WASHINGTON (Jul. 30)
Five months after lawmakers gutted anti-terrorism legislation that many Jewish activists had long championed, the renewed push to strengthen America’s hand against terrorism does little to advance measures embraced by the Jewish community.
In the wake of the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics, President Clinton has asked Congress for anti-terrorism tools denied him earlier in the year.
The measures Clinton requested, however, are not among those which Jewish activists had sought. There is still no talk of stricter measures to ban foreign terrorist groups from using the United States as a fund-raising base or stronger language that would allow the government to brand a group as terrorist.
Nonetheless, Jewish groups are likely to back the new measures Clinton has proposed in what he described as a “long, disciplined, concerted, united effort” to combat terrorism.
Specifically, Clinton wants to give law enforcement officials expanded wiretap authority to monitor all communications devices used by suspected terrorists, such as home phones, mobile phones and pagers. Officials are now limited to monitoring a specific phone number, rather than a specific person.
He also wants to require that explosives contain chemical markers, or “taggants,” to make terrorist bombs easier to trace.
The move comes in the wake of the Atlanta bombing, the explosion aboard TWA flight 800 and the bomb attack on U.S. airmen in Saudi Arabia.
Clinton had initially proposed using chemical markers and expanded wiretapping authority after the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995.
But the wiretapping measure was struck from anti-terrorism legislation when a rare grouping of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats raised civil liberties concerns.
And Republicans scratched the chemical marker provision when the National Rifle Association said it would create a safety hazard.
Amid the wrangling over the anti-terrorism bill earlier in the year, Jewish groups did not take a stance on the wiretapping or chemical marker provisions.
Jess Hordes, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Washington office, said the ADL is now “sympathetically disposed” toward supporting the administration’s new anti-terrorism effort but is awaiting specific details.
Richard Foltin, legislative director and counsel of the American Jewish Committee, said requiring chemical marking agents in black and smokeless powders “is clearly something that is appropriate and necessary to ensure that we’re able to trace back perpetrators to these types of offenses.”
Expanded wiretapping authority is something the AJCommittee would also likely support, Foltin added, provided that the language gives “appropriate regard to our concerns about due process and protection of privacy.”
At a meeting Monday with congressional leaders, Clinton won pledges of support for strengthening the anti-terrorism law he had signed in April.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) indicated that he would work with Clinton to pass the legislation, perhaps as early as this week, but said he wanted to do it in a “methodical way that protects our freedom.”