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September 5, 2006
Terrorism Prevention Act

Please excuse the appearance of sketch notes here earlier; I was playing around with some tools and it posted my notes rather than saving them as a draft.

Earlier, John Aravosis wrote that Republicans blocked anti-terrorism legislation in 1996 that would have enabled the Clinton administration to stop 9/11. As the basis of this allegation, John points to a single CNN story about Bill Clinton's frustration with the actions of Congress in negotiating an expansion of power for the government. Aravosis excises this one particular passage to show that Republicans blocked the expansion of wiretap powers:

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, emerged from the meeting and said, "These are very controversial provisions that the [Clinton] White House wants. Some they're not going to get." ....[Hatch] also said he had some problems with the president's proposals to expand wiretapping.

Be careful when one sees ellipses in the middle of a quote. Orrin Hatch actually referred to the Clinton fixation on adding taggants to all explosive materials, down to the gunpowder used to manufacture ammunition for guns. This is what CNN actually has Hatch saying:

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, emerged from the meeting and said, "These are very controversial provisions that the White House wants. Some they're not going to get."

Hatch called Clinton's proposed study of taggants -- chemical markers in explosives that could help track terrorists -- "a phony issue."

"If they want to, they can study the thing" already, Hatch asserted. He also said he had some problems with the president's proposals to expand wiretapping.

As one can see, the particular issue at hand was the efforts by the Clinton administration to expand so-called terrorism legislation to force ammunition manufacturers to add chemicals that would add a new dimension to ballistics and forensics in criminal investigations. Whether or not one supports that as an option to assist in solving crimes, it would have little application to terrorism as we knew it then or now. It would have had no value in the Oklahoma City bombing, for instance, nor in the 9/11 attacks.

And as far as wiretaps go, Congress had already expanded the government's ability to tap communications. The Senate had passed S.735 three months earlier, the Terrorism Prevention Act. It granted new powers for intercepting communications. For instance, it removed the requirement to get a wiretap order to access banking records, allowing a grand jury subpoena instead. It also granted more power to use wiretaps for immigration violations, a key in tracking international terrorists. The Senate passed the bill on April 17 and it became law, according to the government's Thomas site. Only eight Senators voted against it -- seven of them Democrats (Byrd, Kennedy, Pell, Feingold, Mosely-Braun, Simon, and Moynihan). The only Republican vote in opposition came from Oregon's Mark Hatfield, who regularly cast votes on the liberal end of the GOP caucus.

Of course, Byrd, Kennedy, and Feingold form the current leadership of the Senate Democratic caucus, and Feingold wants to run for President.

The legislation that Clinton championed never did make it to a floor vote in the Senate. That bill, the Aviation Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1996 (HR 3953), only mentions wiretaps in relation to boosting penalties for wiretap disclosures. This is true in its original introduced version as well as the version sent to the Senate. Section 202 made the penalties harsher for revealing the contents of a government wiretap, but did nothing to expand the legal scope of such wiretaps, as did the earlier bill. It also added terrorist attacks as RICO violations, a rather tepid response to catastrophic attacks and completely ineffective at terrorism prevention.

While HR 3953 lacked any expansion of wiretap authority, it did have a long section dedicated to the requirement to add taggants to black powder (Section 205). If terrorists used black powder for their attacks, I'm sure this would have been useful ... but they don't. It also adds a National Commission on Terrorism, which has the duties one would have assumed that the NSC and the FBI would have performed on their own. Of course, the Clinton administration spent its time building the wall between law enforcement and intelligence collection so that they couldn't share information or "connect dots" to prevent terrorism, but as the text of this bill demonstrates, the Clinton administration was more concerned about prosecuting terrorists than in catching them before they attacked.

John Aravosis is a talented blogger and a pretty good guy, but he's not just barking up the wrong tree, he's in an entirely different forest. His post shows that the Democrats used terrorism as a hobby horse to attack gun owners. The Republicans delivered a better bill months earlier, but nothing they did could overcome the insistence of Janet Reno and Jamie Gorelick to separate law enforcement and intelligence operations. If John wants to use this episode to highlight the differences between Republicans and Democrats, I'm happy to oblige.

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers!

UPDATE II: A commenter points out this amendment offered by Joe Lieberman as the missing wiretap expansion. There are a couple of problems with this explanation. First, the amendment (S1200) came on S.735, which had long passed (April 2006) before this CNN story that John uses to show GOP intransigence on wiretaps. Second, the amendment never specified that it applied to international communications; in fact, the emergency authority would have applied to all communications, much broader than the current NSA program the Left abhors. It also applied a very broad definition of terrorism, which is what constitutes most of Hatch's objection.

S1200 got tabled on a 52-28 vote on May 26, 1995, more than a year before Clinton's complaint on CNN. Democrats such as Robert Byrd and Harry Reid voted to table it, by the way. Clearly, this is not the legislation Clinton wanted passed in his July 1996 press conference; it was the legislation I noted in the post.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 5, 2006 7:27 PM

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» Lefty Logic from Macsmind - Conservative Commentary and Common Sense
Lefty America’s Blog rewrites history on the Clinton Administration “no effort” on terrorism, and try to make it look like the Republican’s blocked Clinton from fighting the bad guys. Talk about desperation. Unfortunately some... [Read More]

Tracked on September 6, 2006 12:49 PM


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