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IN THE NEWS - June 1, 2002: Spying Limits in U.S. Eased to Fight Terror - 2002-05-31

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

The Justice Department has approved new powers for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to spy inside the United States.

On Thursday, Attorney General John Ashcroft eased restrictions on the F-B-I in an effort to prevent terrorist attacks. The restrictions began in the nineteen-seventies, in reaction to demands for reforms of the agency.

Agents now will have more freedom to gather information from the Internet and libraries to search for possible terrorists. They will have more power to collect information on religious and political organizations. The new guidelines will permit agents to go anywhere the public can go, including religious centers.

Civil rights groups say the changes threaten privacy and free speech rights. The American Civil Liberties Union says the rewritten guidelines will do little to make Americans safer, but will make them less free. Muslim groups also expressed concern.

On Wednesday, F-B-I Director Robert Mueller announced a reorganization of the agency. Mister Mueller said the first duty of the F-B-I will be to protect the United States from terrorist attack. The F-B-I is hiring more agents. It also is to work more closely with the Central Intelligence Agency.

Mister Mueller agreed this week that the F-B-I might have had enough information to lead agents to those involved in the September eleventh terrorist attacks. The hijacked planes crashed into New York City, Washington, and Pennsylvania.

Next week, Congress will begin hearings. There has been criticism that officials missed warning signs. Last July, an F-B-I agent in Phoenix, Arizona, had urged headquarters to investigate some Middle Eastern men training at American flight schools. Agent Kenneth Williams said the men might be linked to Osama bin Laden.

The F-B-I has also been criticized about the case of the only person charged in the attacks of September eleventh. Zacarias Moussaoui has been in jail since August. A flight school in Minnesota had become suspicious of him and called the F-B-I. Officials arrested the French citizen on immigration charges.

Recently, the F-B-I director got a letter from Coleen Rowley. She is a lawyer and F-B-I agent in Minnesota. She says bureau officials had blocked efforts to further investigate Mister Moussaoui. Officials now believe he was training to be the twentieth hijacker.

The attacks killed more than three-thousand people, most of them at the World Trade Center. New York City held a ceremony Thursday at the huge hole known as ground zero to mark the clearing of the ruins.

A truck carried away the last big piece of steel. An emergency vehicle carried an American flag to honor the victims whose remains have not been found. Then, as a crowd of thousands watched, firefighters, police officers and clean-up workers silently marched out in a long line.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS was written by Avi Arditti. This is Steve Ember.