Clinton to hire 1,000 officers to fight terrorism

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The Independent Online
President Bill Clinton last night proposed hiring 1,000 additional law enforcement personnel and toughening criminal law to keep the "vicious behaviour" of the Oklahoma City bombing from spreading elsewhere in America. "I know we have a shared commitment to do everything we possibly can to stamp out the kind of vicious behaviour we saw in Oklahoma City," Mr Clinton said at the start of a meeting with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders. "We can't allow our entire country to be subjected to the horror that the people of Oklahoma City have endured," he said.

The White House said Mr Clinton's proposals included hiring around 1,000 new agents, prosecutors and other federal law enforcement officials to combat terrorism, and relaxing a ban on military involvement in domestic law enforcement.

As thousands of FBI agents across the country continued their hunt for further suspects in the Oklahoma City bombing, America found itself embroiled in a civil rights debate over the plans by Mr Clinton and Congress to beef up the FBI's powers following the attack.

It is a debate that has been simmering away in the US ever since the aftermath of J Edgar Hoover, whose spying, blackmail, and black propaganda struck fear into the hearts of presidents, celebrities and criminals alike. Civil rights groups have warned that the political establishment is about to rush through legislation, propelled by the nation-wide anger over the bombing, which threatens to revive the abuses of the 1960s and 1970s when FBI agents spied on anti-Vietnam protesters, political leaders such as Martin Luther King, and others.

In this, the civil liberties movement now finds itself in the unusual position of occupying the same ground as the far right, whose weapons- mad paramilitary fanatics have added volume to the demands for tougher new laws. The air waves reverberated yesterday with protests from right- wing talk-show hosts and militia leaders, who believe the FBI is already too powerful, and view any move to strengthen it as further proof that the federal government is trampling on individual rights - the fault line that produced the recent rise of militias.

Today the Republican leadership in the US Senate plans to introduce anti- terrorism legislation at a hearing of the judiciary committee. This includes a tranche of laws which alarm the civil rights movement: a conspiracy law; an increase in the government's powers to deport suspects; and a ban on donations to any group that the President decides is engaged in terrorist activities.

According to Orrin Hatch, the committee's chairman, the bill - which has bi-partisan support - will incorporate Mr Clinton's proposals to increase the FBI's investigative powers in the wake of the bombing. After meeting relatives of the bombing's victims on Monday, the President announced proposals to set up a domestic counter-intelligence centre, provide funds for infiltrating suspected terrorist groups, and to extend the FBI's access to credit card records.

When Hoover died in 1972, America was horrified to discover the extent to which he used disinformation, break-ins, character assassination and blackmail in his campaign against anyone judged to be "un-American". His regime prompted Congress to limit the FBI's powers, banning it from wire- tapping or infiltrating suspected organisations unless it could prove they were engaged in criminal activities.

More than 20 years on, the memory of the Hoover era still looms large. "We really are creating an imperial presidency here if we go that far," said Laura Murphy Lee, of the American Civil Liberties Union.