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A Trial Balloon? - "Five to Ten Times Worse Than the Patriot Act"

Secret Bush Legislation Sent to Cheney, Hastert, Deepens Assault on Constitution

Patriot II

by Michael C. Ruppert

Copyright, 2003, From The Wilderness Publications, www.fromthewilderness.com. All rights reserved. May be copied, distributed or posted on the Internet for non-profit purposes only.

Feb. 25 2003, 1800 PST (FTW) -- With more than twenty U.S. cities having passed resolutions openly opposing the multiple civil liberties violations in the 2001 Patriot Act, and as the state of New Mexico debates legislation that would encourage police agencies to avoid violations of the First Amendment, the recent leak of a secret Bush administration bill that would further erode civil liberties has provoked a bizarre tale of denials and "non responses" by the administration. Thus far the saga of the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 - commonly known as Patriot II - suggests that the leak of the proposed legislation was possibly a "trial balloon" or "tester" to gauge both public and congressional reaction to a bill that, if passed, would grant the federal government drastic new powers in a continuing erosion of the Bill of Rights.

Patriot II has not been officially introduced in either house of congress and thus has no official standing. It has, however, been officially transmitted by the Bush Justice Department to Vice President Cheney (President of the Senate) and House Speaker Denny Hastert, R-Illinois.

The bill has already been given a clandestine odor and the Bush administration has violated standard congressional protocols in its handling. In fact, the administration has been caught in outright lies about the bill's actual status. In official comments dated February 10, ranking Senate Judiciary Committee member Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, stated, "For months, and as recently as just last week, Justice Department officials have denied to members of the Judiciary Committee that they were drafting another anti-terrorism package. There still has not been any hint from them about their draft bill."

John Conyers, D-Michigan, ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over proposed anti-terrorism legislation, in a Feb, 10th letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft -- signed also by Representatives Robert Scott, D-Virginia, and Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, wrote:

We write to express my profound disappointment about your Department's handling of anti-terrorism policy. Recent reports irrefutably indicate that the Department of Justice has been working on a successor bill to the "USA Patriot Act" for some time. Notwithstanding the Judiciary Committee's jurisdiction in this matter and outstanding record of dealing with this legislation, the Committee reported a bipartisan version of the Patriot Act by a unanimous vote, according to the Chairman's spokesman there have been no consultations with the Committee on this bill.

Your Spokesperson, Barbara Comstock, claimed in a February 7, statement (attached) that the new draft bill was still in "internal deliberations" within the Department and still being discussed at "staff levels" and has not been "presented... to the White House." This is blatantly false in several respects, yet the Department of Justice "Control Sheet" (attached) plainly indicates that the bill was forwarded to the Speaker of the House and Vice President on January 10... 

Conyers specifically requested that the Attorney General reply to his letter no later than February 15, 2003. A Conyers' spokesperson told FTW today that not only has the Justice Department not replied to Conyers' letter but that they have "not even acknowledged receiving it."

The Department of Justice did not respond to a call from FTW asking for a response to Conyers' letter or an explanation as to why they had not responded.

The bill's draft and the fact that it had been officially transmitted to Cheney and Hastert nearly a month a month before its existence was disclosed was revealed in major scoop released on Feb. 7, 2003 by Washington, D.C.'s non-partisan Center for Public Integrity (CPI). FTW has relied extensively on comprehensive reports by the CPI for past major stories including our 2000 story, The Bush Cheney Drug Empire.

The original CPI story including links to the "Confidential" draft of the bill and the official letter of transmittal is located at: http://www.publicintegrity.org/dtaweb/report.asp?ReportID=502&L1=10&L2=10&L3=0&L4=0&L5=0

In a follow-up story on PBS' Frontline, anchor Bill Moyers interviewed CPI's Executive Director Chuck Lewis who disclosed that the CPI had obtained a copy of the bill as a result of a leak from within the Justice Department by someone who was exposing themselves to great risk in the post-9/11 climate of secrecy in Washington. The fact that the story was leaked raises the possibility that the Bush administration was attempting to gauge both public and congressional reaction prior to introducing the bill for legislative action.

WHAT'S IN PATRIOT II?

CPI's Lewis was not jesting when he told Moyers that Patriot II was five or ten times worse than the first Patriot Act.

Its provisions allow for secret arrests of persons in certain terrorist-related cases until indictments have been handed down and there is no time limitation for this process. America has never permitted secret arrests for indefinite time periods. In addition, Patriot II provides that these terrorist arrests may be under "no bail" conditions and that any federal employee who discloses the identity of someone who has been secretly detained may be imprisoned for up to five years.

The bill mandates that government authorities are entitled to have ex parte (one- on-one, without defense counsel or a public record) and in camera (private) - meetings with judges without opposing counsel or defendants even being notified to secure rulings on search warrants, admissibility of evidence and investigative procedures. In certain cases where naturalized American citizens are found to be working with foreign governments, or making donations to foreign based charities later found to be supporting terrorist causes, the Attorney General will have the right to revoke U.S. citizenship and extradite those charged to any country in the world, whether there is an extradition treaty in place or not.

There has been some debate, encouraged by inaccurate and extremely irresponsible reporting by some "alternative" journalists and radio talk show hosts indicating that the bill provides the government with the ability to strip native-born U.S. citizens of their citizenship for seemingly trivial offenses. This is patently untrue. The actual truth is bad enough.

Section 501 of Patriot II amends section 349 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1481) pertaining to the citizenship status of those who have acquired U.S. citizenship. It states that those who have entered into the armed forces of a foreign government (when such forces are engaged in hostilities against the US), or have joined or provided material support "to a terrorist organization... if the organization is engaged in hostilities against the United States, its people, or its national security interests" will be deemed to have made a prima facie (apparent on its face) statement that they intend to relinquish their citizenship.

Lewis and Moyers were correct in their interpretation of this section in that a naturalized American who makes a donation to an Islamic charity later alleged to have been giving money to a terrorist organization could be stripped of their citizenship and deported anywhere without it ever having been established that he or she even knew how the charity was distributing its money.

The act broadens the scope of activities that qualify for the loose-to-non-existent guidelines for eavesdropping and surveillance under Patriot I and allows law enforcement personnel to obtain "national" search warrants for domestic and foreign terrorism investigations. As discussed in previous FTW stories, under Patriot I the definition of "domestic terrorism" is extremely vague and non-specific. Throwing away decades of progress obtained as a result of litigation in the 1970s and 80s the new bill specifically overturns dozens of consent decrees prohibiting law enforcement agencies from infiltrating non-violent religious and civic groups exercising protected first amendment rights.

Section 126 of the act allows the U.S. government to obtain consumer credit reports and to impose criminal penalties on credit reporting agencies if they disclose to individuals that the government has obtained copies of their records.

Section 127 of Patriot II allows the Federal government to supercede all local statutes governing autopsies in terrorism investigations which means literally that if a person died at the hands of an illegal federal investigation, the autopsy results could show a suicide or some other finding favorable to the government. This would also apply in cases of accidental death due to fatalities resulting from mass compulsory vaccinations. In such cases, instead of finding dangerous vaccines as the cause of death the federal government could instead blame terrorists.

Opening the door for the Total Information Awareness program run by convicted Iran-Contra felon John Poindexter, section 128 provides for the issuance of federal administrative subpoenas in cases "involving domestic or international terrorism" to any company that maintains records on any individual in the United States. This would apply to everything from medical records, to credit card and utility bills, to the reading habits of the targeted individual. This section also provides stiff criminal penalties of up to five years imprisonment for any employee of a private company who reveals that the records have been sought.

Once compiled, these records can be shared with any foreign government the government wishes to share them with. It also allows federal agents to serve search warrants issued by foreign governments inside this country.

Also in the list of list of noxious provisions, chemical and utility companies would be absolved under the act from requirements that they publicly disclose the kinds of dangerous chemicals in use at their facilities or "worst case scenario" information about what might happen if there were malfunctions or breakdowns at their facilities. This equates to an environmental "carte blanche" for polluters.

At the same time, Supreme Court Justices and other federal VIPs are no longer required to declare as income the cost of federally provided bodyguard and security services. This amounts to a back door raise in pay of up to several hundred thousand dollars a year for federal judges and executives who will be much more likely to remain friendly to the administration.

And in a particularly chilling passage, section 404 of Patriot II would impose a penalty of up to five years of imprisonment for anyone who used any form of computer encryption to commit anything defined as domestic or foreign terrorism. Under the liberal definition of domestic terrorism contained in Patriot I, a possible interpretation of this section could be that a reporter who uses PGP or other encryption program to correspond with a foreign confidential source could be imprisoned for five years - just for using the software. It also suggests that no commercial entity which uses encryption to protect its proprietary data would be permitted to use any encryption program which the government did not already possess a key to.

WHAT TO DO?

Since the bill has not been introduced, any pre-emptive attempts to influence members of Congress would have questionable effects. A member's response would correctly be, "I have no power to do anything until the bill is introduced." However, the actions of the Attorney General and, by implication, the President, the Vice President and the Speaker of the House are unethical and dishonest, if not illegal. It couldn't hurt to let them know that you are watching for this bill's introduction and how they will respond when it comes time.

Anyone wishing to make their voices heard on Patriot II should direct their comments to the Department of Justice, the White House and the Speaker. Their statements should be bold and demand that these institutions follow the law and maintain good faith with the American people.

When the bill is introduced, most likely after the commencement of hostilities in Iraq or another convenient terror attack, the moment - perhaps the last one possible - when Congress can step up to the plate and do its job the way it is obliged to, will have presented itself. If it passes as it is written Patriot II will signal a final breach of contract between the government and the people.

 





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