The Senate on Thursday easily passed a bill expanding a powerful surveillance law, used in spy and terrorism probes, to allow U.S. agents to wiretap lone foreigners who can’t be linked to a terrorist organization or government.
Currently, U.S. law officers can get warrants authorizing intelligence-gathering wiretaps from a secret court, but only if they can establish a reasonable belief that the target is an “agent of a foreign power” or group.
The bill, which passed, 90 to 4, would amend the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to remove that requirement.
As used in the act, the term “agent of a foreign power” includes those controlled by governments, political organizations or terrorist groups. But lawmakers feared that this rule could hinder the FBI when its investigators can’t make such a link to a known terror group or a foreign government.
The bill, introduced by Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), has become known in Washington as the “Lone Wolf” measure. It still must be passed in the House.
Proponents also have described the bill as the “Moussaoui fix” because investigators, in the weeks preceding the Sept. 11 attacks, were unable to establish any tie between Al Qaeda and Zacarias Moussaoui, the lone defendant charged as a conspirator with the 19 hijackers. Without that link, FBI headquarters believed it could not get a warrant targeting him.