News / 

U.S. Court Approved Record Number of Terror Warrants

U.S. Court Approved Record Number of Terror Warrants

Save Story
Leer en espaƱol

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

WASHINGTON (AP) The government requested and won approval for the highest-ever number of special warrants last year for secret wiretaps and searches of suspected terrorists and spies, an increase of 31 percent over 2001, the Bush administration disclosed Thursday.

Attorney General John Ashcroft revealed the figure in a mandatory, two-paragraph report to U.S. court officials. Last year's total of 1,228 approved warrants was far higher than the 934 approved in 2001 -- a sign of the aggressive efforts to prevent terror attacks in the United States.

Last year's figure was the first to reflect an entire 12-month period under the Patriot Act, the law passed immediately after the Sept. 11 terror attacks that allows the FBI to use such warrants in investigations that aren't mostly focused on foreign intelligence.

Operating with permission from a secretive U.S. court that meets regularly at Justice headquarters, the FBI has used such warrants to break into homes, offices, hotel rooms and automobiles, install hidden cameras, search luggage and eavesdrop on telephone conversations. Agents also have pried into safe deposit boxes, watched from afar with video cameras and binoculars and intercepted e-mails.

Key senators agreed this week on changes that would broaden the use of surveillance warrants.

Under the agreement, described by congressional officials speaking on condition of anonymity, Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., will try to amend the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to allow for such warrants against non-citizens even when a target can't be tied directly to a foreign power.

The bill also will include a requirement sought by Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., for the Justice Department to report to lawmakers how often that provision is employed. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, would abandon efforts to make permanent many of the expanded police powers in the Patriot Act, these officials said. Some of the powers will lapse automatically at the end of 2005 unless Congress renews them.

Details about some FBI surveillances last year emerge from court records spread across different cases. But only a fraction of such warrants each year result in any kind of public disclosure, so little is known outside classified circles about how they work.

Last November, for example, spy-hunters armed with such a warrant rummaged through the luggage of Katrina Leung at Los Angeles International Airport and found six photographs of FBI agents before she flew to China, according to court records.

Leung was arrested earlier this month on charges she was secretly a double-agent and passed to Chinese officials classified information she took from retired FBI agent James "J.J." Smith, her longtime spy handler.

Days before Leung's trip to China, FBI bugs in a hotel near Los Angeles caught Smith and Leung having sexual relations although Smith has denied such a relationship, court records showed. Smith, who also was arrested, is accused of gross negligence for allegedly allowing her to obtain the documents.

The FBI also used such terror warrants last year to search the homes of some terror defendants in Lackawanna, N.Y., where they found cassettes and documents about suicide attacks. And the FBI used them to eavesdrop on 271 conversations among five people in Portland, Ore., charged with conspiring to wage war against the United States and attempting to support a terrorist organization.

Experts said the increase in this special category of warrants offsets a significant drop in traditional wiretaps in criminal cases. The federal courts administrator disclosed earlier this week that judges had authorized 1,358 wiretap applications in 2002. That was a 9 percent decrease from the previous year.

"People had wondered why there was a decrease in criminal wiretaps, and we thought it was most likely due to the increased use of FISA court-ordered surveillance," said Beryl A. Howell, former general counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee. "This is consistent and bears out that view."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Most recent News stories


Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the Trending 5.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast