Pubdate: Fri, 07 Jun 2002
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 2002, New Haven Register


Catching terrorists may be the FBI's new number one priority but in 
Connecticut it has been nailing corrupt politicians, breaking up violent 
drug gangs and putting away corrupt financiers.

Each in their own way has been as much a threat to the state's safety and 
well being as a terrorist trained in Afghanistan. Those who have any doubts 
should take a look at the videotapes of drug gangs that took over the 
streets at the beginning of the 1990s.

Combating public corruption is now ranked fourth on a new list of FBI 
priorities unveiled last week by Robert S. Mueller III. The fight against 
violent crime is now ranked the eighth highest priority.

The new top three FBI priorities involve terrorism, espionage and intelligence.

The FBI, CIA and other government agencies have to do a better job of 
assessing and linking information.

It makes sense for the Justice Department to lift restrictions on the FBI's 
spying capabilities. Field offices can now open terrorism investigations 
instead of waiting months for approval from Washington. Agents should be 
able to surf the Internet, just like the public, to search for evidence of 

But a massive increase in intelligence staff and the end of restrictions 
that have kept agents without reasonable suspicion from trolling in the 
public domain raise the unpleasant prospect of the return of the "red squad."

The new policies allow agents, without probable cause, to conduct 
surveillance of public events, enter churches and mosques and rifle through 
the mass of health, financial and business data that is readily available.

All this is legal. But the last time the Justice Department allowed such 
broad domestic spying, it degenerated into dirty tricks against civil 
rights leaders, most notably the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and heavy 
handed monitoring of the Vietnam anti-war movement.

Americans value their privacy and would resent a government presence that 
could chill their rights to free speech and association.

The FBI will have to balance the national security imperative to stop 
terrorism with fully respecting citizens' constitutional rights. At the 
same time, the shift in priorities should not detract from the valuable 
work it has done in states like Connecticut to keep streets safe and 
politicians honest.
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