The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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FBI guidelines

Ashcroft lifts restrictions, opens floodgates

The revelation that the government knew about the Sept. 11 threat before the tragedy occurred must have been devastating to the administration’s public approval ratings. Bush’s dissenters have been open about accusing him of letting the disaster occur. Even a great deal of his supporters have questioned why more wasn’t done to prevent it.

This week, almost as if in response to the concerns, Attorney General John Ashcroft has granted greater access power to the FBI so that it may more easily search out and act upon terrorist threats.

This week’s revised guidelines mark a lifting of constraints that have been imposed since the ’70s. The new guidelines state that agents may enter all public places, including demonstrations and places of worship, to detect or deter terrorism, without previously establishing that they are pursuing leads or inquiries; agents may visit chat rooms and conduct “online research” without being in the midst of an investigation; and agents may contract with data-mining services, to get information on everything from individuals’ financial backgrounds to their criminal histories and buying habits.

FBI director Robert Mueller is quoted as saying, “[These are] important steps to help remove unnecessary, bureaucratic obstacles to the effective investigation of terrorist cases.” President Bush himself has stated that, “The FBI needed to change,” and assures, “we intend to honor our Constitution and respect the freedoms that we hold so dear.”

It’s true that the FBI needs to change. According to the New York Times, a report was sent to top officials in the months before Sept. 11 warning them that they faced significant terrorist threats from groups like al-Qaeda, but the bureau lacked enough resources and funds to meet the threat. The report additionally recommended spending increases to address the problem.

What the FBI needs is a significant internal examination, something which has yet to occur. All stories and accounts point to huge lack of training, both among field officers and the ability of the offices to process requests and warrants. For instance, Zacarias Moussaoui, who is supposed have been the 20th hijacker on Sept. 11, attracted the attention of the FBI, but bureau headquarters rejected a request to search Moussaoui’s computer simply because they could not judge whether or not the agent was on the wrong track. In addition, the bureau filed a financing request for counterterrorism in August, but was turned down.

What the FBI does not need is the ability to enter public places, visit chat rooms or access a person’s credit history without being tied to specific investigations. Not only is this a step which will lead to further “bending” of the Bill of Rights, but it simply overlooks the problem – a problem with the FBI itself, not with the Constitution. Mueller should spend less time trying to get FBI agents access into places where they are not welcome, and more time training field offices and looking back into the request for funding that was filed last year.

While the changing guidelines may not cause any problems now, they are a stepping stone for something that is far worse – a loss of fundamental freedoms.

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