Bush Signs Legislation Vastly Expanding Federal Powers to Wiretap, Eavesdrop, Detain & Deport Immigrants in the name of the so-called War on Terrorism – Democracy Now Transcript


Civil liberties advocates warned that some of our most basic freedoms were being put at risk. The bill, known as the USA PATRIOT Act, gives federal authorities unprecedented latitude in monitoring private communications and expands the way such data is shared among federal agencies.


Amy Goodman:      Bush’s signing of the bill garnered little newspaper coverage over the weekend and almost none of the major networks, even as civil liberties advocates warned that some of our most basic freedoms were being put at risk. The bill, known as the USA PATRIOT Act, gives federal authorities unprecedented latitude in monitoring private communications and expands the way such data is shared among federal agencies. The House of Representatives passed the bill overwhelmingly on Wednesday, and the Senate on Thursday approved the measure 98 to 1. Russell Feingold , the Democratic  Senator from Wisconsin, cast the only dissenting vote.

Attorney General John Ashcroft vowed immediately to begin using his new powers saying, “If you overstay your visas even by 1 day, we will arrest you.” He told this to a conference of mayors who pledged that criminal suspects who commit the most minor of infractions will be put in jail and put in custody as long as possible. Federal officials have arrested and detained nearly 1,000 people since September 11th, nearly all of them immigrants and people of Middle Eastern descent. Most have been held on no evidence and with little or no access to lawyers, and this, privacy and civil liberties advocates caution, could be just the beginning. We’re joined now by Michael Ratner who’s with the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Welcome to the War and Peace Report.

Michael Ratner:      Good morning, Amy.

Amy Goodman:     It’s great to have you with us. I saw something quite amazing yesterday on one of the TV talk shows. It was one of the editors of the National Review saying that if you look at how many people have been detained since September 11th, 1,000, and you look at the number of points that the Dow Jones Industrial has picked up, the stock market, 1,000, there’s a direct correlation, and that that’s what we need. For every person detained, that Wall Street and just the general climate will pick up. Your response?

Michael Ratner:      Those detentions really have not gotten the attention they should, but it is true, I think, that the country feels more comfortable when we arrest, or at least many people in the country do, when we arrest hundreds, if not thousands, of people, when we pass laws that give us the illusion that we’re safer, but we’re really not. I think that’s what he’s saying. Ifwe make this place into essentially a fortress America, then people will feel safe. It’s a false illusion of safety. It’s a false illusion because we have a 5,000 mile border with Canada. I don’t care what kind of laws you pass. You can’t stop people from coming in. It’s a false illusion because unless you look at the root causes of why America is hated, of why the attacks, you’re not going to be able to stop terrorism. I think in the psyche of the Americans , and I think that’s what this legislation on one level is about, is about making people feel that they’re  safer.

Amy Goodman:      You did a piece in Le Monde, the French newspaper , dissecting the legislation. I don’t think people are very well-aware, also with it being passed on a Friday, newspapers Saturday being the least read, and anyway, TV is what most manufactures consent or shapes public opinion, and we haven’t seen much of this, what this legislation is about.

Michael Ratner:        I did bring to the studio today the legislation. People can see it. It’s 158 pages long. If it weren’t so dangeroits, you would say basically it might be good for pressing leaves or something. They call it, and they gave it the name that you said, USA PATRIOT Act, but that’s an acronym. It’s an acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. You can say a couple of things about that. One is that we’re all united in this act and what it says, and that if we oppose this act, we’re not patriots. That’s what that title really stands for. There’s other titles I think both your viewers and listeners could say. You could call it the Big Brother Act of 2001. You could take the USA and say Uniting Against Saying Anything in America, because that’s really closer to what it is. It is 158 pages. A lot of the members of Congress who voted on it never even got to read it, particularly in the House. It was just shoved through. They had another bill that was slightly better. This is really the Senate bill. It was just shoved through. The first thing you want to say about this act is that it’s not necessary. They haven’t yet shown that the FBI, the CIA, and the other intelligence agencies need more powers. What we saw here at the World Trade Center was many things, but one of it was a massive intelligence failure. They have more tools than they need already before this act, and they’re giving themselves more and more power. A second real problem with it is is that I think, as I sort of said, that as people think that we can somehow get at terrorism or get at people wanting to do damage to the United States through law, they will not look at why these things happen . I think it has a lot of dangerous aspects to it, even before one looks at the law. When one looks at the law, it is really terrible for all of us. We’re not going to see a lot of it, because a lot of it’s going to be secret. They’re going to be people detained that we don’t know about, people detained already who we don’t know about, anonymously, for months, possibly for years . There’s going to be wiretaps, internet taps. We can talk about some of these things. There’s going to be the CIA really operating in the United  States, a number of different things.

Amy Goodman :         Talk about that. People may not realize that it’s the FBI that operates inside the United States, CIA outside. What do you mean CIA inside?

Michael Ratner :     It’s a very interesting aspect of the bill. Normally the CIA has a law that says it can’t operate and do domestic intelligence in the United States. In the 1970s, they did engage in domestic surveillance and spying and undercover agents, et cetera, in the United States under a program called Operation CHAOS, which was to spy on civil rights activists, human rights activists, other people opposed to the war in Vietnam. That came out in a big congressional hearing , and again everybody yelled, “CIA, get out of the United States.”This law doesn’t explicitly authorize the CIA to come into the United States, but what it does is it says that any information that the FBI gets through all of these wiretaps, through undercover agents, it can share with the CIA and give to the CIA. What happens in that case? The FBI’s giving information to the CIA. The CIA says to the FBI, “Well, we’re sort of interested in Michael Ratner. We’d like a little more information , so go outand get it.” Basically you’re talking about a situation hand and glove, CIA, FBI, and you can just forget about the prohibition. The CIA will effectively be operating in the United States.

Amy Goodman :     What about when you say eavesdropping and wiretapping? The FBI has had that ability before. How is it different now?

Michael Ratner:      What’s happened in this country to the Fourth Amendment in the last 20 years is extraordinary, in terms of allowance of wiretapping. The Fourth Amendment essentially said to the FBI or your local law enforcement , “You need a warrant signed by a judge based on probable cause that that person, whether it’s X or Y, committed a crime before you could get wiretapping .” About 20 years ago, they set up a special court called the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court. That court is a secret court. 7 members meet. They meet …

Amy Goodman :     This is the FISA court.

Michael Ratner :         This is the FISA court. They meet in a sealed room at the Justice Department. It has no windows. It’s regular federal judges who meet. They get warrants … not warrants. They give the authorization without probable cause to wiretap Americans and anybody else, initially when it was set up based  on foreign intelligence. Ifthere was a foreign intelligence aspect to an investigation , they could wiretap you or anybody else without actually getting a probable cause warrant. Even in the last 20 years, that exception to the Fourth Amendment for foreign intelligence …

Amy Goodman:     The Fourth Amendment  being the admonition against search and seizure.

Michael Ratner :         Search and seizure, that requires you to get a warrant. That has been swallowed up anyway. Already there’s only like 500 warrants actually issued for wiretapping in the United States. There’s 1,000 authorizations for wiretapping issued by this secret court that you never know about. This act takes that so-called exception to the warrant requirement, and opens it upall the way. No longer is it required that it be only for foreign intelligence purposes , but you can now do it for regular criminal investigations, just so there’s some foreign element to it. We’re going to basically see the complete evisceration of any requirement that there be a warrant issued to wiretap you. It means everybody’s going to be wiretapped basically in one way or another.

Amy Goodman:     Internet?

Michael Ratner:      Internet is really interesting here. I’m sure some of your listeners have heard you talk about Carnivore on the program . Carnivore is a device that’s put on the server, a server at the internet place where all the email traffic goes through.

Amy Goodman:     And everyone is relying a lot more on email now with the whole anthrax scare. I think email has doubled in this country.

Michael Ratner:      Sure. I think it’s going to even go up more. What Carnivore has the ability to do, and it can be set on different filters, is get the content of your email, get the names and addresses, and get significant words. What this new law allows the FBI to do is to use Carnivore again without the kind of judicial warrant that’s required to do wiretapping. They’re going to be able to put on particularly these … It’s the equivalent of what you call a pen register on your telephone which picks up telephone numbers of who you’ve called and who’ve called you, but they’re going to be allowed to without a warrant get all of the email to you or from you from everybody, at least the names and addresses to start with without the warrant. Once the FBI gets that, my experience in the ’70s and ’80s with them is they will then open files on every single person who, let’s say, sends Michael Ratner an email or to whom I send email to. It’s going to give very wide, wide surveillance powers over the internet to people.

Amy Goodman:     How is this different, this law, than what we already have? What has been the key mechanism  that makes this different?

Michael Ratner:      The key mechanisms here are … Number 1 is first of all we didn’t mention yet what it does to immigrants in this country. It really does allow indefinite detention under a certification by the Attorney General that an immigrant is suspected of terrorism, to be kept in jail forever essentially . Indefinitely is a word. 6 months is what they say, but it can be renewed. That’s a huge change. That’s a change that I would think is unconstitutional , but in these kind of climates, courts don’t usually strike down laws likethis. That’s just a major change. In terms of this surveillance court, again a major change, allowing much more widespread wiretapping, and one thing I should say, not just wiretapping , what we used to call in the ’70s and ’80s, black bag jobs or surreptitious entries. That’s when the FBI goes into your house at night, goes in and photographs everything you have, takes possessions as they want, and then leaves. It’s basically an illegal entry is what you would normally call it. The Foreign Surveillance Court has authority to do that , and that’s going to be much more widespread under this. You’re talking about wiretapping and illegal entries given much, much broader authority.

Amy Goodman:      Is there a sunset clause here?

Michael Ratner :         What the civil liberties people were able to win, I think, is really almost nothing in this case. A couple of the organizations are bragging it’s better , but most of them are agreeing we didn’t win much. A sunset clause means that certain provisions of the act will automatically terminate after a certain number of years. There is a sunset clause in this act for certain parts of it which has to do with the wiretapping . That’s a 4 year sunset clause, but my experience with sunset clauses and the 1 experience in the UK and in other countries is that as soon as the sunset clause is on its way to starting … As soon as the sun is starting to set, they pass another law that sometimes is even worse. I don’t think that’s any protection. There’s no sunset law for the immigration detention part of the law, because they don’t want the sun ever setting on the people who are simply kept in jail indefinitely  without charges.

Amy Goodman :         I want to thank you very much for being with us. Ifpeople want to see the piece that you wrote, is it on the web anywhere?

Michael Ratner:      It should be on the web by tomorrow on the Le Monde website.

Amy Goodman:     Michael Ratner, Center for Constitutional Rights, thanks for being with us.

Michael Ratner:      Thank you very much, Amy.

Amy Goodman :        When we come back, we’re going to look at how the World Trade   Center towers were built , what economic and political forces were brought together to allow these 2 more than 100 story skyscrapers to be built, and who were those who fought against them. Stay with us.   (singing)