrorism statutes did
not specifically prohibit engaging in conspiracies to commit the underlying
offenses. In such cases, the government could only bring prosecutions under
the general federal conspiracy provision, which carries a maximum penalty
of only five years in prison.
Punishes terrorist attacks on mass transit systems.
Eliminates the statutes of limitations for certain terrorism crimes
and lengthens them for other terrorist crimes.