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Chertoff Says U.S. Needs More Freedom to Do Electronic Surveillance,
Detain Terror Suspects
WASHINGTON - The nation's chief of homeland security said Sunday
that the U.S. should consider reviewing its laws to allow for more
electronic surveillance and detention of possible terror suspects,
citing last week's foiled plot.
Michael Chertoff, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security,
stopped short of calling for immediate changes, noting there might
be constitutional barriers to the type of wide police powers the
British had in apprehending suspects in the plot to blow up
airliners headed to the U.S.
But Chertoff made clear his belief that wider authority could thwart
future attacks at a time when Congress is reviewing the proper scope
of the Bush administration's executive powers for its warrantless
eavesdropping program and military tribunals for detainees held at
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"What helped the British in this case is the ability to be nimble,
to be fast, to be flexible, to operate based on fast-moving
information," he said. "We have to make sure our legal system
allows us to do that. It's not like the 20th century, where you had
time to get warrants."
The Bush administration has pushed for greater executive authority
in the war on terror, leading it to create a warrantless
eavesdropping program, hold suspects who are deemed as "enemy
combatants" for long periods and establish a military tribunal
system for detainees that affords defendants fewer rights than
Congress is now reviewing some of the programs after lawmakers
questioned the legality of the eavesdropping program and the Supreme
Court ruled in June that the tribunals defied international law and
had not been authorized by Congress.
On Sunday, Chertoff said the U.S. is remaining vigilant for other
attacks, citing concerns that terror groups may "think we are
distracted" after last week's foiled plot. Attaining "maximum
flexibility" in surveillance of transactions and communications will
be critical in preventing future attacks, he said.
"We've done a lot in our legal system the last few years, to move in
the direction of that kind of efficiency," Chertoff said. "But we
ought to constantly review our legal rules to make sure they're
helping us, not hindering us."
He said he expects the Bush administration to keep the U.S. on its
highest threat alert for flights headed to the U.S. from the United
Kingdom and at its second-highest level for all other flights.
"We haven't fully analyzed the evidence, and therefore, we're still
concerned there may be some plotters who are out there," Chertoff
said. "We also have to be concerned about other groups that may
seize the opportunity to carry out attacks because they think we are
distracted with this plot."
Still, Chertoff said he believed that the nation's airline screeners
were well-positioned to catch future terrorists. He did not
anticipate greater restrictions beyond the current ban on carrying
liquids and gels onto airliners, such as barring all carry-on
"We don't want to inconvenience unnecessarily," he said. "I think
we can do the job with our screening, screening training and our
technology without banning all carry-on luggage."
Chertoff made the comments on "Fox News Sunday" and ABC's "This
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