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Editor's Corner
with PoliceOne Senior Editor Doug Wyllie

In late July, the Justice Department quietly unveiled proposed changes to rules governing the measures local law enforcement officers can take for intelligence-gathering in domestic counterterrorism efforts. According to a story in the Washington Post, the "proposed changes would revise the federal government's rules for police intelligence-gathering for the first time since 1993 and would apply to any of the nation's 18,000 state and local police agencies that receive roughly $1.6 billion each year in federal grants."
Justice says that the new rules will not affect policies prohibiting police from initiating investigations based on a person's race, religion, or speech, but will make it considerably easier for police to "target groups as well as individuals, and to launch a criminal intelligence investigation based on the suspicion that a target is engaged in terrorism or providing material support to terrorists."
While counterterrorism within the U.S. borders has principally been a Federal enterprise, it's important to note that local law enforcement has been on the front lines of tracking down domestic terrorists for quite a long time. Jim Glennon rightly points out in this article that both Timothy McVeigh (the Oklahoma City bomber) and Eric Rudolph (the Olympic Park bomber) were observed, questioned, detained, and captured by local cops.
This is a train that has long-since left the station, and for more than a decade been hurdling inexorably down the rails toward becoming SOP in law enforcement agencies across America. But when did this train get underway? The USA Patriot Act, which expands the definition of terrorism to include domestic terrorism, certainly enhanced the ability local law enforcement officers for intelligence-gathering in counter-terror operations, but that wasn't it.
Surprisingly, the localization of this Federal authority dates back a federal law that was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. This law created new pathways for wiretapping and other surveillance aimed at studying the behavior patterns of people on the domestic front - Americans - and presenting the issue of their potential involvement in terrorist activities to the Alien Terrorist Removal Court (consisting of five sitting U.S. District Judges) which essentially operates in secrecy.

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