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web posted July 12, 1999

FBI subdues 'Privacy gone crazy'

Law enforcement groups and their supporters in Congress rallied on July 2 to defeat a bank privacy proposal.

Warning in the darkest terms that a plan to protect the confidentiality of bank records was "privacy gone crazy," opponents angrily denounced it on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Federal law requires banks to monitor their customers for suspicious or unusual behavior and submit a report to a massive database in Detroit jointly administered by the IRS and FinCEN, another Treasury Department agency. Those reports contain personal information, including the customer's Social Security number, bank account number, address, and phone number.

A hastily assembled alliance of law-and-order conservatives and liberal Democrats predicted that a plan to reduce such surveillance of customers would turn the United States into "a money-laundering haven."

"Say no to the dope dealers," said Representative Maxine Waters (D-California).

"It guts existing money-laundering laws [and] sets the drug war back 20 years," said Representative Bill McCollum (R-Florida).

Both said the FBI, the Justice Department, and the Treasury Department steadfastly opposed the proposal, and quoted from letters sent to Congress by the FBI and an association of police chiefs.

The move was designed to portray the supporters of the amendment to the Financial Services Act of 1999 as extremists who would hamstring -- according to Representative John Dingell (D-Michigan) -- law enforcement's ability to investigate drug smugglers, the Mafia, and the Kali cartel.

For the most part, it worked. The plan's backers appeared dogged but outflanked by the aggressive opposition, and their aides privately began girding themselves for defeat.

"This notion that it is going to ruin law enforcement is just not valid," said Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas). "It protects the consumer. It protects the citizen."

Representative Tom Campbell (R-California) said current law is an "invasion of individual liberty in the guise of law enforcement."

The measure, backed by Paul, Campbell, and Georgia Republican Bob Barr, would have made federal laws requiring banks to report "suspicious transactions" more precise, and the rules requiring that banks report deposits or withdrawals of more than US$10 000 would in the future apply to amounts greater than $25 000.

Paul and Barr tried to use the momentum against the reviled Know Your Customer monitoring plan to advance their amendment.

The defeat by the full House means the amendment was not part of the financial modernization bill, which the chamber approved 343-83.

Public support of media freedoms dropping. I wonder who is to blame?

There is further evidence that the American public is getting fed up with the news media.

A majority, 53 percent, of those questioned in a survey sponsored by the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University believe the press has too much freedom. That's a 15 percent increase since 1997.

"It's a humbling reminder that fundamental rights of expression can disappear if the press and public are not vigilant," said Ken Paulson, the center's executive director.

The survey, released July 3, explores American commitment to the 45-word First Amendment that guarantees freedoms of religion, speech, the press, petition and assembly.

The poll shows most Americans celebrate the 208-year-old freedoms but are not entirely comfortable with them, particularly when practiced on emotionally charged issues such as burning the American flag, school prayer, sexually explicit material on the Internet, public display of offensive art and protests by groups such as white supremacists.

The poll identified freedom of speech as one of the most cherished of constitutional rights, followed by freedom of religion and the Second Amendment's right to bear arms.

Even so, when asked to name any of the specific rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, 49 percent could not. Sixty-three percent said their own knowledge of the amendment was poor or "only fair."

That worries some constitutional scholars.

"Those who follow such things know that the First Amendment is under incredible assault on a daily basis, whether from adverse court decisions, proposed laws, scholarly studies or citizen initiatives," Paul McMasters, the center's ombudsman for the First Amendment, wrote in an analysis of the poll.

"... The evidence is substantial that the state of the First Amendment is not good. Further, we must be mindful that where attitudes go, action is seldom far behind."

Freedom of the press took the hardest hit in the survey, which McMasters said indicates "the news media is in deep trouble with the American public."

Only 65 percent said newspapers should be able to publish freely without government approval of a story -- down from 80 percent in the 1997 survey.

By notable majorities, Americans also said the news media should not be allowed to endorse or criticize political candidates, use hidden cameras for newsgathering or publish government secrets.

Even student journalists suffer from the fallout. Support for high school newspapers being able to print controversial material went from 45 percent in 1997 to 37 percent in the current poll.

"The survey doesn't address why," Paulson said, "but common sense tells you the airwaves and newspaper columns have been filled with Monica Lewinsky, Marv Albert and the aftermath of the O.J. Simpson case.

"They've all contributed to a sense that the American press has lost its perspective."

The survey, conducted in February and March, was based on telephone interviews with 1,001 adults by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut. Margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent.

Police want to "eavesdrop" on pagers

Police can easily "eavesdrop" on pagers if a bill approved by the US Senate becomes law.

The bill says law enforcement officials can monitor all messages sent to targeted pagers without having to convince a judge that the information can be found only in that way.

"Congress is trying to do an end run around the Constitution and gut the privacy of millions of pager owners," said David Banisar, author of The Electronic Privacy Papers.

The measure is part of a sprawling juvenile crime bill, which passed the Senate overwhelmingly after the Littleton, Colorado shootings. It isn't in the House version of the bill, and leaders from both chambers were scheduled to appoint conference committee members after the Fourth of July recess.

According to the legislation, judges will be required to approve police surveillance of numeric pager data without subjecting law enforcement requests to the more exacting current requirements of search warrants or wiretap orders. The rules governing alphanumeric pager monitoring are left unchanged.

"It makes the court into nothing more than a clerk," said Dave Kopel, a lawyer at the Independence Institute and a former assistant attorney general of Colorado. "The judge must issue the order based on a law enforcement officials' representation."

Devices to monitor whom Americans call and receive calls from already fit into this warrantless category and are frequently used by police. Government statistics say 7 323 units -- called pen registers and trap-and-trace devices -- were used in 1998.

The US Supreme Court ruled in 1979 that police didn't need a warrant to record what numbers a person dialed. "The installation and use of a pen register, consequently, was not a 'search,' and no warrant was required," the five-justice majority concluded.

The proposal's backers intend it to grant additional authority to law enforcement officials but, oddly enough, the US Justice Department has called it unnecessary.

"We are unaware of any law enforcement need for such authorization and believe that the proposal is unwise as a policy matter. The bill also raises significant constitutional concerns under the Fourth Amendment," says a May 1998 letter from the DOJ Office of Legislative Affairs.

Another reason the DOJ gave was that criminals might simply switch to alphanumeric pagers, which the bill doesn't cover.

Then how did this plan end up in a juvenile crime proposal? Senator Mike DeWine (D-Ohio) had previously introduced the pager interception proposal in 1997 and submitted it again this year as a stand-alone measure called the Clone Pager Authorization Act of 1999.

During floor debate, the Senate started hanging irrelevant amendments on the juvenile justice bill as if it were a Christmas tree badly in need of some serious decoration.

One amendment creates a "national animal terrorism and ecoterrorism incident clearinghouse." Another requires Internet service providers to offer filtering software. DeWine's plan soon joined them.

"This legislation is yet another occasion where Congress responds to tragedy by uncritically passing anything and everything that has an anticrime label stuck on it," said Solveig Singleton, director of information studies at the Cato Institute.

England's latest freedom measure...

Anyone buying a knife in England will have to place their details on a national register under plans being drawn up by ministers to reduce crime.

The purchaser of any type of bladed instrument - from a penknife to a sword or from a fish knife to a machete - will be asked by shopkeepers for details of their name, address and proof of identification. Although the register would be voluntary, anyone who refused to give the information would be told they could not buy the knife.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, is favouring a nationwide extension of the register after wounding and knife-related crimes dropped by more than a third in in a pilot scheme in Coventry. In its first year after being launched in 1996, West Midlands Police reported a 46 per cent drop in the number of incidents of wounding. Burglaries known to involve knives were also 25 per cent down. Similar schemes have since been adopted in 30 other towns and cities across the country including Croydon, Liverpool and Sheffield.

The Home Secretary has been considering introducing legislation since Lisa Potts, a nursery nurse, and children in her charge were injured in a knife attack in Wolverhampton three years ago.

But Straw encountered difficulties because outlawing possession of large and and potentially lethal knives could have turned the hunting or fishing community into criminals. So far he has only increased the penalties for carrying a knife in public without a good reason. But ministers believe the register is the way to control the possession and use of knives.

The registers will be kept by shopkeepers selling knives and are available for the police to see. Staff will also note the time, date and the type of knife sold, plus any registration number on the knife. Anyone aged 17 or under will have to be accompanied by a responsible adult and prove that they have a legitimate reason for wanting the knife by producing a letter of authorisation from an official club or organisation supporting their claim.

The pioneering scheme was the idea of Coventry's youth crime prevention officer Pc Enda Hughes. He said: "At the moment there is no law to stop anyone of any age going into a shop and buying a knife despite the fact that they are potentially lethal weapons. Shop staff are forced to make an on-the-spot decision as to whether they should sell a knife to a customer however unsuitable they might seem.

This register allows staff to ask for a few details and dissuades people from trying to buy knives if they are unwilling to give them. People who have a legitimate reason to buy a knife have nothing to fear."

Pc Hughes received an OBE last month in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for his services in helping to reduce crime in Coventry after setting up the successful weapons register. The Home Office is now consulting chief constables and shopkeepers' organisations on the best way of setting up the national register.

Although information would be held initially on shop premises, it could eventually be transferred to computers at police stations, as long as those registering consented. New laws would not be needed to introduce a voluntary scheme in England and ministers in the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament are also keen to introduce the register.

Bush says he's 'proud' of Vietnam-era National Guard service

GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush defended his military service record on July 4, after a report in the Los Angeles Times said he may gotten "highly favorable treatment" to win a place as a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War era.

"I applied, and I wanted to fly jets, and I did," the Texas governor told reporters while on a July Fourth campaign swing in New Hampshire. "I was proud of my service. Had my unit been called up, I would have gone overseas."

"I would have gone had I been called. I can assure you of that," Bush said, noting that his commander told the Times "there was no preferential treatment given."

In its report, the Los Angeles Times said it found no evidence that either Bush or his father, former President George Bush, had personally tried to influence or pressure anyone to get the younger Bush a place in the Texas Guard. Bush's father was a congressman from Houston at the time.

"He was a son of privilege, his father was a man of means, political means, and if he was Joe Schmo trying to get into the Guard ... it wasn't going to happen," said Richard Serrano, author of the Times story.

"His name didn't hurt, obviously," retired Col. Charles C. Shoemake, who served with Bush, told the Times.

Texas Air National Guard historian Tom Hail also told the Times that the fast-tracking of Bush through the ranks was unusual.

"I've never heard of that," Hail said. "Generally, they did that for doctors only, mostly because we needed extra flight surgeons."

However, the Dallas Morning News, which also looked into Bush's military record, reported that while Bush's unit in Texas had a waiting list for many spots, he was accepted because he was one of a handful of applicants willing and qualified to spend more than a year in active training flying F-102 jets.

Bush, a Yale University graduate, has said he joined the Air National Guard rather than volunteer for Army combat duty because he wanted to learn how to fly jet fighters like his father, who was a fighter pilot in World War II.

"He said he wanted to fly just like his daddy," Bush's commander, Col. Walter B. "Buck" Staudt, told the Times. "Nobody did anything for him. There was no ... influence on his behalf."

The Times reported that many of Bush's former colleagues and superiors in the Guard remember him as a bright young leader who worked hard.

"He did the work. His daddy didn't do it for him," said retired Maj. Willie J. Hooper.

One of Bush's competitors for the GOP nomination, Rep. John Kasich of Ohio, said the Times revelations about Bush's war record was "no story."

"I didn't read anything in there that didn't say that he didn't do a good job, that he was praised by a lot of people he worked with," said Kasich, who had a high draft number, on ABC's "This Week" program. "I hope this isn't the beginning of 'gotcha' politics in terms of the presidential campaign."

Polish group wants central Warsaw square renamed for Ronald Reagan

About 100 prominent Poles inaugurated a committee Sunday to rename a central Warsaw square for Ronald Reagan to honor the former president for his contribution in defeating communism.

"Reagan was the main author of the victory of the free world over the Evil Empire," said Solidarity Chairman Marian Krzaklewski in a letter accepting honorary patronage over the committee.

Although Reagan has never been to Poland, Krzaklewski said the president was a great friend of Poles and had helped Solidarity in its struggle against the communist regime in the 1980s.

The Committee to Commemorate President Ronald Reagan, headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, wants the Warsaw City Council to rename Constitution Square, a large plaza of Stalinst-era housing blocks and shops at the intersection of Marszalkowska, Warynskiego and Piekna streets.

The current name refers to the 1952 communist constitution, which was replaced two years ago by a new, democratic one.

The square bears the name of an "invalid constitution of the country which no longer exists" -- thanks in part to Reagan, said committee spokesman Jozef Szaniawski.

If the group succeeds, Reagan would join George Washington and Woodrow Wilson as U.S. presidents with Warsaw plazas named after them.

Reagan, who turned 88 on Feb. 6, is well regarded here for his support for Solidarity as well as sanctions against Poland's communist rulers after the regime imposed martial law in December 1981 to crush Poland's independent labor movement.

After Solidarity toppled the totalitarian regime, Poles renamed many streets and public buildings to drop communist-era names. Constitution Square is one of the last remaining names in Warsaw linked to the communist era.

Cuba sues United States for $181 billion

The United States is responsible for "bloody acts" against Cuba, a former Cuban security official testified in a lawsuit accusing the United States of waging a dirty war against the Caribbean country.

The lawsuit, filed in late May in Havana, asks for $181 billion US in compensatory and punitive damages for the deaths of 3 478 Cubans and permanent physical damage to 2,099 more people in a variety of acts ranging from the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 to the bombing of Havana hotels in 1997.

More than 100 people are expected to testify before the hearings finish July 22. Huge piles of written evidence also are expected to be presented.

On July 5, Anibal Velaz Suarez, the retired former head of State Security for central Cuba during the early 1960s, was the first witness. He testified about "the barbaric bloody acts that the CIA committed with the bandits" in the years after President Fidel Castro's 1959 rise to power, including killings of members of the new revolutionary government.

The hearings were being held at the Palace of the Revolution - the seat of Cuba's government, rather than in a regular courtroom.

The hearings will show "the sick hostility signified by U.S. policy toward Cuba," the Communist party workers' newspaper Trabajadores predicted in a front-page story.

While the Cuban government is using the hearings to make a political point, it appears unlikely the lawsuit will result in any damages being paid. There are no U.S. funds in Cuba that can be frozen and seized.

No U.S. representative attended the court proceedings. And the U.S. government did not respond to the claim within 20 working days as required by Cuban law, said Juan Mendoza, one of Cuba's attorneys in the case.

The legal team hopes to show how U.S. policies have damaged Cuban society over the last 40 years, Mendoza said.

The plaintiffs include the National Association of Small Farmers, the Federation of Cuban Women, the Communist Workers of Cuba and the Federation of University Students - all mass organizations associated with Cuba's government.

First lady forms exploratory committee

With a single sheet of paper, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton took a major step on July 6 toward launching an historic official bid for the U.S. Senate from New York.

Clinton filed the necessary paperwork to form an exploratory committee for a possible Senate run in the Empire State. The committee will allow her to raise and spend money for the Democratic nomination. If she runs, she would become the first presidential spouse to seek public office.

"This morning, we filed a statement of organization with the Federal Election Commission to establish the Hillary Rodham Clinton for U.S. Senate Exploratory Committee," said campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson.

The first lady was not present for the five-minute filing at the commission in Washington, but 15 news cameras made sure the event was recorded.

White House lawyers strongly urged Mrs. Clinton to form the committee to address ethical questions about engaging in political activity on government time and with government money. Mrs. Clinton's campaign-like forays to New York have been criticized due to the use of taxpayer funds. Republican Party chairman Jim Nicholson claims $220 000 in public funds has been spent for her 12 trips to New York so far this year.

The Secret Service has insisted that Mrs. Clinton continue to use U.S. Air Force planes in her travel because of security. The funds raised by her exploratory committee can be used to cover future campaign expenses and reimburse the government for its expenses like the use of military jets.

The committee already has hired a full-time spokesman in Wolfson and has hired a full-time fund-raiser.

'NAFTA' for military proposed

A United States military report advocates a joint command for American, Mexican and Canadian forces, in the same way the three countries are united under free trade.

The report, by Lt.-Col. Joseph Nunez for the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., also suggested a North American peacekeeping force, headquartered in the U.S., with deputy commander positions rotating between Canada and Mexico.

"Moving from bilateral arrangements to a (military) organization that reflects regional economic and security concerns is a better strategy, particularly considering our burgeoning trade through NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the growing threat of terrorism that can penetrate through our borders," the report said.

The war college study is the first to publicly advocate the sensitive issue of integrated military command - a matter of sovereignty in Canada and Mexico, as well as countries throughout the hemisphere.

Such a command would co-ordinate military action on terrorism, insurgency, security threats and drug trafficking.

Nunez said the joint command would replace, for example, NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defence command) which "is getting pretty out-of-date when it comes to drugs, terrorism and other threats."

"The U.S. does not have the kind of working arrangement with Canada and Mexico that it should."

Nunez admitted the proposed unified command "may be a U.S. defence arrangement, but a lot of things would evolve to the benefit of Canada and Mexico - that would be my hope."

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