June 13, 2003 | Broadcast

Money & Markets, CNNfn

DAVID HAFFENREFFER, CNNfn ANCHOR, MONEY & MARKETS: Attorney General John Ashcroft is finding himself at odds with the White House now over just how to fight terrorism here in America. Ashcroft says the way to battle terrorism is to expand the reach of the USA Patriot Act. The measure was created after September 11th and many Americans supported it as a way to protect the home front. But now Ashcroft is asking that law enforcement get more power, that suspects not be eligible for bail and be subject to the death penalty. Law makers in Washington are taking a more cautious stance following a public outcry that the move would infringe on civil liberties and rights of immigrants.

Joining us now from Washington to talk about all this issue is Cliff May president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and Lara Flint staff counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology. Welcome to you both.



HAFFENREFFER: The attorney general seems to be pushing for three primary changes and I quickly want to run them down. He wants to make it unlawful for a designated terrorist organization to fight for a designated terrorist organization. He wants to impose the death penalty for various terrorist actions and extend pre-trail detention for those arrested for terrorism related offenses. Cliff May do you think that infringes on peoples civil liberties?

MAY: I’m not sure that it does, no. I think we have to – I mean if it does by all bring court challenges and see what the Supreme Court says. But on the fact of it I don’t think so. What the attorney general has said on numerous occasions is that he’s going to use all constitutional and lawful means to try to do a very tough job to stop the next terrorist attack here in the United States. I don’t know that it will be entirely successful. I think the fact that since 9/11 we haven’t had a terrorist attack on US soil shows that he’s making some progress and we need to support him in that.

HAFFENREFFER: And this discussion Lara is all about the USA Patriot Act II. How do we know whether or not USA Patriot Act I has been a success or not? Is it simply by virtue of the fact that there has not, as Cliff mentioned, been another terrorist act on American soil?

FLINT: Well that’s of course a very positive thing and all of us want to make sure that the government has the power that it needs to fight terrorism. But what the Patriot Act did in large measure and what some of the provisions that Ashcroft has called for in a new Patriot II what those provisions have done so far and what he’s asked for again are provisions that have really reduced the accountability of the executive branch. They’ve taken away some of the core checks and balances that have been a fundamental part of the guidance and the constraints that have been placed on the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. And those core protections both protect civil liberties and make the FBI a better law enforcement agency in many ways.

MAY: David.

HAFFENREFFER: Cliff I see you want to jump in. Hang on one second because I do want to get an example from Lara, if you can, about how they’re circumventing some organizations within the government to remove those checks and balances.

FLINT: Well, for example, the Patriot Act reduced or in some cases eliminated the role of the judicial branch in reviewing what the FBI was doing in its antiterrorism investigations. The FBI is able with a pure judicial rubber stamp to look at the personal records including things like library and book store records of all Americans as long as it asserts that there’s thought for antiterrorism investigation. It doesn’t even had to specify a suspect. Now it’s one thing if the FBI has a person in mind, they think they need to get the information in order to investigate that person. Absolutely they should go forward with that. But that does not mean that they need to be able to look at all of our records. They can’t deal with the information that they already have. I don’t know how they’re going to deal with it if they’re trying to gather all of the vast amounts of information.

MAY: That’s just not happening. Everybody thinks that the FBI is now looking through what you have taken from the library or from your local video store in recent days. It’s simply not happening. Essentially what the Patriot Act did in the first place was to allow law enforcement agencies to talk to one another and share information back and forth and that was very much..


.what she did. But it’s a very good idea and it’s a very useful idea. Nine eleven happened in part because we didn’t have that kind of sharing of intelligence information and because we weren’t gathering this intelligence information very aggressively or very effectively. All that has to change. I think it’s wrong for Lara and others to be raising these threats so people think, oh my gosh, if I take out some book from a library right away it’s going to be known to John Ashcroft. That’s just not happening.

FLINT: If I may respond. First of all in the Patriot Act the Justice Department did seek those expanded powers. Now maybe they’re not using them, but then why do they need to have this power in the first place. Cliff I will agree with you actually that I do think that information sharing among government agencies that gather intelligence has been a problem and is something that they need to work on, but they can’t digest information that they already have and they don’t yet have ways to share it with each other. I just don’t think that giving them expanded powers to gather more and more information about people who are not necessarily suspected of doing anything wrong is the right answer. .

MAY: You’re saying they can’t utilize the information they have, but Lara I think most people would rather leave it to the FBI and the attorney general to decide what information they can digest rather than to leave it to special interest organizations either yours or mine to tell the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA what they’re capable of doing. They know what will help. Now I agree with you that they shouldn’t have powers that violate constitutional rights. But that hasn’t happened. Every time there has been a court challenge that I know of the attorney general has been absolutely with – he’s been upheld in his views on all of this. He – again, it’s a difficult thing. We have millions of people in this country illegally right now at this moment. We’ve been very easy about that in past. I don’t think we can be as easy about it in the future not if we really want to save American lives from those who seek to do us harm.

HAFFENREFFER: Lara in the months following September 11th obviously the administration had a lot of bagging, a lot of support to do whatever it took to prevent something like that from every happening again. Do you think the further we get from that event, that day on September 11th, they’re losing steam simply just from the time, the distance between the actual event itself?

FLINT: Well, certainly that was a time of high emotion, high fear and I think that some of the steps that the Justice – the administration took after September 11th were appropriate although it went too far. But now we have the opportunity to look back. We’ve got some perspective on things. And we can ask the really hard questions about what powers do they need as opposed to what powers do they want and what role should the other branches of government be playing in this process, the judicial branch, the Congress. What the Patriot Act did was to start to cut those two branches of government out of the process and that system of checks and balances and separation of powers are key to our constitutional system and I think that people are starting to realize that we need to think about that. There have been grass – there has been a grass roots movement across the country in local city councils and county boards to talk about the Patriot Act and to pass resolutions. This has happened all over the place.

HAFFENREFFER: Cliff 10 seconds for a final word.

MAY: Well, first of all, Congress has oversight so it’s true that checks and balances have been erased. It just hasn’t happened. Secondly, the Patriot Acts are sunsetted (ph). In other words, they will go away if we don’t need them. But the kind of complacency Lara suggest and the kind of actions taken by some very left wing (ph) city counsels in places like Berkley to not allow law enforcement to chance down terrorists that’s going to cost American lives. There’s no other way to say it.

FLINT: It’s not just been Berkley, let me just – York Pennsylvania, Tucson, Arizona.

HAFFENREFFER: We’ve got to leave it there. Lara Flint thank you for being with us from The Center for Democracy and Technology and Cliff May from The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

MAY: Thank you.