The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee is working on a bill that would
renew the Patriot Act and expand government powers in the name of fighting terrorism,
letting the FBI subpoena records without permission from a judge or grand jury.
Much of the debate in Congress has concerned possibly limiting some of the powers
in the anti-terrorism law passed 45 days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
But the measure being written by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., would give the FBI
new power to issue administrative subpoenas, which are not reviewed by a judge
or grand jury, for quickly obtaining records, electronic data or other evidence
in terrorism investigations, according to aides for the GOP majority on the
committee who briefed reporters Wednesday.
Recipients could challenge the subpoenas in court and the Bush administration
would have to report to Congress twice a year exactly how it was using this
investigatory power, the aides said.
The administration has sought this power for two years, but so far been rebuffed
by lawmakers. It is far from certain that Congress will give the administration
everything it wants this year.
Roberts' planned bill also would make it easier for prosecutors to use special
court-approved warrants for secret wiretaps and searches of suspected terrorists
and spies in criminal cases, the committee aides said.
Eight expiring sections of the law that deal with foreign intelligence investigations
would become permanent, they said.
So, too, would a provision that authorizes wiretapping of suspected terrorists
who operate without clear ties to a particular terrorist network.
The aides spokes on condition of anonymity because Roberts has yet to make
public the bill's contents.
Opponents of expanding the Patriot Act said Roberts' proposal would amount
to an expansive wish list for the administration.
"While we're fighting to bring provisions ... back into balance with the
Bill of Rights, here we have the intelligence committee moving to give the government
more power outside the judicial system to gain access to records of Americans,"
said former GOP Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, a critic of the law.
Lisa Graves, the American Civil Liberties Union's senior counsel for legislative
strategy, said the new subpoena power would "be a dramatic expansion of
secret search powers."
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other administration officials have been
adamant that the expiring provisions become permanent, with few changes.
They also have pushed for the administrative subpoena power, which they say
prosecutors already are using in health care fraud and other criminal cases.
Justice Department officials have been consulted on the legislation and offered
technical advice, department spokesman Kevin Madden said.
"The Department of Justice appreciates that the Senate Intelligence Committee
has signaled their intention to support provisions that enhance law enforcement's
ability to combat terrorism effectively," Madden said.
Committee aides said the committee planned to meet in private when it considers
the bill because the discussions would involve intelligence operations.
Barr said he was distressed that the committee "would do something like
this in secret."
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the panel's senior Democrat, has not said publicly
whether he would support the entire bill that Roberts was working on or seek