A new Justice Department report says the Patriot Act has been instrumental in 310 terrorism arrests and 179 terror-related convictions since Sept. 11, 2001.
Of particular importance, the report found, was the act’s provision that eliminated the “wall” that prevented evidence collected in intelligence investigations from being used in criminal cases. Prior to the Patriot Act, information gathered using a warrant issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)–which governs the monitoring of suspected foreign agents, spies and terrorists–could not be shared with ordinary criminal investigators pursuing the same or related suspects.
Despite this, the House only narrowly turned back an attempt to weaken the Patriot Act.
The Justice Department report outlines scores of specific cases in which this aspect of the act was crucial to arresting and convicting terrorists. Earlier this year, HUMAN EVENTS published a detailed account of how the act helped in the investigation of Sami al-Arian. It also helped in the cases against six men in Lackawana, N.Y., who because of an anonymous letter to authorities were under investigation in the summer of 2001 for traveling to Afghanistan to receive training at an al-Qaeda camp.
The report says that at the time–prior to both Sept.11, 2001 and the Patriot Act–FBI investigators “concluded that existing law required the creation of two separate investigations,” an intelligence investigation and a criminal investigation. “There were times,” the report says, “when the intelligence officers and the law enforcement agents concluded that they could not be in the same room during briefings to discuss their respective investigations with each other.”
But the Patriot Act fixed that. “As a result of key information shared by intelligence investigators, law enforcement agents were able to learn that an individual mentioned in the anonymous letter was an agent of al Qaeda.” All six men were eventually convicted on terror-related charges.
In Portland, Ore., the FBI was investigating Jeffrey Battle, who had attempted to travel to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban against U.S. forces in 2001 and 2002. Battle was also suspected of plotting to attack local Jewish schools or synagogues. Criminal investigators were eager to arrest Battle before he could carry out any attacks, but feared tipping off six other men he associated with who had been involved in the Afghanistan plot. The investigators did not yet have enough evidence to charge the others.
Thanks to the Patriot Act, they were able to study FISA surveillance to determine no attacks were on the verge of taking place. When the case could be made against all of the “Portland Seven,” including Battle, the FBI arrested six of them. All six were convicted. The seventh was killed in Pakistan.
The Justice report argues that the Patriot Act also helped the War on Terror by updating surveillance rules to account for new technologies such as e-mail and by allowing a single federal district court to issue all of the needed warrants in terrorism cases that touch locations nationwide.