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Bush Signs Anti-Terrorism Bill Into Law

Aired October 26, 2001 - 10:44   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to go to the White House right now. The East Room waiting on the president now to come in and make brief remarks here about the anti-terrorism measure that was passed in the House on Wednesday, then cleared almost unanimously in the Senate yesterday, 98 to one the vote there. And, again, this broad, sweeping legislation will give, specifically, law enforcement officials across the country greater and broader powers to fight the war on terrorism -- such things like conducting electronic surveillance, and detaining immigrants without charges up to a seven- day period, and also penetrating money-laundering banks.

There is a lot of detail in this bill. And if -- you may remember back after the attacks of 9/11, it was just about two days afterwards when the Attorney General John Ashcroft went to Congress and said give us this power, we need it right now in order to conduct, legally, the warfare we need to conduct at this time. And apparently they'll get it today.

And also the indication of the attorney general yesterday that once this bill is signed into law -- and again, we anticipate that in a moment, just to the left of the podium there -- once it happens the word will get out to law enforcement officials across the country and allow them to broaden their powers. There has been questions -- many questions about the broad-reaching powers here, but we can talk about that more in a moment.

Now the president at the White House.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all. Please be seated. (OFF-MIKE) be seated please.


BUSH: Good morning, and welcome to the White House. Today, we take an essential step in defeating terrorism while protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans.

With my signature, this law will give intelligence and law enforcement officials important new tools to fight a present danger. I commend the House and Senate for the hard work they put into this legislation. Members of Congress and their staffs spent long nights and weekends to get this important bill to my desk. I appreciate their efforts and bipartisanship in passing this new law.

I want to thank the vice president and his staff for working hard to make sure this law was passed.

I want to thank the secretary of state and the secretary of treasury for being here, both of whom lead important parts of our war against terrorism.

I want to thank Attorney General John Ashcroft for spending a lot of time on the Hill to make the case for a balanced piece of legislation.

I want to thank the director of the FBI and the director of the CIA for waging an incredibly important part on the two-front war: one overseas and a front here at home.

And I want to thank Governor Tom Ridge for his leadership.

I want to thank the members of Congress who are here on the stage, the leaders on this impressive effort: Senator Hatch and Senator Leahy and Senator Sarbanes and Senator Gramm and Senator Reid. I also want to thank Representatives Porter Goss, LaFalce, Oxley and Sensenbrenner for their hard work. And I want to welcome the men and women of law enforcement here at the White House with us today as well.

The changes effective today will help counter a threat like no other our nation has ever faced. We've seen the enemy in the murder of thousands of innocent unsuspecting people. They recognize no barrier of morality; they have no conscience. The terrorists cannot be reasoned with; witness the recent anthrax attacks through our Postal Service.

Our country is grateful for the courage the Postal Service has shown during these difficult times. We mourn the loss of the lives of Thomas Morris and Joseph Cursine (ph), postal workers who died in the line of duty, and our prayers go to their loved ones.

I want to assure postal workers that our government is testing more than 200 postal facilities along the entire eastern corridor that may have been impacted. And we will move quickly to treat and protect workers where positive exposures are found.

But one thing is for certain, these terrorists must be pursued, they must be defeated, and they must be brought to justice.


BUSH: And that is the purpose of this legislation.

Since the 11th of September, the men and women of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been relentless in their response to new and sudden challenges. We have seen the horrors terrorists can inflict.

We may never know what horrors our country was spared by the diligent and determined work of our police forces, FBI, ATF agents, federal marshals, custom officers, Secret Service, intelligence professionals and local law enforcement officials. Under the most trying conditions, they are serving this country with excellence and often with bravery. They deserve our full support and every means of help that we can provide.

We're dealing with terrorists who operate by highly sophisticated methods and technologies, some of which were not even available when our existing laws were written.

The bill before me takes account of the new realities and dangers posed by modern terrorists. It will help law enforcement to identify, to dismantle, to disrupt and to punish terrorists before they strike.

For example, this legislation gives law enforcement officials better tools to put an end to financial counterfeiting, smuggling and money laundering.

Secondly, it provides -- gives intelligence operations and criminal investigations the chance to operate not on separate tracks but to share vital information so necessary to disrupt a terrorist attack before it occurs.

As of today, we're changing the laws governing information sharing.

And as importantly, we're changing the culture of our various agencies that fight terrorism.

Countering and investigating terrorist activity is the number one priority for both law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Surveillance of communications is another essential tool to pursue and stop terrorists. Existing law was written in the era of rotary telephones. This new law that I sign today will allow surveillance of all communications used by terrorists, including e- mails, the Internet and cell phones.

As of today, we'll be able to better meet the technological challenges posed by this proliferation of communications technology. Investigations are often slowed by a limit on the reach of federal search warrants. Law enforcement agencies have to get a new warrant for each new district they investigate, even when they're after the same suspect. Under this new law, warrants are valid across all districts and across all states.

And finally, the new legislation greatly enhances the penalties that will fall on terrorists or anyone who helps them. Current statutes deal more severely with drug traffickers than with terrorists. That changes today.

We are enacting new and harsh penalties for possession of biological weapons. We're making it easier to seize the assets of groups and individuals involved in terrorism. The government will have wider latitude in deporting known terrorists and their supporters. The statute of limitations on terrorist acts will be lengthened as will prison sentences for terrorists.

This bill was carefully drafted and considered.

Led by the members of Congress on this stage and those seated in the audience, it was crafted with skill and care, determination and the spirit of bipartisanship for which the entire nation is grateful.

This bill met with an overwhelming -- overwhelming -- agreement in Congress, because it upholds and respects the civil liberties guaranteed by our Constitution. This legislation is essential not only to pursuing and punishing terrorists, but also preventing more atrocities in the hands of the evil ones.

This government will enforce this law with all the urgency of a nation at war. The elected branches of our government and both political parties are united in our resolve to find and stop and punish those who would do harm to the American people.

It is now my honor to sign into law the U.S.A. Patriot Act of 2001.


HEMMER: In what some would consider lightning speed for the Congress, just about seven weeks or a little less, the anti-terrorism measure now signed into law officially in the East Room of the White House. You heard the president talking about a number of things, trying to keep up with technology in the year 2001 through e-mail, the Internet, cell phones, roaming wiretaps -- something that many people overseas have said is absolutely critical in tracking down terrorists; not only being able to tap a phone in a certain house or building, but also being able to follow the next phone call as it goes down the line, or wherever it goes.

The president, again, with a host of political dignitaries. A couple senators, Orrin Hatch and Patrick Leahy there. You also say the Attorney General John Ashcroft as well.

As we see the president now work through the room, let's bring in Kelly Wallace.

And Kelly, publicly the White House says this is all grand and all great and they are quite pleased. In private, is it the same?

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is pretty much the same, Bill. You know, no secret the administration wanted a little bit more than it got in the end. It wanted to be able to detain non-U.S. citizens suspected of engaging in terrorist activities indefinitely, without filing criminal or immigration charges against them. Well, that was a concern of many lawmakers in the United States Congress. So a compromise was reached. Basically, prosecutors will be able to hold such individuals for up to seven days, again, without filing charges against them.

Another concern the administration had: the so-called "sunset provision." And what this means is that most of this law will expire in four years unless the United States Congress decides to renew it. There are some in the Congress who have been concerned about, maybe, the impact on individual's civil liberties. You heard the president say that this bill definitely takes into account the law and the importance of these tools, but also definitely upholds the liberties of individuals -- the civil liberties of individual.

You had Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, the lone dissenter, who said he was very concerned that this bill would not only allow the government to get information of suspected terrorists, but anyone who might come in casual contact with such individuals. So there was a concern this will allow lawmakers and civil libertarians to watch how this measure is upheld and then, of course, to make some changes down the road if they decide to -- Bill.

HEMMER: Al right Kelly, thanks.

Up Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill -- we mentioned the lightning speed with which Congress worked -- the House and then the Senate yesterday. Kate Snow is tracking that speed.

Kate, in general, what was your sense about how lawmakers looked at this piece of legislation and said, you know what, this is a good thing; we need to do it, need to do it now and fast?

KATE SNOW, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, and "fast" is the word, Bill. I mean, it took about what, six weeks, to get this bill through the Congress? That is lightning speed when you're talking about a piece of legislation. It almost never happens here on Capitol Hill.

Another thing that almost never happens -- you heard Kelly mention that one lone senator opposed the bill officially on the floor yesterday. I mean, the vote was 98 to one. That is an incredible tally. In the House the vote was 357 to 66 dissenters. So a lot of support for this legislation because of the time that we're in, because they think -- they thought they needed to vote some measures through. They needed to show their support for fighting terrorism and this was a way to do that.

There certainly were concerns, as mentioned by Kelly; but most of those concerns overrun by the fact that they wanted to get something done that they could hand to Attorney General John Ashcroft and the president.

HEMMER: Kate, thanks; Kate Snow on Capitol Hill.

I'm watching that picture, Dick Cheney, the vice president, exiting, one of the first to leave there. We know about tight security. It has been very few times that we've seen the president and the vice president in the same room we saw today, and also leading Cabinet members there as well.

Let's talk more about the legal side now. CNN's legal analyst Roger Cossack with us.

Roger, good to see you again. Good morning to you.


HEMMER: From a legal perspective -- and I think, you know, law enforcement would have liked to have had these provisions well before 9/11. They have them now. But given the events of the past six or seven weeks and knowing terrorist are pretty smart people, is this something, from a legal perspective, that could have been done earlier and would have helped in the long fight that's ahead?

COSSACK: Well, you know, we never know whether or not it would have helped or would not have helped.

These are provisions that are really different than the traditional kinds of provisions. The whole notion that -- we talk about the idea that law enforcement will be sharing information, much of that information may come from grand jury testimony which, historically in this country, has always been kept secret. But by keeping it secret law enforcement agencies were unable to share it. Now that's not going to happen.

These are different times, Bill, and different -- the law has to take into consideration when different times -- and that is why many of the congressmen, senators fought for that four-year sunset provision. The notion that some of these laws which are highly unusual and, perhaps, reflect our times will have to be reviewed in four years to see whether or not they still should be kept. Because it is a major change from the way we normally do business.

HEMMER: One thing that struck me yesterday, John Ashcroft was speaking in front of the mayor's conference in Washington. He said if your visa is expired by one day, we don't care. In other words, we will arrest you and we will keep you. Is this a case of law enforcement going down the checklist trying to find anything they can, at points, to hold people they believe are suspects?

COSSACK: Well Bill, this is -- the answer to your question, that kind of an example probably is. But, you know, we have -- it is recognized that there is a problem in this country with our immigration. And there are -- there have been tremendous lapses, which Congress has realized. And what these -- some of these bills are -- some of these laws are intended to do is to give greater power to the authorities, to the Justice Department, to have the ability to find out who is in the country legally and who isn't in this country legally.

We have -- we saw that many of the people that have been rounded up, and the attackers, were in this country illegally or had used visas that were outdated. It's clear that -- at least Congress felt it was clear -- that they have to do something about it. They now have the powers to do it, and they now have the powers to look into it. And I guess it's up to everybody who's in here to just make sure that their visa isn't outdated.

HEMMER: Alright, let's turn it around. What don't you like about this? Anything?

COSSACK: Well, there's one thing that I -- you know, I do and I don't like, Bill, which is the problem of the seven-day detention. As you know, the Justice Department did not want the seven-day detention. They wanted to have it that they could detain anyone who was suspected of terrorism. The compromise bill is you have to file a case within seven days.

The problem is that historically these kinds of cases can take forever. And once someone is detained and a case is filed, most times, and almost -- a very high percentage, perhaps in the 90s -- people don't get bail. And so you're going to have a situation when people who really turn out to have done nothing wrong may end up spending years in jail before that kind of adjudication is found out.

That is something that I think will be looked at. Remember, all of this has yet to be reviewed. The Supreme Court has the opportunity to review all of these if someone sues, like any other law that's passed by Congress.

HEMMER: Different world, from every perspective.

COSSACK: You bet.

HEMMER: Roger, thanks; Roger Cossack in Washington. Thanks for shaking things down with us.

Again -- once again, that anti-terrorism measure passed this week quickly in Congress. Now signed into law by the president just a few moments ago.




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