The USA Patriot Act: Origins, Outcomes, Beneficiaries, Stakeholders, Decision Makers, Methods of Delivery, and Our Assessment

The USA Patriot Act: Origins, Outcomes, Beneficiaries, Stakeholders, Decision Makers, Methods of Delivery, and Our Assessment

Table of Contents
The USA Patriot Act: Origins, Outcomes, Beneficiaries, Stakeholders, Decision Makers, Methods of Delivery, and Our Assessment
Decision Makers
Methods of Delivery
Our Assessment

There is no denying that out of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks spawned a need to calm the public’s immediate paranoia in addition to enhance homeland security. The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, more widely known as the USA PATRIOT Act, was adopted in an effort to meet these needs. Like in any policy or program, the USA PATRIOT Act had all of the following components: Origins, outcomes, beneficiaries, stakeholders, decision makers, and methods of delivery. Stemming from the roots of the September 11th attacks, the PATRIOT ACT sought, in essence, to reduce the number of terrorist attacks in the United States. Among the beneficiaries were the President, his Executive Branch, and the United States citizenry assuming the Act was used responsibly. The stakeholders could also potentially be the United States citizenry, for if the act were abused citizens would witness dramatic reductions with respect to the individual liberties afforded them. In order to carry out such policies, the United States sought methods of delivery through criminalization of terrorist activities, enhancing border and air security, tightening down on money-laundering, and various other means to stop terrorists seeking to attack the United States. Finally, we offer our qualified assessment as a group, as the decision of its legitimacy is undoubtedly controversial and inherently subjective.

There is no denying that September 11th attacks sent the nation into an apocalyptic state of panic. As Adam Smith writes in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, “The state or sovereignty in which we have been born or educated, and under the protection of which we continue to live, is, in ordinary cases, the greatest society upon whose happiness or misery, our good or bad conduct can have much influence…Not only we ourselves, but all the objects of our kindest affections, our children, our parents, our relations, our friends, our benefactors, all those whom we naturally love and revere the most, are commonly comprehended within it; and their prosperity and safety depend in some measure upon its prosperity and safety. It is by nature, therefore, endeared to us, not only by our selfish but by all our private benevolent affections. Upon account of our own connexion with it, its prosperity and glory seem to reflect some sort of honour upon ourselves. (Smith VI.II.27)“ For days, months, weeks, even years after we recall the horrific images of that day, the innocent victims who fell peril, and the imminent attacks that were coming.

In an effort to subdue the mass paranoia and thwart future terrorist attacks like that one, the US Congress passed Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, more commonly known by its nickname The USA PATRIOT Act. Inclusive of ten articles, the PATRIOT Act looks to enhance homeland security, add additional provisions for surveillance, provide stronger punishments against money-laundering, bolster border security, provide for the welfare of victims and families of victims of terrorism, codify criminal law, improve intelligence, and other miscellaneous means. These measures, while noble and harmless in words, can undoubtedly be abused in a tyrannous and dictatorial fashion. Set to benefit the most perhaps was then-President George Walker Bush. With increasing returns to power for the Executive Branch, he would see massive amounts more of discretion, allowing him to operate on a previously unimaginable plane. In addition, the entire Executive Branch would see such increasing returns, echoing from the upper echelons of the President throughout the vast bureaucracy and accompanying agencies. For example, the Department of Justice would gain considerable amounts of power. With the ability to prosecute more widely since the codifying of terrorist criminal law as well as having an increased ability to enforce, the Department of Justice stood in a much better position than before in terms of power. Lastly, if enforced in the proper manner, the American people could gain considerably. If done correctly, the act would prevent future harm and cool worried American minds.

While standing the most to gain from the act if carried out correctly, the American people also stood the most to lose if the act were carried out abusively. With increased power to the Executive branch and various prosecution and enforcement agencies of the vast bureaucracy as well as assuming that this power is abused, the American people stand to see drastic decreased returns to individual liberty. However, in an effort to calm the people’s fears and prevent future attacks, the bill was signed into law by then-President George W. Bush on 26 October 2001. Influenced by various decision-makers like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Karl Rove, and various other political advisors, these men believed the nation’s security rested in the hands of this safeguard. Placed under the supervision of the Department of Justice, the PATRIOT Act has an approximate budget estimated at nearly two-billion dollars today. One can witness its delivery throughout the twenty-first century security state that is America, whether a subject of surveillance at a stop light, inconvenient Transportation and Security Administration screening checks, or the infamous Department of Homeland Security Threat Level System. While seemingly bound to only a few hundred pieces of paper, the Act has become an accepted staple to modern American society.

For subjective reasons, we are unable to take a definitive stance on the Act. For instance, while Andrew believes the Act is immeasurable yet valuable in its noble purpose, Elliott believes the Act is a violation of the liberty granted to individuals by the Constitution and increases the probability of tyrannous oppression - two things this country has always exhausted every effort to protect and every effort to prevent, begging the question that if terrorist attacks are thwarted who bears the burden of the privacy cost? As Ayn Rand writes in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, that “A rational mind does not work under compulsion; it does not subordinate its grasp of reality to anyone’s orders, directives, or controls; it does not sacrifice its knowledge, its view of truth, to anyone’s opinions, threats, wishes, plans, or ‘welfare.’ Such a mind may be hampered by others, it may be silenced, proscribed, imprisoned, or destroyed; it cannot be forced; a gun is not an argument. (Rand 17)” This debate is common concerning the Act and has been virulently raging for centuries, a debate centered around the line drawn between individual liberty, collective security, and the grant of power given to big government.

The Social Problem or Problems
The USA PATRIOT Act stemmed from a variety of social problems. Most notably, the Act was used as an effort to quell public fears of what was thought to be an imminent second attack. I can recall news reports of aircraft carriers off the east coast and warplanes circling over head of every major American city. Fear spreads fast, and there is perhaps nothing more destabilizing than fear that one’s government cannot provide for its people. Looking to quickly subdue these fears, Congress looked to take a public stance. More security, better dialogue between agencies, and harsher punishments were all needed to stave off fear and avoid mass paranoia. The PATRIOT Act is but a mechanism to provide for these legitimately. Second, the USA PATRIOT Act looked to prevent future terrorist attacks, certain that attacks would be catastrophic to public opinion of the legitimacy of the government and incite mass response. I recall immense panic amongst public officials about whether to go to war, what appropriate steps should be taken, and who was responsible for this horrific act.

In order to carry out such actions, the PATRIOT Act sought to redefine counterterrorism by taking a noticeably active rather than previously passive role. To achieve such an end, policymakers equipped border security checkpoints with the most up to date technology like e-fences, enhanced punishment by codifying criminal terrorist actions, as well as provided measures for detection of money laundering. All of these took an active stance in seeking out terrorist activities rather than waiting for information to come aimlessly across a desk.

The Intended Outcome
The desirable outcome of the USA PATRIOT Act is in its very name: “to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.” Doing so mitigates both previously discussed social problems, quelling citizen’s fears as well as preventing future terrorist attacks. In order to see if they have indeed accomplished this, the Department of Justice looks:
1. To dramatically reduce restrictions on law enforcement agencies’ ability to search telephone, e-mail, communications, medical, financial, and other records
2. To ease restrictions on foreign intelligence gathering within the United States
3. To expand the Secretary of the Treasury’s authority to regulate financial transactions, particularly those involving foreign individuals and entities
4. To broaden the discretion of law enforcement and immigration authorities in detaining and deporting immigrants suspected of terrorism-related acts
5. To expand the definition of terrorism to include domestic terrorism’
6. To reduce the amount of terrorist attacks on the United States
7. To increase the security of every United States citizen (PATRIOT Act)

One measure of such any counterterrorism Act like the PATRIOT ACT is if it helped cease terrorist attacks before they occurred and if so how many? However, due to the risk of declassifying such information, this number is extremely hard to quantify. Furthermore, it is hard to count an occurrence that never occurred. Thus, the PATRIOT Act is perhaps the most challenging law to attack, with proponents taking advantage of the unknown risk given the act be repealed.

The Beneficiaries
Out of the USA PATRIOT Act, three groups sought to gain the most: the President, the Executive Branch agencies, and the American people if the act were used correctly. Since the President and his close peers would see increases in power to the branch not witnessed since the days of the New Deal, he therefore would be afforded more assets and room to maneuver politically to get what he wanted. For example, the infamous torture at Abu Graib was a direct product of the power granted to the President under the USA PATRIOT Act. The President could also be given his exact or similar budget, citing that if any cuts were made the livelihood of the nation would be at risk, thus putting him in a better position politically with more money to work with, all due to the authorization of the USA PATRIOT Act.

Second, the various Executive Branch agencies charged with oversight of the Act saw massive benefits for similar reasons. With more authority and larger budgets, these agencies too were undoubtedly in a better position with the Act. The Department of Justice, Homeland Security, and the Transportation and Security Administration all saw increased importance after September 11th and were given a substantial increase in their grant of power as a result, whether through additional financial or human resources.

Lastly, the American people - operating under the assumption that the Act was implemented nobly - gained perhaps the most. With a safeguard now in check, the public’s mass paranoia be quelled. Furthermore, with a barrier against terrorism in place, there would be no more loss of dear human life on American soil - an occurrence that has only occurred twice, Pearl Harbor and September 11th, each of which witnessed horrifying acts that violated our sense of security.

The Stakeholders
In contrast to the last section, if the Act is not used properly the American people stand the most to lose. Increased returns to power for leaders that abuse the privilege has historically uncovered tyranny, whether in the actions of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, or Polpot. One such avenue this could occur through is Title One of the Act. Title One contains six different sections that promote counterterrorist actions, condemn discrimination against Arab and Muslim Americans, increase funding for the FBI’s Technical Support Center, allow for military action when needed and expanded the President’s power in making rapid decisions in times of need. Every single article in the first title is legitimate to the degree that it is not abused. Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with more funding to the FBI if it is in need; however the funding that the FBI receives should be closely monitored and overseen by Congress, the situation here is fulfilling your unlimited wants with your limited resources. When the FBI is need of extra funding, the reasons that they provide must be exceptional enough for funding to be provided. Likewise, the condemnation of discrimination towards Arabs is something that looks nice on paper. However, 10 years after the fact, this has not been the case in most situations unfortunately. There has been allot of discrimination towards the Islamic faith and many Muslims have been targeted at the airports, universities, local neighborhoods and etc. There was no article portraying that in the case of discrimination, such and such consequences would be levied.

When we carefully scrutinize the article, which expands the president’s authority to make rapid decisions in a given moment, it is ambiguous. One cannot stop and think “how much power does the President really have?” The core foundation of the institutionalization of this nation was to promote democracy and propel away from monarchy. This clause has and will always be controversial because, the President shouldn’t be able to maneuver in such a way that he doesn’t have anyone to answer to; above all, the President will always have to face the people of the US. Essentially, it can also be argued that this particular clause was instituted to manipulate the system. In a case where the President uses this clause with his nobility, there is nothing wrong. However, George W. Bush completely manipulated the system by attacking Iraq in 2003 that resulted in millions of casualties and a current economic recession that still is in existence. Money in the United States went to the wrong places; for example, with the money that was spent in Iraq, every single person in America could have had free healthcare and more money to be put on the side! Conclusively, on paper everything seems all right however the trick is in the implementation of the clauses. The constitutionality of the “sneak and peek” warrants is a direct attack and invasion on the privacy of Americans. Likewise, it came to a point where you feel like your telephone conversations are not private; like a feeling of “big brother” watching over you.

The Decision Makers
The decision makers consisted of three parties: the President, the Department of Justice, and the United States Congress. The decision regarding the substance of the bill, I.e. what was missing on September 11th to thwart a terrorist attack and what was subsequently needed to prevent such an occurrence from occurring again, began at the Department of Justice at the request of the President. As the chosen agency under which such a law would rest, the Department of Justice was to choose what weapons various agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, Homeland Security, and Border Patrol needed to be equipped with to show action in an effort to deter public fear as well as stave off future attacks. From there, the US Congress was left to codify the agencies’ needs into law - that is, make them legitimate. Introduced in the United States House of Representatives first, the USA PATRIOT ACT passed by a margin of three-hundred fifty-seven yeas to sixty-six nays. Thereafter, in the United States Senate the bill passed by a margin of ninety-eight to one.Lastly, the President, who requested the bill be researched, drafted, adopted, and implemented, signed the bill into law on October 26th, 2001, just over thirty days after the attacks. While the act is neutral in language, whether the act would be used for security or tyranny remained to be seen.

The Methods of Delivery
The USA PATRIOT Act sought to deliver its policies utilizing four methods:
1. The PATRIOT Act allows investigators to use the tools that were already available to investigate organized crime and drug trafficking.
2. The PATRIOT Act facilitated information sharing and cooperation among government agencies so that they can better “connect the dots.”
3. The PATRIOT Act updated the law to reflect new technologies and new threats.
4. The PATRIOT Act increased the penalties for those who commit terrorist crimes. (PATRIOT Act)

Furthermore, the PATRIOT Act draws a whopping two billion dollars annually to fund its endeavors. This number is the most recent appropriation, and in fact can be increased, as section one-hundred one Counterterrorism Fund enumerates “There is hereby established in the Treasury of the United States a separate fund to be known as the ‘‘Counterterrorism Fund’’, amounts in which shall remain available without fiscal year limitation” Organizationally, the USA PATRIOT Act falls under the direct supervision of the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General. Thus, it is unlikely to see it dissolve unless through the Courts, as the President and the Executive Branch are unlikely to check the limitations of the piece of legislation investing them with a grant of power. Thus, the only other medium through which the USA PATRIOT Act could be repealed would be through the Courts.

Our Assessment
Due to subjective reasons, our assessment varies. On the one hand, we feel as if the implementation of the PATRIOT Act was an appropriate measure for concerns regarding terrorist activity. Not only did it give our citizens a sense of protection but also gave an explicit stance against terrorism. For as Milton Friedman pointed out in Economic Freedom and Political Freedom, “In a society freedom has nothing to say about what an individual does with his freedom; it is not an all-embracing ethic. (Friedman 12)” Thus, an individual, such as a terrorist, could possess freedom but use it for violent purposes to achieve malevolent ends. However, on the other hand, by citizens giving up various rights we can see where the controversy would originate. The “big brother” concept is undoubtedly the center of this side. Perhaps John Locke said it best in Of Slavery, an excerpt from his infamous Second Treatise of Civil Government. “Freedom of men under government is, to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it; a liberty to follow my own will in all things, where the rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man: as freedom of nature is, to be under no other restraint but the law of nature. (Locke IV)”

The September 11th terrorist attacks undoubtedly sent shockwaves through American society. Amongst these shocks were fears of a supposed imminent second attack as well as mass pandemonium. In an effort to quell these fears, the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, more commonly known as the USA PATRIOT Act, was ratified. Poised to gain major ground politically, the President and his Executive Branch scored a major victory with this landmark piece of legislation. Depending on your subjective belief of the Act’s effectiveness, you may find the Act to have been a major victory for the United States citizen as well. Contrastingly, you may also find the Act to be a major blow for the United States citizen as well. Per request of the President, the Justice Department began drafting requests and needs, was sent to Congress, and was singed into law a little over a month after the attacks. In an effort to see decreasing returns to terrorism, America has become increasingly securitized. Whether at the airport with TSA security checks, Border Patrol along the United States-Mexico border, or at the common stoplight, the effects of the Act are undoubtedly discernable. Finally, the judgment of the constitutionality or effectiveness of the Act is a subjective matter but consider this last point. Frederic Bastiat once wrote in The Law, “Perhaps the politician should ask himself whether that state of affairs has not been caused by old conquests and lootings, and by more recent legal plunder. (Bastiat 20)”

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Rand, Ayn. Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal. [New York]: New American Library, 1966. Print.
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"USA PATRIOT Act." UUSA PATRIOT Act. United States Department of Justice. Web. 24 Apr. 2011. .