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Former FBI Director: Balance Intelligence Needs With Civil Liberties

Wednesday, 26 September 2001 12:00 AM

Sessions, who was appointed FBI Director in 1987 by President Reagan after serving as a federal district court judge for 13 years, told NewsMax.com in an exclusive interview that Congress is faced with a dilemma.

While the events of Sept. 11 are giving Congress new impetus to improve on decades-old laws that don't account for new technologies like cellular phones, Congress must balance those interests against our constitutional liberties, Judge Sessions says.

As Congress faces this new challenge, Sessions' message is simple: Don't rush to make changes.

"First of all, the attorney general has to justify fully what he’s asking for," Sessions said, adding that "we need to be sure that we provide for an effective means to deal with criminality, which includes terrorism, and an effective way to deal with foreign intelligence needs" so as not to "absolutely tie both hands behind the backs of the government in its ability to try to ... protect the national security interests."

Still, Sessions noted, segments of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) "are very stringent on what must be supplied in connection with any application of the executive branch, [meaning] prosecutors or United States attorneys or departments of Justice or [anyone] seeking to get a tap."

The law is also very specific in that it "almost totally closes out any possibility you can get any information from any source other than the tap itself."

Sessions said these restrictions and others were imposed in 1968.

Sessions argued that it would be foolish "to ignore what encryption has done in the last year, let alone the last 35 years."

A statute "needs to be current in terms of what is permissible under the law," Sessions added.

At the same time, Sessions believes, "we need to be sure that we are mindful of the Constitution, mindful of privacy considerations, but also meet the technological needs that we have" to secure information on criminal or national security information.

Sessions disagreed with those who say we can have effective intelligence or civil liberties, but not both.

Intelligence analysts have claimed that under the current law the FBI cannot get a warrant for the arrest of a terrorist unless the suspect is actually an agent of a foreign power or about to commit a terrorist act. Under those circumstances, "then it might well be some other standard that is needed to cover the kinds of things that came to pass" on Sept. 11, Sessions said.

Sessions also stressed the need for human intelligence.

During Sessions' tenure the FBI nabbed noted mobster John Gotti using his top lieutenant, Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, as an informant.

Gravano admitted to the FBI many crimes, including murder, but was still used as an informant.

Sessions said the FBI has "certainly" had to rely on unsavory informants. He sympathized with those who reject the so-called Torricelli Principle, which insists on clean human rights records for CIA informants.

"We do not get information by torture," Sessions said. "It does seem to me that you don't get the kind of information from the Sunday school teacher that you might get from the person who is on the site but has an unsavory reputation or background or actual criminal violations."

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Sessions, who was appointed FBI Director in 1987 by President Reagan after serving as a federal district court judge for 13 years, told NewsMax.com in an exclusive interview that Congress is faced with a dilemma. While the events of Sept. 11 are giving Congress new impetus...
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2001-00-26
Wednesday, 26 September 2001 12:00 AM
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