In the year since the Patriot Act was approved, the government has moved quickly to take full advantage of new and existing powers.
More than a thousand noncitizens were detained without being charged last fall, and their identities were kept secret. Hundreds of Muslim men--citizens and noncitizens--were placed under surveillance by federal investigators across the country. Their movements, telephone calls, e-mail, Internet use and credit-card charges are being scrutinized around the clock--a campaign that has resulted in criminal charges against 18 suspected al Qaeda operatives near Seattle, Detroit, Buffalo, N.Y., and Portland, Ore.
"We've neutralized a suspected terrorist cell within our borders," Ashcroft announced earlier this month at press conference about the indictments of six in Portland charged with conspiring to aid al Qaeda and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. He called the indictments "a defining day in America's war against terrorism."
And it's clear that the war is just getting underway. The FBI is still building a data-mining system that will draw in huge amounts of commercial and governmen-tal information and parse it for signs of terrorism. The Transportation Security Administration has begun work on a passenger-profiling system that some officials say would be the largest domestic surveillance system in the nation's history.
All of this makes Viet Dinh smile as he eats curry at a restaurant across from the Justice Department. The Patriot Act, he declares proudly, is making Americans safer, just as intended.
He dismisses criticism that Justice is using a heavy hand in its investigations, and that civil liberties are being compromised. While the government can peer into the lives of Americans as never before, he says, the Constitution is always there as a safeguard.