Anti-terrorism bill advances in House

Measure would expand authority to wiretap terrorism suspects

Terrorism Strikes America

The Response


WASHINGTON - Democratic and Republican negotiators in the House reached agreement yesterday on an anti-terrorism bill that would give law enforcement officials expanded authority to wiretap suspected terrorists, share intelligence information about them and seize their assets.

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 involvement in terrorist activities for an indefinite period without being charged. The administration had been pressing for far more extensive changes in the law and had hoped its proposals would move through Congress with little debate after the terrorist attacks Sept. 11 in New York and Washington.

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

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

A senior Bush administration official said last night that the House compromise proposal was encouraging because it demonstrated bipartisan support for many of the proposals on the White House's wish list. But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said some of the elements were troubling, especially the "sunset" feature that would force the expiration of the expanded wiretap powers in two years unless Congress renews them.

Senior congressional aides said yesterday that the expiration feature was crucial in forging a bipartisan consensus. One aide said 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 a broad-reaching set of changes in criminal law, the Senate is moving along a separate track to fashion its own anti-terrorism legislation. That bill is not expected to be ready for a floor vote for at least two weeks. Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has made it plain that he will not be rushed into accepting many of the administration's proposals.

At the same time Congress is deliberating changes in the anti-terrorism laws, its members are moving to enact other changes in response to the attacks. Support is building in Congress for proposals to put military personnel on border patrol, to triple the number of agents on the Canadian border, to drastically limit student visas, and to spend emergency funds on other moves to tighten immigration rules and procedures.

The anti-terrorism bill is will be formally introduced in the House today and could be voted on as early as next week.

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