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Q & A Specter Criticizes Overreach of Patriot Act
By Larry Teitelbaum

For the first time since 1981, Arlen Specter C'51 is not serving in the U.S. Senate, having been defeated in his bid for the Democratic nomination. But that doesn't mean he's been relegated to the sidelines. He continues to, in his words, "stir up trouble," writing an open letter, for example, to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging him to use a special unit to encourage authoritarian Arab governments to stop the violence against demonstrators and undertake reforms. Next March, Specter will release an as yet untitled book chronicling his last two years in office. In the meantime, the senator will teach a course at the Law School in the fall on Congress' role in the confirmation of Supreme Court justices. Here, in typically provocative fashion, he addresses where he thinks we went wrong in Afghanistan and inveighs against violations of civil liberties in the Patriot Act.

Arlen Specter C'51
Arlen Specter C'51

Q: Did you expect that U.S. troops would still be in Afghanistan 10 years after 9/11?
A: I opposed the surge of 30,000 troops. I thought it was a bad idea. There never has been an appreciable al-Qaeda force in Afghanistan. I don't know what we're doing there today. I felt a long time ago that we should have moved into Pakistan and found bin Laden. I think we have a right under international law, Article 1 of the UN charter, to move on a foreign country. Twenty-five years ago, I advocated kidnapping terrorists from countries which wouldn't extradite them. So I would have treated Pakistan very differently a long time ago.

Q: Is the Patriot Act working as intended?
A: It's really very hard to say. How often has it been used successfully?

Q: Are there unintended consequences?
A: To what extent have civil rights been violated that we don't know about? I fought to have The Patriot Act limited to situations involving terrorism. The FBI opposed that. Some parts of The Patriot Act preclude somebody whose records are being sought from even telling his lawyer … I think we needed it at the time to respond to terrorism, but only to terrorism ‐ not as a broad law enforcement tool. We have sufficient law enforcement tools without The Patriot Act.

Q: Was it a good idea to establish the Department of Homeland Security?
A: It was done a decade too late. I chaired the Intelligence Committee of the 104th Congress (1995-'96) and I proposed legislation at the time to bring all the intelligence agencies under one umbrella... So I think the coordination was a sensible thing.

Q: We haven't been attacked since 2001. Is that an endorsement of Homeland Security?
A: I think it's more a matter of fortuity than legislation. More a matter of good luck.

Q: What has been the most significant change in the country since 9/11?
A: We live in a fortress society. You drive through the streets of Washington there are barricades everywhere. You go into an office building in Center City Philadelphia and they (security guards) take my picture and make me sign in. You go to the airport and you're frisked in your stocking feet. Big changes in society.