FBI special agent Coleen Rowley on the Patriot Act

Sunday afternoon in Wabasha, The River Cities Alliance for Peace invited FBI special agent
Coleen Rowley to speak about the Patriot Act at the Wabasha Mittel Schole. She focused her comments on a paper she had written last May, seeking “a better balance between our protection from further acts of terroroism and our Constitutional rights to privacy.”

She has, due to her background, a narrow legal approach to these issues, about which my legal counsel had a lot of comments and concerns for the way this plays out. Rowley has a lot of practical experience from her career as an FBI agent and trainer on constitutional issues, and was well versed in the protections observed by the FBI and the limitations of the Patriot Act, and although no fan of the Patriot Act, she acknowledges that some opposed to it have made exaggerated claims about its provisions and some promoting it gloss over some of the broad powers conferred.

One important part of the Patriot Act that Ms. Rowley stressed was that of the definition of “Domestic Terrorism,” which is, paraphrased and set out in clauses:

Acts dangerous to human life
in violation of state and federal laws
that appear to be intended to influence government.

She believes that the final clause, particularly the “appear to be intended” phrase, would be interpreted very broadly, so she doesn’t address it. The second clause is generally self-evident, and it is the first clause that contains the primary limiting factor in the application of the Patriot Act — that it must be an act “dangerous to human life.” Rowley also made an argument for adding “economic damage” to this definition, because much of the impact of domestic terrorism is economic damage.

The protections offered are primarily evidentiary, that if the limitations on the government’s power are not heeded, evidence gathered illegally cannot be used at trial. The problem with this is that there is little other motivation not to push those limits. As Rowley noted, the ratio of investigations to actual prosecutions is high, and few are prosecuted. That makes me wonder, because when that investigation happens, it is intrusive and a person is inconvenienced or their life is forever altered or somewhere in between, there is little that can be done to undo that damage. Imagine you are arrested illegally and detained, as so many have been since September 11, what is your recourse? If the government doesn’t stop at reading just your “to” and “from” lines of your email, and reads the content and uses it, just because it cannot be used as evidence does not mean that use by the government will have no impact on you. Should there be compensatory and punitive actions for illegal searches, detention, investigations that could keep the government in check? If government tramples over citizens in an investigation, there isn’t much a person can do.

This is an area I don’t know much about, and I’m glad to have had this look into the mechanics of investigations and the powers of law enforcement.

Rowley had three books to recommend:

“War of Numbers” by Sam Adams

“War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning” by Chris Hedges

“The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead” by David Callahan

Coleen Rowley’s Memo to FBI Director Robert Mueller

New York Times May 25, 2002
Critic Is Described as Scrupulous and Determined
By Jim Yardley

Colleen Rowley Letter to FBI Director
Letter | Minneapolis Star Tribune
Published March 6, 2003

The FBI’s high-stakes makeover
Bureau will put 500 agents on counterterrorism and have ‘super squads’ at HQ. Critics call for deeper changes.

FBI agent says bureaucracy hurt war on terrorism
Last Updated Fri, 07 Jun 2002 11:26:55

Nobody knew anything about Ms. Rowley when her remarkably angry letter to her boss, FBI Director Robert Mueller, became public a few weeks ago. This week, she appeared on live TV, testifying about her charges before a congressional committee. The in-house counsel for the Minneapolis FBI office, who accused her own agency of both blowing its best chance to stop 9/11 and then trying to cover up its failure seemed truly Minnesotan: polite, cheerful, plainly dressed and utterly merciless. As to how she came to write the single-most damning document produced within the FBI since J. Edgar Hoover, she credited her typing class in high school.

TODAY: interminable screediness about The Whistleblower & Free Speach.


Bill Moyers – NOW – on Patriot act

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