Opponents of the extension of the USA PATRIOT Act are seeking a 3-month extension to allow time to work out differences, but in what appears to be an attempt to paint them into a corner where they can be accused of being weak on security, Senate Majority LeaderBill Frist (R-TN) said:  "We will not see a short-term extension," the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.  --  "Administration officials said Friday that some members of Congress were putting the nation at risk," Richard B. Schmitt wrote.  "'These provisions of the USA Patriot Act are essential to our efforts in the war on terrorism, and their loss will damage our ability to prevent terrorist attacks,' Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales said. 'Our nation cannot afford to let these important counter-terrorism tools lapse.'"  --  Said Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA):  "They are saying,  'Trust us, we are following the law.'  Give me a break.  Across the country and across the political spectrum, no one is buying it anymore.  There is no accountability.  There is no oversight. . . . This is Big Brother run amok."  --  Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said that Friday's revelation by the New York Times that the president had authorized the National Security Agency to spy domestically was the deciding factor:  "I went to bed undecided," he said.  "But today's revelation . . . is shocking.  If this government will discard a law that has worked well for over 30 years without a whit of discussion or notice, then for sure we better be certain that we have safeguards on that government."  --  Among those voting against the USA PATRIOT Act extension was Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), who "has been part of a group of conservatives who took over party leadership postions in the 1990s.  He was elected chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, the number four position, in June 1996" (The Almanac of American Politics, 2004 [Washington, D.C.: National Journal Group, 2003], p. 516].  --  Sen. Craig posted a statement on his web site explaining why:  "[The conference report] doesn't do enough to protect the civil liberties of innocent Americans."[2]  --  Sen. Crais is no civil libertarian: he scored only 25 out of 100 in the ACLU's 2001-2002 rating.  --  Among the concerns Sen. Craig expressed:  (1) "The conference report would allow the government to obtain library, medical, and gun records and other sensitive personal information under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, without demonstrating specific reasons to believe that person is connected to a suspected terrorist or spy. . . . As business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have argued, this would allow government fishing expeditions targeting innocent Americans."  (2) "I am also concerned about the conference report's treatment of the use of National Security Letters (NSLs).  NSLs are similar to a subpoena from a court.  Federal agents can use them to gather certain types of sensitive information about a suspect, including business records. Someone who receives an NSL is placed under a gag order and cannot discuss the NSL with anyone except an attorney, and must report that contact to the FBI.  Furthermore, if someone feels they have been unjustly served an NSL, their ability to challenge it in court is harshly limited by the law, and the conference report does not allow meaningful judicial review of the gag order."  --  Craig said he had "other concerns" as well....

1.

The Nation

SENATE BLOCKS THE RENEWAL OF PATRIOT ACT
By Richard B. Schmitt

** The rebuff to Bush comes amid news that he authorized wiretaps of Americans without court clearance. Fate of post-9/11 law is unclear. **

Los Angeles Times
December 17, 2005

Original source: Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Friday blocked legislation to renew the Patriot Act, delivering a dramatic rebuff to President Bush that reflected rising concern over his treatment of civil liberties and privacy rights in the war on terrorism.

A Republican bid to end debate and consider a bill that the House easily approved this week fell seven votes short, leaving the fate of the anti-terrorism law unclear as Congress prepared to recess. Key provisions of the statute are to expire Dec. 31.

It was the second policy reversal on the terrorism front in as many days for the president, who on Thursday bowed to congressional pressure and agreed to accept a formal ban on cruel or inhumane treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. The Bush administration previously had said such a restriction might undermine U.S. interrogation efforts.

And it coincided with a published report in the New York Times on Friday that Bush had authorized eavesdropping on hundreds of Americans after the Sept. 11 attacks without getting court approval. The report triggered bipartisan criticism that spilled over into the debate over the Patriot Act -- and might have hardened opposition to renewing the law.

The report, confirmed by the Los Angeles Times, describes a highly classified program of monitoring communications between Americans in the U.S. and individuals overseas who were suspected of having ties to terrorist networks. The program, run by the top-secret National Security Agency, was approved by Bush in the wake of Sept. 11; it is drawing criticism because intelligence agencies ordinarily must gain permission from special courts before they can listen in on conversations of U.S. citizens, domestically or overseas.

"If we needed a wake-up call about the need for adequate civil liberties protections to be written into our laws . . . this is that wake-up call," said Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), part of a bipartisan group of senators who ignited the filibuster fight.

"They are saying, 'Trust us, we are following the law.' Give me a break," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). "Across the country and across the political spectrum, no one is buying it anymore. There is no accountability. There is no oversight. . . . This is Big Brother run amok.

"With these new developments," Kennedy said, "we must take a step back and not rush the Patriot Act."

Four Republican senators broke ranks in the 53-46 vote. Sixty votes were needed to cut off debate and block a filibuster of the measure. Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) subsequently changed his vote to oppose ending debate, in a maneuver that gives him the right to call for a second vote. That made the official vote 52 to 47.

Critics of the House-backed bill, which would extend 16 expiring provisions of the act, say it doesn't include adequate safeguards for civil liberties. They have proposed a three-month extension of the law in its current form to work out differences. But supporters of the law have said they might prefer to have it expire than subject it to future tinkering.

Frist indicated that he would try to corral more votes over the weekend before Congress adjourns in the next few days for the holidays. "The debate will continue on this very important bill," he said. "We will not see a short-term extension."

Friday's outcome was a blow to Bush and the Justice Department. The Patriot Act has become the administration's signature weapon in waging its fight against terrorism on the battlefield and in the courts, and it has enjoyed the support of most Americans. Many of the provisions have been used sparingly, and the changes being debated in some instances amounted to no more than fine-tuning.

Administration officials said Friday that some members of Congress were putting the nation at risk.

"These provisions of the USA Patriot Act are essential to our efforts in the war on terrorism, and their loss will damage our ability to prevent terrorist attacks," Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales said. "Our nation cannot afford to let these important counter-terrorism tools lapse."

Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, said Bush would not sign a plan introduced Monday by a bipartisan group to extend the act for three months while a compromise was worked out. "The president calls on the leaders of both parties to start putting the safety of the American people above politics," he said.

The Senate vote reflected what some lawmakers see as a deepening credibility gap with the administration and a growing frustration among Democrats and some Republicans that administration officials are not to be trusted.

"The scope of concern has been broadened," said James Dempsey, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington advocacy group critical of the Patriot Act. Recent disclosures "are telling members of Congress that they need to be a lot less trusting of the administration and a lot more careful. There is a feeling that if you give the administration an inch, they will take a mile."

One expiring provision would make permanent the ability of intelligence agents and prosecutors to share information, which officials have said has been crucial to rooting out and prosecuting suspected terrorists.

If the law is not renewed, "the wall goes right back up again on Jan. 1. Is that what we want?" asked Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). "God forbid that there be a terrorist attack that could have been prevented by the Patriot Act after it has expired."

But Senate Democratic and Republican foes of renewal denied that they were trying to kill the act, saying it was the administration that was playing politics.

"None of us wants it to expire, and those who threaten to let it expire rather than fix it are playing a dangerous game," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.).

Wisconsin Democrat Russell D. Feingold said the Republican leadership would bear responsibility if the law expired. "That would only happen if the proponents block alternative reauthorization that can easily pass," he said. "Now is not the time for brinkmanship or threats."

Though officials said a failure to renew the Patriot Act would be ominous, the effect would be unclear. Investigators would still be able to use their expanded powers to complete ongoing probes. Moreover, despite Republican claims, some believe that prosecutors and intelligence officials would still be able to share information, because of a 2002 court decision.

The renewal legislation passed by the House would make permanent 14 of 16 sections of the law. Two of the most controversial sections -- authorizing investigators to use wiretaps to monitor multiple phones and to use secret warrants to obtain business records, including ones from bookstores and libraries -- would expire in four years unless Congress renewed them.

Critics are seeking changes to the act that would require the government to establish a closer connection between records requests and terrorism. They also say the law lacks a meaningful opportunity for targets to challenge the requests in court.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), an administration critic, said the new disclosures had influenced his vote.

"I went to bed undecided. But today's revelation . . . is shocking," Schumer said. "If this government will discard a law that has worked well for over 30 years without a whit of discussion or notice, then for sure we better be certain that we have safeguards on that government."

Counting Frist, 51 Republicans and two Democrats -- Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Tim Johnson of South Dakota -- voted in favor of the renewal legislation. Four Republicans voted against it: Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, John E. Sununu of New Hampshire, and Larry E. Craig of Idaho.

2.

REVIEWING, REVISING, RENEWING -- THE PATRIOT ACT
By Senator Larry Craig

December 16, 2005

http://craig.senate.gov/

Back in August, shortly after reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act was approved by the Senate, I wrote a piece praising the role of Idahoans in improving the Patriot Act and protecting Americans' civil liberties. Now, as 2005 and the first session of the 109th Congress draw to a close, it's time for an update on the progress of the Patriot reauthorization.

Since then, the House passed its own version of the bill, and members of the House and Senate were appointed to a conference committee to resolve the differences. On December 14, the House approved the conference report.

In the buildup to the Senate vote, my name has been thrown around quite a bit on the pages of the newspapers, because I made it known that I would not be supporting the conference report. Why not? While the bill does preserve important tools for law enforcement, it doesn't do enough to protect the civil liberties of innocent Americans.

The conference report would allow the government to obtain library, medical, and gun records and other sensitive personal information under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, without demonstrating specific reasons to believe that person is connected to a suspected terrorist or spy. Currently, federal agents can simply say those records are relevant to an authorized intelligence investigation.

As business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have argued, this would allow government fishing expeditions targeting innocent Americans. We believe the government should be required to convince a judge that the records they are seeking have some connection to a suspected terrorist or spy. The Senate-passed version of the Patriot reauthorization had this requirement, but the conference report does not.

I am also concerned about the conference report's treatment of the use of National Security Letters (NSLs). NSLs are similar to a subpoena from a court. Federal agents can use them to gather certain types of sensitive information about a suspect, including business records. Someone who receives an NSL is placed under a gag order and cannot discuss the NSL with anyone except an attorney, and must report that contact to the FBI. Furthermore, if someone feels they have been unjustly served an NSL, their ability to challenge it in court is harshly limited by the law, and the conference report does not allow meaningful judicial review of the gag order.

There are other concerns I have with the current form of the conference report for the Patriot reauthorization bill, but the space to discuss them is limited.

That being said, significant compromises were made when the House and Senate conferees met to iron out the differences between the two versions. The conference report, in its current form, includes real improvements on the Patriot Act that is on the books.

Who can Idahoans thank for these improvements? You can thank yourselves! Shortly after the original Patriot Act was approved in 2001, Idahoans from all walks of life, from all points of the political spectrum came to the Idaho Congressional Delegation with concerns about the Patriot Act and civil liberties. Hearing those concerns, we worked together to improve the law. The result has been improved safeguards for the rights of Americans.

Several areas of the law still need adjustment to better protect civil liberties. I believe that is why my colleagues joined me in supporting a filibuster to gain a limited extension of time for negotiators to work out the few remaining problems. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Senate to oppose reauthorization of Patriot until these concerns are met.

President Bush is right when he says we cannot afford to go one moment without the tools that the Patriot Act provides. However, we must strike a balance in the law, so our law enforcement officials have all the necessary tools to fight terrorism, while Americans' civil liberties have all the protection they need as well.