WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell today delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor regarding the extension on The Patriot Act:
“Mr. President, in October of 2001, the Senate passed the Patriot Act on a near-unanimous basis by a vote of 98-1.
“The Patriot Act has been a vital tool in our on-going efforts to prevent future acts of terrorism against Americans.
“Terrorist cells across the country have been broken up, from Buffalo to Detroit to Seattle to Portland.
“Over 300 criminal charges have been brought.
“Over 515 individuals linked to the 9-11 investigation have been deported.
“Hundreds more suspected terrorists have been identified and tracked throughout the United States.
“It is no wonder, then, that the biggest hero to emerge from the hearings before the 9-11 Commission has been the Patriot Act. Witnesses from both the Clinton and Bush Administrations, and from both political parties, have praised its efficacy in fighting the War on Terror.
“Unfortunately, Mr. President, we are in the middle of an election year, and some Washington politicians would rather demagogue the Patriot Act and the Attorney General for his use of it.
“For example, the junior Senator from Massachusetts voted for the Act. But since becoming his party’s presumptive nominee, he has taken a different tact. Last month, he said:
“It is time to end the era of John Ashcroft. That starts with replacing the Patriot Act with a new law that protects our people and our liberties at the same time.”
“I am puzzled, Mr. President, how Senator Kerry and his Democratic colleagues, who voted for the Patriot Act, can now do an about-face and raise such serious questions about its effects on civil liberties?
“I am even more puzzled that they can make such charges in light of how instrumental the Patriot Act has been in safeguarding Americans, and the absence of evidence that the Patriot Act is being misused.
“Sixteen key provisions of the Act will expire on December 31, 2005. It is crucial, Mr. President, that law enforcement not be deprived of these tools. Now, while I can’t prevent election-year politics, I can try to disabuse my colleagues of erroneous assumptions about some of these provisions.
“Let’s talk about Section 201 of the Act. That section allows law enforcement to use existing electronic-surveillance authorities to investigate certain crimes that terrorists are likely to commit.
“Myth: Now, some contend that the government already has the authority to investigate cases of suspected terrorism, and that Section 201 therefore is overkill.
“Fact: Before Section 201 of the Patriot Act, law enforcement had the authority to conduct some electronic surveillance when investigating ordinary, non-terrorism crimes. But law enforcement could not use wiretaps to investigate all of the crimes that terrorists might commit.
“As an illustration of this odd dichotomy, law enforcement could use wiretaps to investigate mail fraud, but not for chemical-weapons offenses, or cases involving the use of a dirty bomb, or cases involving the killing of Americans abroad, or cases of terrorism financing.
“Mr. President, it seems to me that if law enforcement can use a wire tap to bust up a fraudulent mail-in sweepstakes ring, then it should be able use wiretaps to stop the use of a dirty bomb!
“Let me make one final point about Section 201: to obtain a wire-tap under this section, all the pre-existing safeguards for wiretaps must be complied with, including establishing probable cause before an impartial federal judge, and getting that judge to sign-off on the use of a wiretap.
“Another section that has been misunderstood is Section 206. This provision allows “roving wiretaps” in national-security investigations. But it only allows them when the FISA court finds that a suspect may thwart surveillance.
“In a “roving wiretap,” the “tap” attaches to a suspect, rather than to a device so that the suspect cannot defeat surveillance simply by changing cell phones, for example.
“Myth: Some contend that Section 206 is a broad expansion of power without privacy protections.
“Fact: Neither of these assertions are correct.
“First, for over a quarter-century, law enforcement has used “roving wiretaps” to solve ordinary crimes, like drug offenses. How can it be terribly expansive to allow in national security matters what has been occurring in ordinary criminal matters for 25 years?
“Second, as I said, a “roving wiretap” can only be obtained after a court finds that a suspect might thwart surveillance. A number of courts, including at least three circuit courts, have squarely ruled that “roving wiretaps” are perfectly consistent with the Fourth Amendment. So it is pretty clear that privacy protections are not being eviscerated.
“In sum, we should renew the parts of the Patriot Act that will expire. We should not take away from law enforcement needed weapons in its war against terrorism.
“I’d like to comment on one more area that has been in the news recently. I am troubled by the proceedings of the 9-11 Commission.
“Specifically, I am troubled by the partisanship that some commissioners have displayed, such as by cross-examining public officials as if they were common criminals.
“I am not the only one who is troubled by the proceedings. Former National Security Advisor under President Clinton, Anthony Lake, has said that the hearings are “a sad spectacle that has become so partisan.”
“And Max Holland, a former fellow at the University of Virginia who is writing a history of the Warren Commission, notes that “in some respects” the proceedings of the commission are “definitely a new low.” He added that “this is a commission charged with establishing facts and the truth rather than posturing for political gain. But some of the hearings amounted to lecturing and posturing.”
“Still others, like Professor Juliette Kayvem, of the Harvard School of Government, who served on a congressional terrorism panel to investigate the 1998 African embassy bombings, have questioned why 9-11 commission members have granted so many interviews. She notes that “they have become too public,” and that “tempts commissioners into making assessments and conclusions prematurely.”
“Mr. President, my understanding of the 9-11 Commission was that it was to impartially determine the facts and make non-partisan recommendations on how to go forward.
“I try to be a fair-minded and positive person, and I hope the Commission holds to its mission.
“I thank the Chair, and I yield the floor.”