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Congress faces midnight deadline on Patriot Act

By JIM ABRAMS
May 26, 2011

Congress is rushing to extend the life of three anti-terror tools, including the use of roving wiretaps, before they expire at midnight Thursday.

The Senate was set to start voting on the legislation, including possible amendments, Thursday morning. Final passage during the day would send it to the House for quick approval and then onward to President Barack Obama in Europe for his signature.

The rapid-fire action on key elements of the post-9/11 USA Patriot Act comes after several days of impasse in the Senate and results in part from the prodding of senior intelligence officials, who warned of the consequences of disrupting surveillance operations.

“Should the authority to use these critical tools expire, our nation’s intelligence and law enforcement professionals will have less capability than they have today to detect terrorist plots,” James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, wrote congressional leaders.

The legislation would extend for four years provisions that allow law enforcement officials to set roving wiretaps to monitor multiple communications devices; obtain court-approved access to business records and other documents, including library check-outs, that might be relevant to a terrorist threat; and conduct surveillance of “lone wolf” suspects not known to be tied to specific terrorist groups.

The Patriot Act was passed soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and almost all of it is permanent law. But the provisions on roving wiretaps and access to business documents were given expiration dates because of concerns that they overstepped boundaries on civil liberties. Those two and the “lone wolf” measure, which was part of a 2004 intelligence law, have needed numerous temporary extensions as lawmakers argued over how best to ensure that they were not abusing individual rights.

The effort to extend the provisions this time came down to a showdown between the Senate’s most powerful member, Majority Leader Harry Reid, and a Republican freshman, Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Paul, a libertarian and tea party favorite, opposes the Patriot Act and objects to renewal of the expiring provisions on the grounds that they violate constitutional rights to privacy. Negotiations with Reid failed to meet Paul’s demands that he be able to offer amendments to the legislation, including one amendment that would have excluded some gun records from Patriot Act investigations.

An exasperated Reid used procedural maneuvers to cut off debate, while Paul refused to allow the time for a final vote to be moved up.

“If the senator from Kentucky refuses to relent,” Reid said earlier Wednesday, “that would increase the risk of a retaliatory terrorist strike against the homeland and hamper our ability to deal a truly fatal blow to al-Qaida.”

Paul objected to the “scurrilous accusation. I’ve been accused of wanting to allow terrorists to have weapons to attack America. … Can we not have a debate … over whether or not there should be some constitutional protections?”

Paul had support from several Democrats who want to see more congressional oversight of how the Patriot Act operations are carried out. Sen. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., in a proposed amendment co-sponsored by Paul, would have required audits on the use of surveillance authorities and required the government to provide more proof of a link to a foreign group or power to obtain sensitive library circulation records and bookseller records.

But with the expiration date approaching and little likelihood of a compromise with the House, the Democrats acceded to letting the bill move forward. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said he was not happy they weren’t able to deal with the bill differently, but allowing the provisions to lapse was “unacceptable.”

Damage from a short-term lapse would probably be minimal. The government would be unable to get court warrants for new investigations but could still get court authority in the case of foreign intelligence investigations that were already under way before the provisions expired.

Todd Hinnen, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s national security division, said at a congressional hearing in March that the government seeks warrants for business records fewer than 40 times a year and that between 2001 and 2010, it sought roving wiretap authority in about 20 cases a year. He said the government has yet to use its lone wolf authority.

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Associated Press writer Pete Yost contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press

9 Responses to Congress faces midnight deadline on Patriot Act

  1. woody188

    May 26, 2011 at 10:46 am

    You are about 10 times more likely to die from a fire you accidentally set in your home than from terrorist attack.

  2. freecitizen

    May 26, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    “If the senator from Kentucky refuses to relent,” Reid said earlier Wednesday, “that would increase the risk of a retaliatory terrorist strike against the homeland and hamper our ability to deal a truly fatal blow to al-Qaida.”

    I wonder when this “truly fatal blow to Al-Qaida” is going to happen, or if it ever will? The fatal blow is happening to this country because of lovers of state omnipotence like Reid and the majority of our elected idiots in both parties.

    Al-Qaida most likely loves the fact that US politicians play into their hands so well and predictably reacts to threats of terrorism and the fear of it by accomplishing what terrorists know they themselves cannot do, namely, destroying our economic future and the destruction of the rule of law, I.E. the Constitution, the very principles of our founding.

    Yes folks, the idiots we elect are nothing but proxies to stated and apparently the “realized” goals of al-Qaida.

    • Carl Nemo

      May 26, 2011 at 12:07 pm

      Well stated and spot-on freecitizen!

      Carl Nemo **==

  3. b mcclellan

    May 26, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    I concur oh Mariner wise..
    How’s the shoulder ?
    Dang vegetationoctogenarianmusleclature tick tocks.
    Be well, BM..

    • Carl Nemo

      May 26, 2011 at 11:00 pm

      Thanks for asking. I just have completed a series of appointments with two orthopedic surgeons. They recommended that I not do the surgery due to my age, 66 and the fact I’m in great shape and have shown remarkable recovery from the injury in terms of range of motion etc. Just the same I cannot raise my right arm from my side to overhead without pain due to the fact two major tendons have separated from the shoulder cuff area. I’m going for a third opinion in short order. Some of what they’ve said makes sense based on MRI and Xray analysis. I’m taking heat from my brothers for not getting the surgery done regardless of the M.D.’s recos. Even if it comes to pass I have to wait until November and beyond. I have acreage to tend, a new roof to put on the house etc. So I cannot afford 12 weeks downtime in the summer and early fall months.

      Carl Nemo **==

      • almandine

        May 26, 2011 at 11:15 pm

        Have the surgery… the initial recovery sucks, but FEEL the alternative. Down time 6 weeks… physical therapy is mandatory, 18 months later, pretty fine. Good luck.

      • b mcclellan

        May 26, 2011 at 11:35 pm

        I have not a wonder potusse,
        nor any cure magical,
        but that which this worn apparatus survives on being is,
        J.R. Watkins, Apothecary Topical Pain Reliever.
        Sore is sore but this stuff heals too.
        Spruce Oil and Capsicum, rub it in good twice a day.
        Horse liniment works better but don’t rub it on the cat…Llamraf

        • Carl Nemo

          May 27, 2011 at 1:06 am

          Thanks for the tip Bryan. It’s sold at Walgreens, so acquiring a bottle should be easy. Hell, I might even take a nip depending if has a bit of alcohol content, to kick my posts up a notch… : D

          Carl Nemo **==

          • b mcclellan

            May 27, 2011 at 1:55 am

            Don’t snort or coagulate, although it will be tough to miss,
            “women run to and from the smell”.
            If you are tight with Mom just enjoy the waft of muscle heal..
            Next best thing herds of relaxation, are instructing an overly used muscle to morph. Hurts but it’s warm..
            That’s all I got unless burnt toast for a national bellyache be a cure.