I commend the Chairman for wasting no time in calling this hearing on the counter-terrorism recommendations presented to Congress by the Attorney General last week. As we are all aware, we are in a race to ensure the safety and security of our citizens, and there is literally no time to lose.
Sadly, the events of September 11 demonstrated, as no other recent occurrence has been able to do, that we must put aside the typical, painfully-slow process that often seems to rule here in times of peace. We cannot continue to yield the advantage of time to those who will continue to murder Americans and our allies until we stop them.
Fortunately, we are not rushing forward with ill-conceived legislation. We are finally putting in place important tools that will enable our nation's law- enforcement personnel to more effectively investigate and prevent further attacks on the people of the United States. Since September of 1998, the Senate Judiciary Committee or its Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Government Information has held thirteen hearings on terrorism. The witnesses who appeared before the Committee in those hearings included Louis Freeh, former Director of the FBI, and representatives of all three of the congressionally-mandated commissions on terrorism that have issued reports over the last two years.
Most of the provisions contained in the Attorney General's proposed legislation have already been examined by the committee of jurisdiction. These provisions mirror the recommendations of one or more of the major terrorism commissions. In fact, some of these provisions have already been voted on and passed by the Senate.
The language sent forward by the Attorney General to establish nationwide trap and trace authority is included, verbatim, in the Hatch-Feinstein-Kyl Amendment to the recently passed Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations Bill. Much of the remaining language in that amendment was included in a bill we passed in the Senate last fall, entitled the "Counterterrorism Act of 2000." We passed that bill, S. 3205, after significant debate and numerous hearings.
Nearly a year after we passed it the first time, and two full weeks after the unspeakable acts of terror that occurred on September 11, we still have members of this body dragging their feet and saying we are moving too quickly to pass counter-terrorism legislation. Thursday's New York Times included an article that quoted one of my colleagues saying he, "would not be rushed, noting that Congress took almost two months to pass antiterrorism legislation in response to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995."
I appreciate the fact that some of my colleagues do not like to be rushed, but we are talking about legislation that has been requested by both Democratic and Republican administrations (and debated ad nauseum) since 1995. Some of it, the Senate has already voted to enact. My friends, taking two months to pass antiterrorism legislation in response to the Oklahoma City bombing is not something of which we should be proud. And if we take another two months to act after an even more heinous act of terrorism, we will be giving terrorists who are already around the first turn, a full lap advantage in this race. That is not what the American people are expecting from their leaders at this time.
Let me address briefly the concerns voiced by some of my colleagues. Namely, that we are in danger of "trampling civil liberties" in our rush to pass counter-terrorism legislation. I reiterate that we are not rushing. The legislation we have already passed, and the legislation now offered by the administration, was under consideration long before the events of September 11. We have already held numerous hearings on these issues. Most importantly, there is nothing being requested that broadly impinges on the rights and liberties of U.S. citizens or raises any constitutional questions.
Most of what is being requested would give federal agencies fighting terrorism the same tools we have given those fighting illicit drugs, or even postal fraud. In most instances, the Attorney General is not asking for new authority, he is simply asking to apply existing authority to the crime of terrorism. The powers requested, in almost every case, would be subject to the ruling of a federal judge before action could be taken by law-enforcement personnel. That is entirely consistent with the system of checks and balances provided by the Constitution.
I support the request of the Attorney General, and I urge my colleagues to give this body due credit for the work that has already been done over the last six years, in several committees, to bring credible counter-terrorism legislation to the floor. I urge the Senate conferrees to the upcoming Commerce, Justice, State appropriations conference to support the carefully-crafted language included in the Hatch-Feinstein-Kyl Amendment. We have a responsibility to the people of this nation to act, and to act with all prudent haste, to ensure that those who are charged with protecting us from future terrorist attacks are empowered to do so.
My friends, we cannot afford to lose this race against terror, and we cannot afford to give the enemy in this war a full lap head-start.