On September 11, 2001, America was changed forever. From out of the ruins of the World Trade Center, and over the unmarked graves of nearly three thousand innocent people, a new world took shape. It was a world in which the citizens of the United Sates found themselves suddenly vulnerable to the murderous plots of a handful of fanatics. A trip to the mall, a drive over a bridge, a meeting at the office: an everyday event could spell disaster. Americans were discovering for the first time what so many around the globe had known for years, that the scenes of daily life could become the settings of terror. But what was to be done? Were the people of the United States to spend their lives looking over their shoulders? Was the free and open society so cherished by each and every American to disappear as completely as the lofty towers themselves? Freedom of speech, freedom of movement, and freedom of association: how might these essential tenets of American democracy be changed by a single day of horror? Clearly, security would have to be improved. For the sake of safety Americans would have to relinquish some of their accustomed liberties. Immediately, President and Congress took action. New laws were crafted, and new regulations put in place. Yet the nagging question remained - was it all enough?
The USA PATRIOT Act, signed by President Bush on October 26, 2001,was the first major comprehensive measure to address the new security concerns. As its full title implies, the enactment is a blueprint for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing [the] Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism." In an attempt to achieve the object of preventing future terrorist attacks, the PATRIOT Act included the following mandates:
Updated Federal laws to reflect the rapid and dramatic changes that have taken place in recent years in communications technology;
Required the Department of the Treasury to require financial institutions to verify the identities of persons opening accounts, granted immunity to financial institutions that voluntarily disclosed suspicious transactions, and increased the penalties for money-laundering;
Broadened the terrorism-related definitions in the Immigration and Nationality Act, expanded the grounds of inadmissibility to include aliens who publicly endorse terrorist activity, and required the Attorney General to detain aliens whom he certifies as threats to national security;
Authorized grants that will enhance state and local governments' ability to respond to and prevent terrorism, and expanded information-sharing among law enforcement authorities at different levels of government. (Office of the Press Secretary, 2002)
Such provisions attack the inherent shortcomings that caused the catastrophic failing of 9/11. Properly applied the PATRIOT Act would prevent the use by would-be terrorists of computers and the Internet. Secret fund transfers and money-laundering would become things of the past. Suspect aliens would no longer be able to cross our frontiers with impunity. And most importantly of all, there would be an unimpeded flow of information between government agencies in all matters concerning national security.
However well-intentioned, many of these measures have all ready met with staunch criticism from civil rights groups and members of the Left. Linguistic, cultural, and religious barriers prevent intelligence agents from successfully infiltrating many terrorist organizations. Many terrorist organizations operate under cover of seemingly peaceful ethnic or religious societies. The Internet and the computer, both so pervasive in the modern world, allow wrongdoers of all kinds to communicate swiftly, easily, and secretly. Data encryption systems exist that make it impossible for even federal investigators to extract information from a computer's hard drive. Organizations such as the FBI and the CIA must be able to attend and report on the kinds of public gatherings where important information might be gleaned. They must be able to intercept Internet transmissions and telephone calls without being tied down by excessive red tape.
With the reformed guidelines, our FBI will finally be able to perform their obligation to protect us while not infringing upon our civil rights, unless of course your civil rights include publicly discussing and plotting terrorist activity. Of course this won't stop terrorism, but it will definitely make planning attacks on our home soil more difficult. Otherwise, we could end up with a FBI that treats terrorism like the INS treats immigration. (Pause to cringe.)" (Green, 2002)
In other words, public meetings and public postings on the Internet are just that - public. Anyone attending such meetings or making such postings should have nothing to hide. Furthermore, the ability to move from phone to phone while wiretapping without first having to go through a long and drawn out hearing, or the ability to simply check on suspect computer activity will provide the government with information on the activities of persons and groups whom they would otherwise have great difficulty in investigating.
In addition, full financial disclosure is a vital tool in preventing the financing of terrorist operations. Up until the passage of the PATRIOT Act, it was far too easy for persons of evil intent to move money from one country to another, and to shift funds around under the guise of legitimate transactions. Fully implemented, the Act's provisions regarding financial reform would ensure that all monetary transactions of any size are above-board and conducted out in the open. But, as always such ides have their detractors. Liberals organizations such as the ACLU view the new requirements as only another example of the continued erosion of the average American's financial privacy.
Under the new law, financial institutions are required to monitor daily financial transactions even more closely and to share information with other federal agencies, including foreign intelligence services such as the CIA. The law also allows law enforcement and intelligence agencies to get easy access to individual credit reports in secret. The law provides for no judicial review and does not mandate that law enforcement give the person whose records are being reviewed any notice." (ACLU, 2001)
However, only with such close monitoring can law enforcement hope to stop the flood of funds, both domestic and foreign, to terrorist organizations and their operatives. As the Chief of Staff of the Criminal Division of the United States Department of Justice stated in regard to the old methods,
We determined that despite all the advances we had made through the years in fighting money laundering, the funding of terrorist organizations was being conducted in a way that largely avoided detection. And we simply did not have all the tools we needed to stop it." (Horowitz, 2002)
Careful scrutiny of financial records and transactions will allow officials to track terrorist activities, and prevent the funding of future attacks. According to Chief of Staff Horowitz, is the duty of law enforcement, "to disable the funding of terrorist organizations by vigorously investigating and prosecuting money laundering and other financial related crimes." (Horowitz, 2002)
Lastly, and most disturbingly ineffective, have been the attempts to implement the PATRIOT Act's stipulations regarding aliens suspected of committing or conspiring to commit terrorist acts, or of harboring anti-American sentiments. While Attorney General Ashcroft was given the power to hold indefinitely those aliens suspected of such activities, there has been a general outcry against this practice from many liberal groups as well as from much of the media. It is a question of constitutionality and basic human rights say the detractors, but what of those individuals who have entered the United States illegally, or having come legally, have arrived under false pretenses?
The PATRIOT Act is not directed against law-abiding immigrants, nor is it directed against law-abiding American citizens. Neither are its provisions entirely new. In the words of Attorney General Ashcroft:
We have modeled our tactics after a previous Justice Department fighting a different threat in this same nation. The Justice Department of Robert F. Kennedy, it was said, would arrest a mobster for spitting on the sidewalk if it would help in the fight against organized crime. In the war on terror, it is the policy of this Department of Justice to be equally aggressive in protecting Americans. We will arrest and detain any suspected terrorist who has violated our laws. Suspects without links to terrorism or who are not guilty of violations of the law will not be detained. But terrorists who are in violation of the law will be convicted; in some cases they'll be deported; in all cases they'll be prevented from doing further harm to Americans." (Ashcroft, 2001)
The Attorney General's expanded powers are intended to protect the rights and freedoms of Americans, and to apprehend those who would destroy them. A terrorist at large in the United States can be a member of an unseen network of conspirators, or he can hold vital information. The clock is always ticking, and in the time wasted in lengthy court battles over alien's rights, bombs can explode and evil plots succeed. Nevertheless, there are many elements in American society that persist in stymieing these efforts to combat terrorism by taking it to…