Senate Overwhelmingly Approves Anti-Terror Proposal
The final bill includes sweeping new powers for the police to secretly search the homes of terrorism suspects, tap all their phones and track their Internet usage.
Attorney General John Ashcroft said he expects the president to quickly sign the bill. He added he had already ordered the Justice Department and FBI to be ready to use their new authority.
“A new era in America’s fight against terrorism is about to begin,” Ashcroft told the U.S. Conference of Mayors shortly before the Senate vote.
The House had approved the same measure yesterday in a 357 to 66 vote.
“This landmark legislation will provide law enforcement and intelligence agencies additional tools that are needed to address the threat of terrorism and to find and prosecute terrorist criminals,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said
The White House had urged the proposal be quickly passed as-is, but members of Congress imposed so-called “sunsets” so the new powers would expire unless renewed later. Some lawmakers said the sunsets were needed to safeguard against future abuses of the war-time legislation.
Only Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin voted against passage today, saying the bill infringed on too many personal rights.
“The Congress will fulfill its duty only when it protects both the American people and the freedoms at the foundation of American society,” Feingold said ahead of the vote.
Feingold’s colleagues said they believe the bill does protect the people and their freedoms.
“I think [the proposal] is the appropriate balance between protecting civil liberties, privacy and ensuring that law enforcement has the tools it needs to do the job it must,” said Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
Other anti-terrorism legislation
The Senate also adopted stricter guidelines in the tracking and monitoring of suspected terrorist assets.
The bolstered money laundering bill will crack down on moving illicit funds through a series of financial institutions or accounts to disguise their origin, ownership or ultimate purpose.
“The lifeblood of terrorism is money, and if we cut the money we cut the blood supply,” said Michael Chertoff, the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division.
Congress has also moved on other key proposals stemming from the Sept. 11 attacks and the U.S. war on terrorism.
On Tuesday, the House followed the Senate’s lead and passed legislation authorizing the Treasury Department to issue the first war bonds since World War II.
The measure passed unanimously on a voice vote in a nearly empty House after speakers in both parties said the bonds would give citizens a way to get involved in the fight on terrorism.
“War bonds will give voice to countless Americans who are looking for opportunities to make a difference in this time of need,” Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the main Senate sponsor said.
In a move to combat future bio-terrorist attacks, the House voted to require registration of all researchers using biological
agents or toxins. The proposal also makes it a federal crime to use biological agents in a way that shows reckless disregard for public safety.