WASHINGTON (AP) — Law officers investigating suspected spies or terrorists could wiretap lone foreigners even if they can't be linked to a government or terror organization, under a bill passed by the Senate.
"This is a reasonable provision that deals with change in the post 9/11 world," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said after the vote Thursday. "Even individuals are empowered by technology and can do huge damage here to the homeland."
The bill, sometimes called the "Lone Wolf" measure, was introduced by Schumer and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. Passed 90-4 by the Senate, it also needs approval in the House.
U.S. law enforcement officers can now get warrants authorizing intelligence-gathering wiretaps from a secret court but only if they can establish a reasonable belief that the target is an "agent of a foreign power "or group.
The bill would amend the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to remove that requirement.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, criticized the bill as a "quick fix" that the FBI hadn't even sought.
As used in the act, the term "agent of a foreign power" includes those controlled by governments, political organizations or terrorist groups.
But lawmakers feared that this requirement could hinder the FBI when its investigators can't make such a link to a known terror organization or a foreign government.
Proponents also have described the bill as the "Moussaoui fix" because investigators in the weeks preceding the Sept. 11 attacks were unable to establish any connection between al-Qaida and Zacarias Moussaoui, the lone defendant charged as a conspirator with the 19 hijackers.
Without that link, FBI headquarters believed that they could not get a warrant targeting him.
Senators rejected 35-59 an amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that would have given federal judges more discretion over when to approve such surveillance warrants against foreigners believed to be acting on their own.
Feinstein said the change sought by Schumer and Kyl goes too far because it gives federal prosecutors too powerful a tool with far less judicial oversight than traditional criminal wiretap laws.
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