Anti-terror law put to other uses
New York Times
Sept. 28, 2003 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON - Federal authorities are using the USA Patriot Act in
criminal investigations that have little or no connection to
The government is using its expanded authority under the far-
anti-terror law to investigate drug traffickers, white-collar
criminals, blackmailers, child pornographers, money launderers,
and even corrupt foreign leaders, federal officials said.
Justice Department officials say they are simply using all the tools
now available to them to pursue criminals, terrorists or otherwise.
But critics of the administration's anti-terrorism tactics assert
such use of the law is evidence the Bush administration has sold the
American public a false bill of goods, using terrorism as a guise to
pursue a broader law enforcement agenda.
Justice Department officials point out that they have employed their
newfound powers in many instances against terror suspects.
With the new law breaking down the wall between intelligence and
criminal investigations, the Justice Department in February was able
to bring terrorism-related charges against a Florida professor, for
example, and it has used its expanded surveillance powers to move
against several terrorist cells.
But a new Justice Department report, given to members of Congress
month, also cites more than a dozen cases that are not directly
related to terrorism. In them, federal authorities have used their
expanded power to investigate individuals, initiate wiretaps and
surveillance, or seize millions in assets.
For instance, the ability to secure nationwide warrants to obtain
e-mail and electronic evidence "has proved invaluable in several
sensitive non-terrorism investigations," including an investigation
into a computer hacker who stole a company's trade secrets, the
Justice Department officials said they have pursued hundreds of
non-terrorism cases under the law.
The law, passed by Congress five weeks after the terrorist attacks
Sept. 11, 2001, has proved a particularly powerful tool in pursuing
Officials with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement
seen a sharp spike in investigations as a result of their expanded
A senior official said investigators in the past two years have
about $35 million at American borders in undeclared cash, checks
currency being smuggled out of the country, a significant increase
over the past few years.
Publicly, Attorney General John Ashcroft and senior Justice
officials have portrayed their expanded power almost exclusively as
means of fighting terrorists, with little or no mention of other
"We have used these tools to prevent terrorists from unleashing more
death and destruction on our soil," Ashcroft said last month in a
speech in Washington.
Internally, however, Justice Department officials have emphasized a
much broader mandate.
A guide to a Justice Department employee seminar last year on
financial crimes, for instance, said: "We all know that the USA
Patriot Act provided weapons for the war on terrorism. But do you
how it affects the war on crime as well?"
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a member of the Judiciary Committee,
members of Congress expected law enforcement to use some of the
powers for non-terrorism investigations.
But he said the Justice Department's secrecy and lack of cooperation
have made him question whether "the government is taking shortcuts
around the criminal laws" by invoking intelligence powers, which
differing standards of evidence, to conduct surveillance operations
and demand access to records.
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