Clinton fights change in anti-terrorism bill


WASHINGTON -- Trying to keep pressure on Congress to pass his anti-terrorism measures, President Clinton warned yesterday that he opposes Senate efforts to weaken his proposals.

The president expressed particular concern over opposition to three of his recommendations, which would expand wiretapping authority, ease the ban on military involvement in law enforcement and require that materials that can be used to make explosives be "tagged" with particles to make them easier to trace.

Mr. Clinton made his comments in his weekly radio address after the Senate voted Friday to reject an administration proposal to allow temporary emergency wiretaps in terrorism cases without a court order.

In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, congressional leaders promised to have a bill on the president's desk by Memorial Day, but delays on issues such as the budget and disputes on a host of amendments to the anti-terrorism bill now make July 4 a more likely date.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, a Kansas Republican, and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican, have introduced legislation that contains many of the proposals in Mr. Clinton's $1.5 billion plan, including the hiring of 1,000 new federal law-enforcement agents.

But, backed by a bipartisan group concerned about infringing on the civil liberties of domestic political groups, the Republican plan does not go as far as the president wants in expanding wiretapping authority.

Mr. Clinton said, "I disagree with the position of some senators from both parties that three crucial weapons in the fight against terrorism should be stripped from the bill. The restrictive view taken by some people in Congress would handicap our ability to track terrorists down, follow them when they move and prevent their attacks on innocent people."

Mr. Clinton particularly cited his proposal to allow investigators to conduct wiretaps on suspected terrorists who move from telephone to telephone, or "roving" taps, without obtaining a new court order each time. Under current law, agents must demonstrate that a suspect is using multiple lines to avoid detection.

"Have you ever heard of a terrorist who wasn't trying to evade the police?" Mr. Clinton asked. "I don't care whether a terrorist is trying to knowingly evade the police. I care that he or she may be trying to plan another Oklahoma City bombing."

On Friday, the Senate began consideration of the terrorism bill by rejecting, 52-28, an amendment on a separate wiretapping provision that would have brought the bill closer to Mr. Clinton's version.

The amendment, by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, would have added domestic or international terrorism the list of suspected activities for which federal authorities could obtain a 48-hour emergency wiretap without a court order. Such wiretaps are already allowed in suspected organized crime cases.

Mr. Lieberman said that the measure, which mirrored Mr. Clinton's original proposal, "gives one more weapon to the folks that are fighting on our side." But Republicans said it was unclear what sorts of activities might prompt surveillance of domestic groups and criticized the measure as too broad.

Mr. Lieberman has also said he planned to try to revive Mr. Clinton's proposal for roving wiretaps.

In his address yesterday, Mr. Clinton also complained about the Senate Republicans' refusal to include provisions that would allow the military to give technical help to law enforcement in cases involving chemical or biological weapons; the House version of the bill would allow it.

Currently such cooperation is limited to cases involving nuclear weapons.

"In general, the military should not be involved in domestic law enforcement in any way," Mr. Clinton said. But he added: "I can't understand how some senators could actually suggest that it's OK to use the military for nuclear terrorism but not to use them for chemical and biological terrorism.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad