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Solicitor General: Proposals will not violate rights

Solicitor General Ted Olson
Solicitor General Ted Olson  

(CNN) -- As U.S. lawmakers continue to present new measures aimed preventing future terrorist attacks, the Justice Department is pressing Congress to sign off on a package of anti-terrorism laws that have some civil libertarians concerned.

Among them -- the authority to conduct roving wiretaps, the use of wiretap information from other governments and allowing law enforcement to seize suspected terrorists' voice mail and e-mail with a search warrant.

Solicitor General Ted Olson spoke with CNN on the issue of citizen's rights, as well as the loss of his wife, Barbara Olson, who was killed in the plane that struck the Pentagon.

CNN: As you hear the debate over people's rights being trampled, perhaps, with these new regulations, what are your thoughts?

OLSON: Well, I don't think the people that have expressed those concerns have read what we are proposing to do. These are very, very modest proposals that are essential for us to combat what happened two weeks ago. We're asking for the authority for the law enforcement agencies to share information with intelligence agencies. We're asking for very carefully controlled, court supervised intelligence gathering information, powers that we already have for drug traffickers, organized crime figures, and people who engage in fraud.

None of these proposals is a large step. They're all relatively minor steps and they're generally all calculated to bring our fight against terrorism to the same level that we already have in other areas.

CNN: In your judgment is there any time where it would be acceptable to violate one's constitutional rights to protect others?

OLSON: No, under no circumstances. These proposals have nothing to do with violating people's constitutional rights. In every instance the proposals that we're seeking are proposals that have been tested before in most respects by the courts in other areas of law enforcement and intelligence gathering information.

This is information that we should have been able to have long, long ago and we only realized after 6,000 of our citizens were brutally murdered that we didn't have the ability to get the information that we needed. Terrorists were ahead of us in terms of their technology. They would use one cell phone and discard it and move to another location and use another cell phone.

In this day and age we need to have the authority to track the terrorists and not to be restricted in the ways that we have been so far.

CNN: So do you think the viewpoints of some of these folks that serve on the presidential commission on counter-terrorism are being overplayed when they talk about the concerns about constitutional rights potentially being violated?

OLSON: Whenever we enact legislation we should be concerned about constitutional rights and the staff and individuals in the Justice Department and in the administration that have been working on these proposals have been very, very careful to consider all of those aspects of it.

These proposals are very modest, very calibrated, very careful first steps. But remember, terrorists destroyed or attempted to destroy this country on September 11 and murdered 6,000 of our citizens. We need to have the same authority to go after terrorists that we have for organized crime figures already who engage in wire fraud or something comparable to that.

This is not an incremental step of any magnitude at all.

CNN: When you look at the breadth of some of these proposals that have been debated, is there any one in particular that you believe would have stopped these hijackers from doing what they did?

OLSON: We'll never know the answer to that question. But any one of them -- and there are many -- any one of them could have given us information that led us to further information that could have prevented this terrible, terrible tragedy. When we can't share information between one part of our government and another part of our government, we're hampered. If we wanted to prevent ourselves from defending against terrorist attacks, we would construct a system somewhat like we have now where our law enforcement agencies and our intelligence agencies don't have authorities that are constitutional and are readily available but we cannot use them against the greatest threat that this country faces today.

We have to change that and we have to change that soon because people are getting into airplanes and they are going into their offices every day. We have to move as quickly as we possibly can to make sure this never ever happens again.

CNN: You just brought up the issue of airplanes and what is going to be debated in a House subcommittee today is the idea of arming U.S. commercial pilots on each of their flights. Now, the president of one of the airline unions said, "You can't be Sky King and Wyatt Earp at the same time." What do you think?

OLSON: Well, I'm not going to address those measures because I haven't studied them. I do know and I think everyone agrees, particularly in the administration, that we have got to make changes to make our aircraft more safe and our airports more safe. There are a number of measures that could be done, some steps that could be taken immediately and the cost would be relatively small considering the magnitude of the devastation that can be brought upon us if we don't take those measures.

I know that people that are considering them will consider them carefully, but a combination of steps are probably going to be necessary for us to be able to deal with this problem.

CNN: This tragedy obviously has hit you in such a deeply personal way and I guess anybody who's been exposed to the accounts of your wife's conversations with you would argue she did everything in her power to change her fate. Just some final thoughts this morning on not only what you've been through but what the nation continues to endure.

OLSON: Well, I know that what I've suffered is similar to what other people all across the country have suffered. But what I do know is that my wife was a fighter. My wife would have wanted all of us to get together and pull together and to beat back this terrorist threat. She would have wanted me to be out here helping to try to get these laws passed. She would have urged other citizens... to help us return to normal.

This country is strong. If all of us pull together, as I know we can, we can live up to the standard that Barbara was trying to live up to and was living up to in the last moments of her life.

I think for me, of course, she is the symbol and I have got to live my life the way that she would have wanted me to live it and in the way that she did live it. And I think all of us need to focus on things like that and we will conquer this threat.


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