A Senate review has identified persistent problems in the federal government’s ability to quickly obtain secret intelligence warrants that are considered crucial to tracking terrorism suspects, reports the New York Times. The warrants are issued by a secret intelligence court in response to government requests to be allowed clandestine surveillance operations against such suspects. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-Ks.), said yesterday that the audit left him concerned about the government’s ability to quickly conduct wiretapping, eavesdropping, and other surveillance operations on terrorism suspects.
Roberts spoke at the latest in a series of hearings on the government’s antiterrorism powers under the USA Patriot Act. An unflinching joint defense of the law was presented by three senior officials: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; FBI director Robert S. Mueller III, and Porter J. Goss, the director of central intelligence. The 2001 law made it easier for the Justice Department to go before the special intelligence court to request the secret warrants, and their number has surged. The department obtained 1,754 of them in 2004 – an increase of 74 percent in four years. The surge has made it hard for the Justice Department to keep pace. It takes an average of 46 days for a warrant request to be processed and submitted.