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October 2, 2001


Negotiators Back Scaled-Down Bill to Battle Terror


WASHINGTON, Oct. 1 Democratic and Republican negotiators in the House reached agreement today on a bill that would give law enforcement officials expanded authority to wiretap suspected terrorists, share intelligence information about them and monitor their Internet communications.

But the compromise bill also makes the wiretap authority temporary and omits or scales back some of the measures the Bush administration sought, notably the authority to detain immigrants suspected of terrorism indefinitely without charges. The administration had been pressing for far more extensive changes in the law and had hoped its proposals would move with little debate through a Congress eager to respond to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The proposal for indefinite detention of immigrant suspects engendered the greatest opposition from civil libertarians both inside and outside Congress. Under the plan agreed to this evening by Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., the Wisconsin Republican who is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the committee's ranking Democrat, the government could detain an immigrant suspected of terrorism for seven days without bringing charges.

Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin heads the House Judiciary Committee.

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The two members of Congress and their staffs had worked over the last several days to forge a compromise after several committee members last week, both Democrats and Republicans, complained quietly but insistently that the administration's legislative package expanded the government's powers at the expense of long-established civil liberties.

John P. Feehery, a spokesman for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, said Mr. Hastert hoped that the House would soon act on the proposed compromise. Richard A. Gephardt, the Democratic leader in the House, was in New York today viewing the damage to Lower Manhattan and had not yet reviewed the final bill. But his spokesman, Erik Smith, said Mr. Gephardt had great confidence in Mr. Conyers's ability to negotiate a compromise.

A senior Bush administration official tonight said that the House compromise proposal was encouraging because it demonstrated bipartisan support for much of the White House's wish list. But the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, also said some of the elements were troubling, especially a "sunset" feature that would have the expanded wiretap powers expire in two years unless explicitly renewed by Congress.

Senior Congressional aides said today that the expiration feature was crucial for a bipartisan consensus. One aide said that it was easier for some members to accept potential infringements on civil liberties if they were temporary.

Further complicating the administration's hope to quickly enact broad changes in criminal law, the Senate is moving along a separate track on its own antiterrorism legislation; that bill is not expected to be ready for a floor vote for at least two weeks. Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has made it plain he will not be rushed into accepting many of the administration's proposals.

At the same time Congress is deliberating changes in the antiterrorism laws, its members are moving swiftly to enact other measures in response to the attacks. Support is building in Congress for proposals to permit military personnel to assist in patrolling the nation's borders, to triple the number of agents on the Canadian border, to limit student visas, and to spend emergency funds for additional moves to tighten immigration rules and procedures.

Under the antiterrorism bill that will be formally introduced in the House on Tuesday and could be voted on as early as next week, a foreigner could be detained for up to seven days before being charged if the authorities had "reasonable grounds" for suspecting that person of terrorism. The person detained could also seek a review of that determination in the federal trial court in Washington. The administration had sought a lesser threshold for detention, that of the authorities having "reason to believe" the person was involved in terrorism, a designation that was not designed to be subject to court review.

The bill would also allow only the attorney general or the commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to deem that there were reasonable grounds to label an individual a suspected terrorist.

Also under the bill, officials would be able to obtain authority to wiretap an individual suspected of terrorism, not just a specific telephone as they must do now. Law enforcement officials have complained that the wiretap laws, written when all telephones were wired, do not provide for terrorists using and discarding cellphones.

The bill would also put e-mail communications on a level with telephone communications. It would allow the authorities to use an easily obtainable subpoena to get from Internet service providers records of to whom and when e-mail messages was sent or received by a suspect. Currently, the authorities can obtain by subpoena the equivalent, called a pen register, from the telephone company, which discloses the time and destination of phone calls.

The actual phone conversations cannot be obtained by authorities without a search warrant, which requires a demonstration to a judge of probable cause that a crime has been committed; the same is true for e- mail messages. The administration had sought wider authority to monitor e-mail correspondence.

The House negotiators dropped an administration request that schools be required to disclose information about foreign students to investigators who said they had a reasonable need to obtain it. The compromise bill also omitted a provision that would have allowed officials to use evidence gathered abroad even if it was obtained by methods considered unconstitutional in the United States.

In devising a compromise, Congressional officials said, the negotiators were also concerned that the definition of terrorism in the administration proposal was too broad and would allow the authorities to treat crimes more harshly by deeming them acts of terrorism. As a result, the bill lists many crimes like hijacking and destruction of government property as qualifying as terrorist actions only if they were committed with a motive to influence or change the government.

The bill also narrows the definition of computer crimes that could be deemed potential terrorist acts. Negotiators said the administration's version would have given wide latitude to officials to treat all computer hacking incidents as terrorism. The bill now requires that the hacking be part of an effort to gain access to national security information, cause damage to a secure computer or obtain information from a secure computer system by threaten to damage that system.

The bill would prohibit intelligence officials from sharing information they obtained with anyone but law enforcement authorities in the federal government.

Representative Bob Barr, a conservative Georgia Republican, said tonight that he had not yet dropped his opposition to the legislation because he still had serious concerns. Mr. Barr, a former federal prosecutor, has described the legislative efforts as giving too much power to law enforcement authorities.

The House bill has been given the title "Provide Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001" to allow it to be called by an acronym, the Patriot Act of 2001.

On the other side of the Capitol, lawmakers drafting the antiterrorism bill there have tentatively agreed on a plan to triple the number of immigration inspectors on the Canadian border. The agency's own analysis concludes that the current contingent of 300 Border Patrol agents is inadequate for the 5,500- mile boundary.

Many lawmakers support a budget increase for American embassies and consulates, so they can more thoroughly investigate the background of people applying for visas. Such investigations now are often perfunctory.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, has proposed major changes in the foreign student visa program, including a six-month moratorium on issuing new visas, comprehensive background checks on all foreign students and new requirements for schools to verify students' compliance with the terms of their visas.

Colleges and vocational schools are vehemently opposed to her proposal, saying it would disrupt their operations without significantly reducing the risk of terrorism.

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