Skip to comments.Intelligence bill also an anti-terror catchall
Posted on 12/16/2004 4:14:25 PM PST by Tumbleweed_Connection
A new director of national intelligence and a counterterrorism center are the central elements of the intelligence bill President Bush (news - web sites) will sign Friday. But the measure includes provisions intended to shore up security at airports, seaports and borders; halt terrorist financing and travel; help law enforcement officials; protect civil liberties; and promote U.S. values overseas. A look at key elements of the bill:
Aiming to strengthen security along the nation's notoriously porous borders, Congress authorized the Homeland Security Department to hire 2,000 more border agents and 800 more Customs and immigration agents each year for the next five years.
"We could use the help," says T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council. "We're getting our butts kicked out there."
Last year, 1.1 million people were arrested trying to cross the border from Mexico. Bonner says agents now catch only about one-third of those who make it across each day. The vast majority are Mexicans who pose no terrorist threat. But the Homeland Security Department has expressed concern that because of tighter aviation security, members of al-Qaeda could try to cross into the USA by land.
The Border Patrol now has about 11,000 agents, 90% of whom work along the southern border. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has roughly 5,500 agents. If Congress follows through and appropriates the money to hire the new agents it wants, the number of border agents will nearly double by 2010.
The bill also directs the Homeland Security Department to test the use of unmanned aircraft along the USA's northern border. Tests are now being done along the border in Arizona.
Aviation and maritime security.
Addressing several remaining holes in aviation security, Congress authorized the Homeland Security Department to spend $83 million to hire more air marshals (the current number of marshals is classified). It also called for training marshals from about two dozen foreign countries and offering air marshal training to other U.S. law enforcement officers. And it authorized spending $150 million a year on explosives-detection machines at airports.
The bill directs the department to take steps that will ensure the anonymity of air marshals. In the past, they have expressed concern that various government rules, including a dress code that requires them to wear business attire, make it too easy for would-be terrorists to identify them.
Speaking for marshals last summer, Airline Pilots Security Alliance spokesman Brian Darling said, "The biggest advantage the air marshal program gives us is terrorists not knowing whether marshals are on board. If you dress them out of Men in Black, we've lost the element of surprise."
The bill also directs the department to run the names of airport and cruise-ship workers against government watch lists of suspected terrorists. Airport workers already are subject to FBI (news - web sites) fingerprint-based background checks before they are hired.
The 9/11 Commission Report cited instances in which the Sept. 11 hijackers successfully made false statements on visa applications, presented passports that had been "manipulated in a fraudulent manner" and bore "suspicious indicators of extremism." The report concluded: "For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons."
To address concerns about terrorist travel, the bill authorizes an increase in the number of State Department overseas consular offices by 150 a year from 2006 to 2009. It also says that in "high-fraud" consular posts, there must be at least one full-time anti-fraud specialist on staff. And it requires the State Department to establish a Visa and Passport Security program to cut down on the theft and misuse of U.S. passports and visas.
The bill also proposes that the government encourage international standards for transliterating names into the Latin alphabet for international travel documents and watch lists.
The bill strengthens the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a Treasury Department (news - web sites) division that aids the Federal Reserve (news - web sites), FBI and other government agencies by tracking the movement of money worldwide. The upgrades, aimed at detecting and disrupting money laundering and other financial strategies used by terrorists, would:
Give law enforcement and financial regulatory authorities Web-based access to the suspicious activity reports and vast stores of other financial data collected by Treasury. William Fox, the division's director, says improved information-sharing within government can prove critical in counterterrorism investigations.
Require banks and other financial institutions to report cross-border wire transfers of funds. Fox says his agency will work with the financial industry over the next three years to draft regulations that will enable institutions to comply without breaking their budgets and swamping the government with millions of meaningless reports. "That's a real challenge," he says.
Provide additional training in technology used to detect and prevent potential terrorism-related crimes inside the USA and internationally.
Charles Intriago, a former prosecutor and publisher of Money Laundering Alert, a newsletter that tracks the financial war on terrorism, says the measures are welcome but only go so far.
"The country has to dig deep into its pocket, deficit or no deficit, and spend more money on investigators who will dig into terrorism financing," he says.
Within a year, President Bush is required to submit to Congress a broad outline for how critical intelligence should be shared across the federal government and with local law enforcement agencies.
Immediately after Sept. 11, the Major Cities Chiefs Association criticized the federal government and suggested that threat information was not being shared with authorities outside Washington.
The new law requires the federal government to design communications systems and clearance authority that will give ranking local officials quick access to threat information and critical intelligence. The measure would allow federal prosecutors to share secret grand jury testimony with states or other governments in order to guard against potential attacks.
"Saying you have to share information is great," says Gene Voegtlin, a spokesman for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Bust, he says, "You need to make sure you have the resources and mechanisms to do it."
The measure provides federal agents with broader authority to conduct anti-terror investigations, even when a suspect has no known link to a foreign government or terrorist organization.
Under current rules, the FBI is required to link terrorism suspects to foreign governments or international terrorist groups before obtaining approval to conduct electronic surveillance. The requirement was often viewed as an impediment to investigations opened in the USA.
The issue surfaced prominently in the investigation of alleged Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. In that probe, the FBI was conflicted over whether it could link Moussaoui to a foreign power, which delayed the probe and a search of his belongings.
Without the restriction, federal agents will be able to pursue terrorism suspects, known as "lone wolves," who may have no link to other governments and may be acting on their own or in loose association with terrorist groups.
In an attempt to guard against violations of civil liberties in the war on terrorism, the bill creates a watchdog panel within the Executive Office of the President.
As the federal government enhances its surveillance and enforcement authority in anti-terrorism investigations, the panel, proposed as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board, will advise the president when those efforts threaten civil liberties.
"This potential shift of power and authority to the federal government calls for an enhanced system of checks and balances to protect the precious liberties that are vital to our way of life," the bill states.
Although civil-liberties advocates say the board is badly needed, they claim its authority will be limited and its credibility called into question.
Charlie Mitchell, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites), says earlier proposals that would have mandated bipartisan membership and provided subpoena power to assist in conducting independent inquiries were stripped from the bill's final version.
"It's highly unlikely this will be an independent board," Mitchell says.
The bill echoes the 9/11 Commission's call to use "all elements of national power, including diplomacy" to win the war on terrorism.
Many provisions already are being implemented by the State Department. But there are several new programs for which funding is recommended:
A pilot project to create scholarships for low- and middle-income students to attend American-sponsored schools in Muslim countries.
Creation of an international youth opportunity fund to improve public education in Muslim nations.
More money for exchange programs that bring Muslim students to the USA.
Congress must appropriate money before these actions can be implemented.
The bill calls for improved U.S. relations with Pakistan, Afghanistan (news - web sites) and Saudi Arabia, countries where al-Qaeda has had significant appeal.
It also amends U.S. export laws by obliging countries to show what they are doing to eliminate sanctuaries for terrorists before those countries become eligible to import high-tech U.S. goods.
The measure calls for an increase in U.S. diplomats trained to detect fraudulent visa applications. It also urges the State Department to recruit more people with public diplomacy expertise, and to evaluate staff in part by their skill at projecting a more favorable impression of the United States abroad.
So our only hope is that Congress fails to do so.