FBI appeals to Congress for help against groups

April 28, 1995|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- FBI Director Louis J. Freeh asked Congress yesterday for more tools to fight anti-government groups who he says are arming for possible conflicts with law enforcement authorities.

Mr. Freeh's blunt warning came as Congress began considering its response to last week's bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City

"There are individuals and several groups in the United States that are arming themselves for potential conflicts with law enforcement or gathering weapons to further a social or political cause," Mr. Freeh said in testimony delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I am greatly concerned about terrorist attacks here on American soil."

Mr. Freeh and Deputy Attorney General Jamie S. Gorelick urged senators to approve President Clinton's proposals to broaden the powers of federal law enforcement authorities.

His proposals include allowing court-approved wiretapping for any federal crime, making it harder to keep wiretap evidence out of criminal trials, and authorizing "roving" wiretaps of any phone that a terrorist suspect may be using.

The president has also proposed spending $1.25 billion over five years to hire 1,000 anti-terrorism agents and prosecutors and to increase the government's telephone surveillance capabilities.

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and other Republicans introduced a measure that incorporates many of the changes proposed by Mr. Clinton. Mr. Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich have said they hope Congress will send an anti-terrorism bill to the president by the end of May.

But Mr. Dole, a Republican presidential candidate and the first witness at the packed Senate hearing, said Congress cannot end terrorism.

"The American people deserve the straight story," he said, "and the straight story is that America is not an impregnable fortress."

Federal officials outlined for the committee a pattern of escalating violence by anti-government crusaders and white supremacists.

"It is clear that there is an increasing tendency among some groups to engage in anti-government and anti-law enforcement violence," Ronald K. Noble, a Treasury Department official, said in a prepared statement. "Civilians, as well as federal and local law enforcement personnel, have been threatened, harassed, surveyed, assaulted and murdered."

"Many of these groups view the United States government as the enemy, and believe an armed confrontation is inevitable," Mr. Noble added.

In his testimony, Mr. Freeh, in making his pitch for Mr. Clinton's proposals, acknowledged that the FBI lacks sufficient information about violence-prone anti-government groups. "Intelligence serves a very useful purpose and helps to protect the American people," the FBI director said. "It should not be considered a dirty word."

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, another GOP presidential candidate, repeated his demand that federal authorities be given greater freedom to infiltrate anti-government groups. "We have a right to inquire how many people are involved, what is their firepower," he said.

The Clinton administration has stopped short of taking such a step. Current guidelines allow undercover agents to infiltrate groups only if they suspect them of a crime.

Several senators said they wanted to be careful not to jeopardize civil liberties by rushing to give law enforcement authorities overly broad power to combat terrorism.

"Whatever we do, we must do it deliberately," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Democrat from Delaware. "We must not in any way alter the Bill of Rights or trample on individual freedom. I think we are all in agreement that can be done."

A major crackdown on stridently anti-government groups could well spark a backlash, a private security expert told the senators.

"Launching an indiscriminate crackdown on the extreme right wing risks further polarization of the country, validation of the movement's most paranoid fears, and it could provoke further acts of extreme violence," said Brian M. Jenkins, a California-based consultant.

Leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union urged lawmakers to move slowly, comparing the current concern with domestic terrorism to the wartime incarceration of Japanese-Americans in the 1940s and the government's infiltration of anti-war and civil rights groups in the 1960s and 1970s.

"We have gone down this hysterical path before," said ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser.

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