Written July, 2004.
There are two entrenched thoughts today that run through both the mainstream propangandist camps, as well as the conspiracy camps: 1. The Clinton
Administration did nothing to combat the terrorism threat. 2. The Bush Administration has taken unprecedented steps with the Homeland Security
initiative and PATRIOT Act that usurp citizens' rights. Unfortunately, when the historical record is reviewed, both of these contentions are found
to be without merit. And the stone that kills both these bogies at one time is the Omnibus Counter-Terrorism Act of 1995. By analyzing this failed
act, and looking at the PATRIOT Act, a Catch-22 is discovered which ensures one thing: the terrorists WILL win.
By the beginning of 1995 the Clinton administration had taken a hit on U.S. soil in the form of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. In response to
this wake-up call, Clinton had formally named 12 "terrorist organizations" and frozen their assets in Executive Order 12947. In addition, the
Clinton administration submitted the Omnibus Counter-Terrorism Act of 1995.
The response to this proposed act led to very strange bed-fellows in the opposition camp. Who were the opposition? It probably would take less time
to name who was for it - Clinton and the Democrats. But a partial list of the opposition includes the rather bizarre mix of: the ACLU,the NRA, the
Republicans, and just about every conspiracy theorist alive at the time. The Omnibus Counter-Terrorism Act brought hyperbole in the form of
"Bringing Back McCarthyism" and the onset of "Big Brother" as well as accusations of the attempt to eliminate Habeus Corpus.
The major points of the proposed act were as follows:
* Provide more tools and resources to federal law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism
* Prevent funding of terrorist organizations - these organizations being identified and stated by the President
* Expedite the deportation process when an alien is identified as being connected with a terrorist organization
* Provide more tools and resources in combatting illegal possession of nuclear material for the purpose of radioactive weapons
* Implement the tracking methods for plastic explosives as defined in the Convention on the Marking or Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of
Detection, done at Montreal on 1 March 1991.
Now, as can be quickly seen by the first and fourth bullets above, there is some ambiguity in what was meant by "providing more tools and
resources" in these particular efforts. So to understand the full intent of these bullets we must know the details behind the broad statements:
"Provide more tools to federal law enforcement agencies fighting terrorism"
* Amending the Fair Credit Reporting Act to allow financial information to be obtained by FBI for the purpose of tracking funds to identified
* Amending Federal law to relax standards on the use of "pen registers" and "trap and trace" devices to allow the FBI to conduct surveillance on
suspected terrorists and spies. Pen registers are basically tracing devices on outgoing calls made on a phone, while trap and trace devices are
"caller ids", or traces of incoming calls.
* Requiring hotel/motel and common transportation carriers (airlines, buses, trains, etc.) to provide records to the FBI in terrorist
* Funding the FBI's "digital telephony" efforts which would require telephone carriers to install and maintain equipment which would allow
electronic surveillance by the FBI.
* Funding a special FBI counter-terrorism fund ($10,000,000 in 4 years).
* Creating an "interagency Domestic Coutnerterrorism Center" which would be headed by the FBI but bring about the collective efforts of the Justice
Department, FBI, and "other federal and state law enforcement" agencies.
* Hiring 1000 new agents, prosecutors and "other federal law enforcement and support personnel to investigate, deter, and prosecute terrorist
* Amending the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1968 to allow for greater leeway for the FBI in obtaining wiretaps and roving wiretaps.
"Provide more tools and resources in combatting illegal possession of nuclear material for the purpose of radioactive weapons"
This bullet included the proposal to modify the Posse Comitatus Act to allow U.S. military intervention in domestic
law enforcement in cases
involving weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological and nuclear).
Curiously, the now wrangled practice of detaining alien terrorist suspects indefinitely and without trial, was first offered in the Omnibus act. If,
during the expedited deportation process of a suspected terrorist alien, no country would accept them, the act called for the right of the Attorney
General to hold them indefinitely, and with no need for trial. In fact, there is little in the Patriot Act that was not proposed in the Omnibus Act;
including the Homeland Security structure.
There was no point in the Omnibus act that was not attacked.
The ACLU attacked the wiretapping expansion and relaxing of restrictions on FBI investigations as being in violation of the citizen's right to
privacy and the Fourth Amendment. They attacked the proposed presidential ability to designate a group terrorist in nature, and then freeze funds, as
in violation of the First Amendment, and insinuated the clause would be used to persecute opposing political groups. They attacked the proposed
"secret evidence" in a named terrorist alien deportation trial as unconstitutional. And, of course, they vehemently attacked the clause that would
allow the Attorney General to hold a suspected terrorist alien indefinitely without trial.
The NRA attacked the clause which allowed for prosecution of individuals knowingly transferring a weapon for the purpose of use in a crime, and the
act's definition of a "terrorist". The hyperbole that accompanied the gun advocates statements included such things as "Hence, the complete
destruction of a stop sign by use of a firearm could come within the ambit of the definition." The exaggerations concerning the proposed clause of
weapons transfers while knowing the intended use to be criminal included "there is even a possibility that a manufacturer could be prosecuted for
selling a type of firearm "having reasonable cause to believe" that the characteristics of that type make it more likely to be used in a crime of
The Republicans attacked the wiretapping clause and the plastic explosives tracking proposal. But mainly, they just attacked it.
Until April 19th, 1995, when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed by a domestic terrorist. The remainder of 1995 would
be a blizzard of proposed bills from both Democrats and Republicans aimed toward increasing intelligence capabilities and cracking down on both
domestic and international terrorism. Eventually, after the appropriate number of members from both parties had gotten their fingers in the mix,
Public Law 104-132, Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, was passed.
Many of the contentious proposals in Clinton's Omnibus Act were eliminated from the final law: the increased wiretapping and surveillance powers,
for the FBI; taggants in plastic explosives (although it did call for a study by the Attorney General and findings from that study to be reported
within 180 days); the "Homeland Security" structure; and much of the deportation clauses concerning suspect aliens (including detaining
indefinitely without trial).
After the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta later in the year, Clinton would use his own hyperbole to push to get some of the omitted powers back in.
This eventually resulted in an amendment that included the required taggants in plastic explosives. During this second push FBI Director Louis Freeh
testified before Senate Intelligence Committee concerning the wiretap proposals. During his testimony he stated:
"The United States and its interests both here and around the world are clearly under attack. And we may be in for a very difficult time with
respect to continuation of these types of things."
One can only speculate as to whether 9/11 would have been prevented had the Omnibus Act passed. It is clear that something concerning the event
would have been harder to pull off, or easier to detect. But at the same time, the fears and calls of Big Brother that currently exist under the
PATRIOT Act and are used to imply the Bush administration is attempting some type of dictatorship would have been present under the Omnibus Act with
similar implications toward Clinton.
An analysis of what was attempted by Clinton in 1995/96 and what Bush did in the PATRIOT Act almost 3000 lives later can teach us many things.
Preventing terrorism is a Catch-22 not only for the U.S. government, but for the U.S. citizen. Terrorism has an inherent victory embedded within
itself. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. No matter whether a given attack is prevented or not, the steps required to try to thwart attacks default
the victory to the attackers. Somewhere in this prevention, the U.S. citizen loses something: privacy. The question is: Is that privacy worth a
significant number of lives? I'm sure this question has endless answers - and none will be wrong.
1. Executive Order 12947
2. HR 896 - Proposed Omnibus Counter-Terrorism Act of 1995 - House
3. Proposed Omnibus Counter-Terrorism Act of 1995 - Senate
4. Convention on the Marking of Plastic Explosives for the
Purpose of Detection
5. Clinton Administration Counter Terrorism Initiative
6. ACLU Background Briefing: House to Consider Ominous Counter- Constitution Act
7. H.R. 1710 -- An Assault on Freedom
8. USA PATRIOT Act
9. Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
10. Clinton presses for anti-terrorism tools
11. FBI chief: U.S. 'under attack' by terrorists
Original ATSNN Article
[edit on 1-9-2006 by Valhall]