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    PR Spin From Bush’s Office On
Justice Dept. Details Patriot Act Cases 

Tue Jul 13, 5:28 PM ET Add White House –

By CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press Writer 

                    Return To OnlinePot’s Legal Section Main Page

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department (news – web sites) on Tuesday gave
 Congress nearly three dozen examples of how the Patriot Act has been used to
 prosecute terrorists and other criminals, part of an administration effort to
 counter criticism that the law does more to harm civil liberties than to protect 
the nation. 

Attorney General John Ashcroft (news – web sites) presented a 29-page report outlining the examples to members of the House Judiciary Committee (news – web sites), telling reporters after the private briefing that the report provided “a mountain of evidence” of the law’s benefits. 

“The Patriot Act is al-Qaida’s worst nightmare when it comes to disrupting and disabling their operations here in America,” he said. 

The Bush administration has been trying to squelch criticism that the law, enacted a few weeks after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, gave the FBI (news – web sites) and other law enforcement agencies too much power to spy on people and dig into private lives. Key sections of the law expire in 2005. President Bush (news – web sites) has urged Congress to renew those sections. 

The report did not mention some more controversial powers, such as the FBI’s ability to obtain library and bookstore records in terrorism cases or the so-called “sneak and peek” search warrants in which agents need not immediately tell suspects their home or business had been searched. 

Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, accused the department of selectively releasing information and refusing to address civil liberties concerns. 

“Coupled with the department’s consistent record of exaggerating their record about terrorism, this entire report is suspect,” Conyers said. 

Less than a week ago, House Republican leaders barely turned back an amendment that would have barred the FBI from using Patriot Act authority to obtain library and bookstore records. 

Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said the report shows “some real-life, local benefits” to the Patriot Act, something supporters can point to in future legislative debates about the measure. 

The report says between the Sept. 11 attacks and May 5, Justice Department terrorism investigations led to charges against 310 people, of whom 179 were convicted or pleaded guilty. The Patriot Act, it says, was instrumental in many of these cases. 

The report provides 35 examples of how the law was used to prosecute alleged terror cells in New York, Oregon, Virginia and elsewhere; how it updated law enforcement tools to track such technology as cell phones and Internet communications; and how many of its provisions are used for other criminal probes including child pornography, computer hacking, kidnapping and illegal weapons sales. 

The report did not say whether the FBI had used its authority under Section 215 of the law to obtain library or bookstore records. That information is classified, but Ashcroft issued a declassified statement last September saying the power had not yet been used. 

Last week, however, the Justice Department wrote to Sensenbrenner that investigators had confirmed that “a member of a terrorist group closely affiliated with al-Qaida” had used Internet services at a public library in winter and spring 2004 “to communicate with his confederates.” No other details were provided. 

Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (news – web sites), said he considered the report a political document rather than a serious examination of the Patriot Act’s impact. The Bush administration, he said, should “spend less time waging public relations campaigns and more time responding to the specific, legitimate concerns of the American people.”