Letter from Washington | Alicia Mundy
New security bill may be radical departure
Seattle Times Washington bureau
WASHINGTON — Since Sept. 11, the government has poured billions of dollars into homeland security.
Congress, prodded by Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, and supported by the entire Washington state delegation, is poised to toss another $22 million into the mix. Opponents worry that this bill poses potential threats to civil rights. The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 passed the House last month 404-6. The six "nays" included an unlikely pair: conservative Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., and liberal presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.
The bill was thrashed as a dangerous boondoggle in a recent article in Congressional Quarterly (CQ), which quoted Reichert, who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee.
It would set up a 10-person commission on radicalization, which a congressional summary calls the use of an extremist belief system to facilitate ideology-based violence.
The commission would study the causes of homegrown terrorism and recommend ways to prevent it.
But opponents say that duplicates work being done by the FBI, CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and the Directorate of National Intelligence.
And, they claim, the legislation is vague and could lead to abuses. It does not focus, as recommended by some security experts, on radical Islamic groups that may have sprouted on U.S. soil.
Instead, Reichert told CQ, the commission also will look at white-power groups, neo-Nazis and other extremists.
"We don't want to focus on any one group or leave anybody out," he said.
That's the problem, said Rohrabacher, who usually supports pro-security legislation. "This one," he said, "does not pass the smell test. Who will they look at, and how?"
Rohrabacher noted that the FBI has been investigating animal-rights activists and environmentalist fringe cabals as terrorists. "Will they throw anti-abortionists into the mix?" he asked.
Only a year ago, news reports revealed that the FBI had been keeping files on a Christian peace group in Pittsburgh that opposes the war in Iraq.
All six state Democrats supported the bill. Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., signed up the members of her Homeland Security subcommittee as co-sponsors, including Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton.
On the House floor, Harman cited Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and said the bill "will help the nation develop a better understanding of the forces that lead to homegrown terrorism."
Reichert was tied up in House debates and could not be reached Friday.
But James Carafano, of the conservative Heritage Foundation warned, "Looking domestically can lead down some dangerous roads." He added, "Everybody wants a niche in homeland security."
Letter from Washington is an examination of the culture of politics and power in the nation's capital. Alicia Mundy can be reached at 202-622-7457 or at email@example.com.
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