By Bill Brubaker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 9, 2006 5:21 PM
President Bush today signed the new version of the USA Patriot Act, the broad anti-terrorism law that gave the FBI expanded powers after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"America remains a nation at war," Bush said at a White House signing ceremony. " . . . In the face of this ruthless threat, our nation has made a clear choice. . . . We are not going to be attacked again."
Bush's signature followed approval by the House and Senate after an often emotional debate over whether the law tramples on civil liberties. Provisions of the original law expired at the end of last year, but Congress twice temporarily extended the expiration date while members debated how to handle the issue.
Bush accepted some changes in the law. For example, one change involves National Security Letters, which are subpoenas for financial and electronic records that do not require a judge's approval. Libraries functioning in their "traditional capacity" would no longer be subject to such letters. The reauthorization would make permanent all but two of the Patriot Act's provisions. The Senate, in which four Republicans joined most Democrats in pushing for greater safeguards, insisted on four-year sunsets of the FBI's authority to conduct "roving wiretaps" of targets with multiple phones or e-mail devices, and of the government's powers to seize business records with the FISA court's approval.
Yesterday, The Washington Post disclosed that a report on the Patriot Act by the Justice Department's inspector general said the FBI has reported more than 100 possible violations to an intelligence oversight board during the past two years, including cases in which agents tapped the wrong telephone, intercepted the wrong e-mails or continued to listen to conversations after a warrant had expired.
Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, called the report "yet another vindication for those of us who have raised concerns about the administration's policies in the war on terror."
But a Justice spokesman, Brian Roehrkasse, said the department was "pleased that the inspector general once again confirmed that there have been no substantiated civil liberties violations from the Patriot Act."
Bush said today the law has been a vital tool in fighting terrorism.
"The law allows our intelligence and law enforcement officials to continue to share information," he said. "It allows them to continue to use tools against terrorists that they use against drug dealers and other criminals. It will improve our nation's security while we safeguard the civil liberties of our people."
Bush said the legislation strengthens the Justice Department "so it can better detect and disrupt terrorist threats. And the bill gives law enforcement new tools to combat threats to our citizens, from international terrorists to local drug dealers."
Critics, such as Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), say the legislation violates Americans' civil liberties.
"It has become crystal clear that this administration is currently and will continue to abuse, attack and outright deny the civil liberties of the people of this country in defiance of our constitution," Kucinich said Tuesday during debate on the House floor. "The administration is illegally wiretapping American citizens, illegally collecting information on peace groups and illegally signing statements to ignore the torture ban recently enacted by this Congress. . . .
"The administration has violated the laws Congress has passed and is trampling on [the] constitution of the United States."
In the White House's East Room today, Bush said the law has enabled state and local law enforcement agents to break up terrorist cells in Virginia, New York, Ohio and Oregon and prosecute terrorist operatives and supporters in six other states.
"The Patriot Act has accomplished exactly what it was designed to do," Bush said. "It has helped detect terror cells, disrupt terrorist plots and save American lives."
Washington Post staff writers Spencer S. Hsu and Charles Babington contributed to this report.