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Terrorist Attack Prevention Policy on the Example of the US Patriot Act


The USA Patriot Act was a public policy introduced and passed by the Senate and the House of representatives between 24th and 25th October respectively. It was designed in order to curb terrorist attacks especially in light of the nine eleven bombings. Numerous entities such as the public, mass media, the President, and interest groups were responsible for it. This piece of legislature underwent all aspects of public policy formulation and these shall be scrutinized in subsequent portions of the paper.

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Problem identification

The first step in the process of formulating any policy is problem identification. The government was prompted into action after one of the most extensive terror attacks in US history – the September eleventh bombings. After the occurrence of these attacks, the American public realized that they had been taking their security for granted. Various interest groups felt that the country needed to step up its antiterrorist efforts. In order to do this, current laws had to be revisited, executive groups had to be reorganized and the general approach to terrorism had to change (Combs, 2003).

After that fateful September event, there was a public outcry concerning terrorism because citizens saw how real this issue was. The problem of terrorism was however not restricted to 2001 as there are three categories of terrorists that have been a threat to the US for decades. The first group is composed of Islamic extremists with loose ties to one another. Such entities are motivated by political and religious ideologies and they represent the most immediate security threat. Al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists fall within this category. These groups have shown in the past that they are highly capable of carrying out very dangerous attacks that can lead to the death of hundreds if not thousands of civilians. The latter group has been linked to 9-11 incidences and they have also been associated with the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. The twin tower bombings illustrated just how prepared and well-financed terrorist groups can be. Americans also came to the realization that such groups have international networks that surpass racial, tribal, or ethnic barriers; all members usually collaborate in order to achieve extreme Sunni goals. All these diverse individuals are firmly committed to the eradication of Islamic enemies with the US being the biggest target. Their plan is to overthrow such governments by staging high casualty and large-scale attacks. This objective was demonstrated very well in the Pentagon incidences and it solidified the fact that US citizens would not feel safe or secure unless the problem of international terrorism was adequately addressed (Combs, 2003).

Another category of terrorists that have always been a problem to the United States is official terrorist organizations. These groups normally operate autonomously and they have the capacity to meet their training, personnel, infrastructural and operational expenses. Examples here include Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Al Gama in Egypt. Hezbollah has carried out a range of attacks against the US over the past three decades, for instance, the bombed an Embassy in 1983, hijacked a plane in 1985, and have targeted US Marine barracks in Lebanon. Therefore, these groups pose an immense danger to US citizens. Terrorism may also be state-sponsored. In other words, some countries utilize terrorism as part of their foreign policy and this is especially amplified when it comes to the US. More often than not, one may find that such countries are characterized by a disdain for the US and their representatives frequently make verbal assertions against this country.

All these groups exist with the major aim of either destroying or overthrowing the United States. Public opinion has been that there is a need for the elimination of such groups that pose a serious danger to citizens of the US. A series of anti-terrorist organizations also brought to the fore some of the issues that make this problem even more intense. These groups asserted that many terrorist groups have the capacity and ability to acquire Weapons of Mass Destructions. Also, a series of terrorists have been very eager to employ emerging technologies. Most of them use the internet to spread propaganda, raise funds, recruit members or formulate plans for their attacks. Consequently, it has become necessary for US law enforcers and other antiterrorist associations to think of new and more efficient ways of curbing such problems in the future.

It is also necessary for these groups to adopt an efficient method for identifying any individuals with the intent of committing terrorist acts. The mass media reported that it was evident how US prevention teams were not achieving this. Citizens also asserted that coordination of terrorism detection units was poor and that preparedness to cope with terrorist attacks was still wanting. There was a need to do something urgently in light of the September eleventh incidences.

Agenda setting

President George W. Bush had to respond to public outcries concerning the bombings. He decided to carry out a global war on terror and this was the phrase that set out the agenda for the US Patriot Act. His administration was also responsible for identifying a series of issues that needed to be radically transformed. For instance, Senators felt that law enforcers did not possess adequate powers to get rid of potential terrorist activities and they had to be granted these powers as soon as possible. Besides that, the investigative process of curbing terrorism was also inefficient and it also had to be streamlined (Eggen, 2007).

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One of the most important government agents in setting the agenda for the Patriot Act was the Deputy Attorney General. He wanted to look for measures that would go along in the identification and the arrest of terrorist groups by Federal Agencies. This Assistant Attorney was working towards achieving Bush’s goals which were to instate a global war on terror. The mass media also had a similar objective in mind because some articles such as those written in the Washington Post expressed similar sentiments concerning enforcement of greater authority amongst law enforcers.

Senators and members of Congress were also interested in strengthening antiterrorist efforts. However, they used previous legislations as a backdrop for setting the agenda for the Patriot Act. For instance, the FISA act of 1978 governed the issues of intelligence surveillance. Many senators felt that there was a need to strengthen intelligence surveillance systems in upcoming legislation. They also asserted that matters of privacy had to be overridden in the process of stepping up antiterrorist efforts. Consequently, new policies would be needed in order to allow minor violations of privacy. Some Acts such as the Electronic Communitarians Act of ’86 would have to be sidelined. Senators felt that the Central Intelligence agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigations have to be granted more powers when carrying out their Intelligence services. These were the issues that would receive great attention in subsequent processes. In other words, some issues such as wiretaps to gather information needed to be made more effective.

While the country had initially passed laws that prevented Intelligence agencies from carrying out wiretaps against its citizens, it had also been acknowledged that there was indeed a need to eliminate such laws so that law enforcement could improve terrorist detections. This also meant that some lengthy procedures that had been enacted before with regard to wiretaps had to be eradicated. This would form a central part of this public policy on counter-terrorism. Surveillance measures were a key area in the global war on terror and they needed to be stepped up as well (US Senate, 2001).

Issues concerning money laundering were also identified as being critical in fighting terrorism. Congressmen felt that detection of terrorist activities could be easily done once one had identified the financial route of the funds used to finance those activities. Issues such as money laundering would therefore have to be dealt with. Terrorist activities often emanate out of a chain of criminal activities such as tax evasion since such persons are already engaging in illegitimate activities. Also, the amount of money transferred by such groups is likely high enough to arouse suspicion from financial agents. If terrorism was to be fought, then there would be a need to look at such patterns more efficiently.

Immigration was also another problem that had to be tackled with the Patriot Act. The United States needed to strengthen its ability to handle suspicious individuals who appeared to be engaging in activities that could have been related to terrorism. In other words, there was a need to adopt a more proactive approach to the issues of US citizenship because it was a very obvious technique that individuals could utilize to enter the US. This concern was especially amplified by the fact that terrorist technologies were rapidly changing and coordination between these groups was becoming a difficult task for law enforcers.

Policy formulation

The Select Committee on Intelligence was critical in making proposals that would later materialize into the Final public policy which was the Patriot Act. Members of this Committee comprised of Several Senators from both Republican and Democratic sides, members of the Department of Justice as well as human interest groups. However, mass media and other external observers asserted that the Justice Department held the upper hand in discussions concerning the Patriot Act. In fact, at some point, it had been reported in the Washington Post that the latter group had started taking on hard-line stances. They considered human rights groups as intruders to their discussions and hence rejected recommendations made unless the human watchdogs were removed from their meetings. Nonetheless, this did not stop progress concerning this Act as major changes were still made.

Several policies were presented before the house with regard to the Patriot Act and a number of lawmakers were responsible for this. For instance, two days after the Pentagon attacks, Senate proposed a combating terrorism bill. This one was proposed by Senators Shummer, Feinstein, Kyl and Hatch (US Senate, 2001). The latter parties asserted that there was indeed a need to boost terrorism prevention efforts by adopting more radical approaches to the issue. In this proposal, the Senators asserted that the National Guard had to be more efficient so that it can curb terrorism. In the process of doing this, report preparation is critical in showing the general public that the latter group is in fact ready and equipped enough to counter-terrorism. Also, the proposal entailed dedicating more resources towards research and development into terrorist activities or terrorism in general. The latter mentioned Senators also asserted in order for some anti-terrorist agencies to work more efficiently than they needed to recruit informants from terrorist organizations. Issues involving foreign intelligence disclosure were also addressed in this proposal with a substantial number of the Senators supporting wiretaps and information disclosures. Terrorism proceeds would also be another venue that was addressed through this bill as a substantial amount of the proceeds would simply go undetected or uninvestigated (Kuypers, 2006).

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The House also introduced another bill known as the Public cyber security bill. This was done just nine days after the Pentagon attacks. One of the Senators that was responsible for this act was Lamar Smith. He believed that privacy laws within the US were stringent and that they were preventing law enforcers from effectively carrying out their duties in relation to terrorism. The proposal involved alterations to privacy laws so that Security Intelligence activities would be exempted from court order prerequisites. Aside from that, the Senator also asserted that these same agencies needed to be granted permission for accessing trace surveillance information or cable subscriber information.

Thirteen days after the crucial Pentagon attacks, Senate also witnessed another policy formulation landmark known as the Intelligence for terrorism prevention Act. Persons responsible for this bill included Senators Graham and Senator Rockefeller. These individuals asserted that in order to fight terrorism it was crucial to have some degree of centralization in Intelligence matters. This would imply making Federal agencies report to a central authority which in this case was identified as the Director for Central Intelligence. By doing this then intelligence information could be properly gathered and used effectively in tracing foreign suspicions. Besides that, the latter proposal also involved strengthening the Asset tracking aspect of the national asset control agency such that foreign intelligence on financial resources could be duly followed. However, because most of the foreign intelligence information would be in another language, then the country had to strengthen its translation efforts. In order to do this, then more timely and accurate translators would have to be instituted(Kuypers, 2006).

Another critical bill that contributed towards the start of the Patriot Act was the Anti-terrorism bill. This was brought on by Senators Leahy, Ashcroft, Specter and Hatch. Most of the elements of this bill were subsequently transferred to the Patriot Act. These proponents asserted that the fight against terrorism needed to be characterized by a shift in the way information was accessed. Here, they added that wiretap surveillance should be transferred from domestic agencies to foreign Intelligence surveillance groups. Aside from that, this bill also proposed that the information gathered from books, documents, papers, and records by law enforcers should be expanded. This could increase the total space available to the concerned parties with regard to certain issues.

It should be noted that the latter bill was not just a reserve for the government as concerned Senators had invited the Department of Justice (which was the main stakeholder) and human interest groups to table their suggestions on the matter. However, the dominant view that was upheld was the one proposed by the Justice Department. In close association with this Act was the Antiterrorism Financial Act which proposed the creation of a branch of the Treasury Department that would allow greater cooperation between private and public sectors so as to curb money laundering (Eggen, 2007).

Policy legitimation

This part of the policy-making process was carried out by a number of members of Congress, the President, and also the Department of Justice. It should be noted that the USA Patriot Act came into the house without the first acronym but after further debate on it, Congress adopted the latter title. On 2nd October 2001, Senator Daschle introduced the Act into the legislature and it contained elements from the latter mentioned proposals such as the Anti-terrorism Act. Several amendments were passed concerning the bill. For instance, one lawmaker asserted that electronic trespass communications in relation to FISA be amended. Also, issues concerning business records placed under the latter groups were also altered (Graham, 2003).

One of the central figures in the enactment of this policy was Senator Patrick Leahy. He was essential in pushing for speedy and fruitful negotiations with the affected parties because he felt that there was a need to deal with the impending security concerns among the general public especially in relation to terrorism. The Administration was also critical in passing this policy as they were the central determinants of the draft. It should be noted that there was overwhelming support for this legislation because most lawmakers felt that it would quench the antiterrorism sentiments within the nation. Nonetheless, a series of objections were raised by several groups and some of them were members of the house. For instance, Senator Feingold felt that some issues touching on immigration needed to be eliminated. He also raised concerns over wiretapping and access to official records. Also, Senator Armey objected to making all the provisions permanent and thus suggested sunset clauses in which the House would examine those provisions and then make necessary changes soon. However, critics have asserted that the very notion of sunset clauses denotes that the Senators knew they were carrying out ineffective legislations and that they needed to revisit some of the provisions of this Act. This was a hastily done piece of public policy and the lawmakers themselves acknowledged that.

Ten major titles were proposed in this policy. These titles were centered on boosting law enforcement of intelligence agencies in the process of investigating terrorism charges. For instance, the latter were to be granted the authority to search personal records, business records, electronic communications, and telephone conversions. Besides that, the Act also focused on relaxing impediments to foreign intelligence gathering. Financial tracking of foreign transactions was also regulated by this Act. Here the Treasury’s secretary was granted authority to examine such authority in order to detect any potential threats. Aside from that, there was also the enhancement of immigration restrictions such that terrorism suspects would be detained or deported if they had been found guilty of committing such crimes (Friedman, 2009).

The process of making the Patriot bill into law was relatively smooth as the mood of the House was such that it supported immediate antiterrorism laws. When it was being passed, the overwhelming support saw a wide margin between the no and yes votes. However, members of the House asserted that four years after passing the law, there would be a need to change it. In other words, a Sunset date was chosen as 31 December 2005. However, after that sunset period, there were still intense disagreements between the concerned parties and it, therefore, became necessary to reconcile certain aspects of the original bill with the reauthorization bill. This was effectively done and by the beginning of the next year i.e. 2006, in the month of March, the President effectively signed it and made it into law.

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Courts also played a critical role in the legitimation of this policy. For instance, in section 805 of this public policy, it was asserted that citizens were not allowed to offer information to specific terrorist organizations. However, a humanitarian group called the Humanitarian Law Project filed a case against the government claiming that such a law was unconstitutional. The concerned court held that this part of the Act was unconstitutional since it contravened first amendment rights and it needed to be scrapped. Also, another important interest group that also challenged some aspects of this law through the courts was the American Civil Liberties Union which also filed a suit against the government concerning wiretaps. Once again, the court supported the plaintiff and ordered that the section of the Patriot Act that governs wiretapping (section 2709) be ignored as it was not constitutional. Sanders and other individuals took a case to court that was designed to limit the ability of the Department of Justice to get funding and the court ruled in favor of these plaintiffs (Eggen, 2005).

Policy implementation

The Federal Bureau of Investigations was critical in the implementation of the Patriot Act. They were the ones who were given responsibility for monitoring electronic communications, wiretaps, and monitoring various documents to detect terrorism activities. This was especially in line with the fact that technology communications are changing and that terrorist organizations are also changing along these. Issues such as voicemail tapping have also been placed in the hands of the FBI such that it can investigate or detect terrorists. It should be noted that these powers have also been granted to other anti-terrorist agencies such as the CIA (Graham, 2003).

The court was also critical in the implementation of this policy because it was involved in the issuance of warrants. In other words, the court was made responsible for allowing law enforcement officers to carry out nationwide searches (Keller, 2007).

The US intelligence agencies are also significant in the implementation of this Act because they were supposed to receive information from various agencies concerning any foreign money laundering efforts. This is also in line with the provisions made against financial misappropriation. All financial institutions within the country are required to record any foreign transactions carried out and share them with the secretary regularly. It should be noted that conventional financial institutions are included and so are other money service businesses.

Implementation of this policy was also done through the Attorney General in association with the Immigrations Naturalization Service. The former individual is to eliminate any barrier with regard to the number of admissions that can be done within the INS. The number of employees that can work for the latter Department was tripled after the Patriot Act. The INS is also responsible for stepping up security efforts in US borders. This should be done by scrutinizing individuals and comparing their profile with information in the National Crime Index for any wanted persons. The latter group would also be responsible for a series of tasks designed to ensure that the country effectively sieved and prevented the entry of terrorists.

The Director of Central Intelligence is also expected to play a major role in the implementation of this Act since he has the duty of making sure that all foreign surveillance material is effectively disseminated to agencies such as that sound terrorism prevention can be done (Friedman, 2009). This Director is expected to collect information from the Department of Justice if it is related to foreign intelligence. However, this was only going to be done after the involvement of the Attorney General in carrying out his respect mandate. The latter two parties were supposed to draft an appropriate procedure that was to be followed in the event that any foreign intelligence had been found linking a suspect to potential terrorist activities. This individual was also given the responsibility for ensuring that any anti-terrorism prevention funds are granted to eligible groups especially those classified as public agencies. Nonetheless, non-governmental associations were also included and so were crisis response efforts offered through emergency relief.

The Deputy Attorney General was also critical in this implementation phase because he was also given the mandate of administration of funds for terrorism victims for their families. The latter individual must ensure that individuals get their compensations within thirty days of the injury or death. The Deputy Attorney General must also ensure that all programs designed to deal with such benefits are adequately funded. In order to achieve this objective, the amount of funding available was increased by twenty percent..

Policy evaluation

One of the most controversial pieces of public policy ever passed was the Patriot Act and this is why it has been subjected to immense scrutiny. In fact, after evaluation, it was found that some of the pieces found within this law were unconstitutional and some of them had to be removed (Keller, 2007).

The Justice Department played an important role in the evaluation of the Patriot Act. For instance, it carried out an audit of the Federal Bureau of Investigations in the year 2007. It was found out that these law enforcers were not doing their part in ensuring that personal information was collected only when it was very necessary. In other words, sometimes the FBI misused personal information or collected it when it was necessary to do so. In fact, abuse of the Patriot Act by the FBI was found several times. Eventually, the court decided that numerous documents classified as national security papers be handed over.

The mass media was also instrumental in the evaluation of this particular policy. For instance, the New York Times claimed that law enforcement officers were utilizing the Patriot Act in order to investigate drug trafficking yet this was not necessarily the best application or use of this particular law. The latter media reported stated that the FBI was misusing the Patriot Act because it was created solely for use in terrorism-related charges. Drug trafficking had nothing to do with its provisions and it, therefore, constituted a gross abuse of the Act.

The Business Week also reported how the Federal Bureau of Investigations had misused its mandate concerning the Patriot Act in order to obtain a vast amount of information on businesses located in Las Vegas. The FBI would claim protection by the Patriot Act and then obtain financial records, health records, employment records, or even credit records to those particular businesses. Even though the said suspects had not committed any crimes, their information would be placed indefinitely within the Bureau’s database. The latter newspaper criticized this kind of behavior and the Act for making it extremely difficult for named individuals.

One of the most aggressive groups involved in the evaluation of the effectiveness of this Act was the American Civil Liberties Union. The latter group has been involved in a number of litigations against the FBI for unconstitutionally affecting provisions of this act. These actions were prompted by the request for financial information from an ISP by the Bureau. The ACLU was effective in improving the Patriot Act and its actions even resulted in the dropping of a particular lawsuit.

Legal experts have also carried out investigations on the effectiveness of this law. For instance, on one occasion a Mr. Kurtz was arrested and detained without charges for two days because of some biological cultures found in his house. The FBI utilized the Patriot Act claiming that it was merely exercising the mandate offered by the latter law concerning the risks of weapons of mass destruction. Legal experts analyzed the latter scenario and asserted that the detention was unconstitutional. This was especially after realizing that the said criminal was a lecturer in the field of biotechnology (Eggen, 2005).


The Patriot Act underwent six aspects of policy formulation. At first, the problem of terrorism was in the minds of many US citizens and they felt very insecure about their nation. There was therefore a need to deal with this problem. Agenda setting was mostly done by former President Bush and Congress when they identified several areas in law enforcement that needed to be rearranged. Policy formulation entailed a relatively short proposal in parliament. Legitimation was also done by members of the Senate and Congress. Their actions were sealed by Presidential assent. However, courts examined some sections and found them unconstitutional. Implementation was to be carried out by the FBI, CIA, Attorney General, and his deputy alongside a Director. Evaluation of this policy was done by human interest groups such as ACLU and the press.


Combs, C. (2003). Terrorism in the 21st C. NJ: Pearson Inc.

Eggen, D. (2005). FBI papers and intelligence isolations. The Washington Post, A 30.

Eggen, D. (2007). US attorney office – help wanted. The Washington post, p A04.

Friedman, T. (2009). World war 3 foreign affairs. The New York Times, 15.

Graham, J. (2003). Government may be spying on you. The Chicago Tribune, 12.

Keller, S. (2007). Judge rules out patriot Act provisions. New York Times, 7.

Kuypers, J. (2006). Bush’s war on terror. NY: Rowman and Littlefield Press

US Senate (2001). USA Patriot Act 2001. Web.

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