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FBI Gets Broad Domestic Spy Powers

What I'm wondering is whether this will actually change anything. Have FBI people *not* attended meetings, etc., since the 1970's because of the law? Is Ashcroft doing this just so they don't have to hide anything anymore?
FBI Gets Broad Domestic Spy Powers
Thu May 30, 6:16 PM ET
By PETE YOST, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Bush administration gave the beleaguered FBI (news - web sites) broad new powers to monitor Americans on Thursday, saying the agency needed a new weapon in the battle against terrorism and promising not to return to the file-building abuses of the past.


AP Photo
FBI Given Broad Authority to Monitor (AP)

In a move aimed at averting another Sept. 11, Attorney General John Ashcroft (news - web sites) freed the FBI to monitor Internet sites, libraries, churches and political organizations, calling restrictions on domestic spying "a competitive advantage for terrorists."

Civil liberties groups criticized the move. But President Bush (news - web sites) said, "We intend to honor our Constitution and respect the freedoms that we hold so dear."

"The FBI needed to change," said the president. "It was an organization full of fine people who loved America but the organization didn't meet the times."

Under revamped guidelines, agents can attend public meetings for the purpose of preventing terrorism. The old guidelines issued in the 1970s were aimed at solving crimes already committed.

The earlier restrictions were clamped on the FBI's domestic surveillance in response to controversies about the bureau's building of case files against prominent Americans, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The revised guidelines will push the decision-making for an array of investigative steps away from FBI headquarters in Washington and down to individual offices around the country. The special agents in charge of each office will hold the keys to setting investigative steps in motion.

"These major changes will free field agents to pursue terrorists vigorously without waiting for headquarters to act," said Ashcroft. He said agents in the field "are frustrated because many of our internal restrictions have hampered" their efforts to move quickly on investigations.

Under present guidelines, Ashcroft said, agents "cannot surf the Web, the way you and I can," and cannot simply walk into public events to observe people and activities.

The new guidelines give FBI agents more freedom to investigate terrorism even when they are not pursuing a particular case.

Mueller said the changes "will be exceptionally helpful to us."

"Our reforms of the FBI will and must strengthen our ability to prevent future terrorist attacks," the FBI director said.

A senior Justice Department (news - web sites) official was asked what reason an FBI agent must give to a superior, under the new guidelines, before entering a mosque.

If it's a public meeting, then "the agent is free to attend on the same terms" as a member of the public, as long as the FBI agent's presence is in connection with detecting or preventing terrorism, said the official, who discussed this scenario only on grounds of anonymity.

The American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites) said the lifting of restrictions could renew abuses of the past. King's "persecution by law enforcement is a necessary reminder of the potential abuse when a government with too long a leash seeks to silence voices of dissent," said ACLU legislative counsel Marvin Johnson.

Shaker Elsayed, secretary general of the Muslim American Society, said the new tools are an unnecessary intrusion.

"It only serves the purpose of heightening the scare in the society and the paranoia against Muslims," he said.

Ashcroft said the powers would be used only "for the purpose of detecting and preventing terrorism." Nothing in the guidelines would permit the FBI to routinely build files on people or organizations, he said.

"The abuses that have been alleged about the FBI decades ago ... would not be allowed," he said, referring to the practice of keeping files and records on prominent figures.

Another civil liberties group said the changes will go far beyond how the FBI conducts the war on terrorism.

"They are using the terrorism crisis as a cover for a wide range of changes, some of which have nothing to do with terrorism," said James X. Dempsey, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology. Dempsey predicted that one new tool, the power to mine commercial databases, will be used in drug and child pornography and stock fraud and gambling and "every other type of investigation the FBI does."

Added Margaret Ratner, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights: "Apparently, Attorney General Ashcroft wants to get the FBI back in the business of spying on religious and political organizations. That alone would be unconstitutional but history suggests the FBI won't stop at passive information gathering."

Nicholas Graham, a spokesman for America Online, said, "If law enforcement asks for our cooperation, we absolutely do cooperate with them in a criminal investigation. We have always been careful to strike a careful, reasonable and appropriate balance between protecting our members' privacy and their safety while working with law enforcement."

The new rules allow agents to conduct "general topical research" and "pure surfing" designed to find Web sites, chat rooms or Internet bulletin boards with information about terror, bomb-making instructions, child pornography or stolen credit cards.

Ashcroft said a principal goal of the changes is to allow agents in the field to act on "puzzle pieces."

The bureau has been criticized for failing to act on a memo from an agent in the Phoenix office suggesting that FBI headquarters conduct a national search of Middle Eastern men who were taking flight training in the United States prior to Sept. 11.
COINTELPRO 30.May.2002 16:38


COINTELPRO is legalized!

BIG BROTHER 30.May.2002 17:15

Scared Silly no

this is rediculous, what makes Ashcroft so sure the FBI will not abuse its newly founded rights? They are not doing anything new except now the public knows they have the power to invade our privacy and desicrate our American constitutional rights!

no way hose
no way man