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Using the Unabomber

The decision to encourage The Washington Post and The New York Times to publish the Unabomber's Manifesto is causing some serious friction among the nation's top cops.

Inside sources now say the push to publish the manuscript came only from the highest levels of the FBI and Department of Justice rather than from any department-wide decision. Midlevel policy makers and agents - those who have done the heavy lifting on the case - actually balked at the idea of widespread distribution of the bomber's diatribe.

Citing US policy that prohibits negotiation with terrorists, those who opposed the publication said the act of lobbying the newspapers for publication was tantamount to "negotiations," according to Department of Justice sources.

Inside the FBI, publication was strongly opposed by members of the FBI's special Unabomber task force, sources said. Only Freeh and a few of his top level sidekicks sought publication, according to FBI sources. Members of the task force weren't - and still aren't - convinced that publication would break any new leads. "In fact, it might just create more havoc," said one FBI agent. That same trepidation also explains why the manuscript didn't make it onto the Net earlier.

But FBI sources said Freeh was desperate for some "movement, for some good press." At the time of publication, the FBI director was taking heat from a congressional investigation into the botched assault on the Branch Davidian complex in Waco and the fatal shootings of innocents during the Ruby Ridge incident.

Telecom Bill Rigged for Indecency

As Muckraker previously reported, rumors surrounding the death of the infamous Exon amendment have been greatly exaggerated. On 25 October, the House and Senate choose up sides, sending 45 members of both houses to a "conference committee" charged with hammering out the differences between two versions of the telecom reform bill. The single bill that emerges will then be sent to President Clinton. At that point, he can either sign it into law or veto it (which he has threatened to do).

The Senate version of the bill contains the Exon amendment, which imposes strict indecency standards on speech in cyberspace, punishable by fines of up to US$100,000 and jail time of up to two years for anyone transmitting "indecent" speech in cyberspace.

The House version contains the Cox/Wyden amendment, which emphasizes the use of technology to help "empower" parents, giving them tools to help keep indecent speech out of the hands of minors. It doesn't, however, put any kind of indecency limits on cyberspeech.

However, the House bill also includes an indecency clause for cyberspace speech. This language was slipped in among a host of other amendments at the last minute, forcing Congress to vote either up or down on the whole package. The entire package passed, including the indecency language.

Because the Cox-Wyden bill passed so overwhelmingly, many believed that it would virtually sweep the Exon amendment under the table in the conference committee. One small problem: the deck has been stacked in favor of Exon.

First, the committee plans to use the Senate version of the bill as the main working model, which gives Senate language an automatic leg up. Second, Senator James Exon (D-Nebraska) himself is a member of the conference committee. All the Senators on the committee voted for the Exon amendment; none of the bill's detractors, on the Senate side, will have any say during the conference. One of the cyberspace's most vocal advocates, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) got shut out of the conference process.

On the House side, neither Representative Chris Cox (R-California) nor Representative Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) are members of the conference committee! However, the third and often forgotten co-sponsor of the bill, Representative Rick White (R-Washington) did make the cut. White told me that he plans to make sure "cybercom" issues don't get a short shrift during the conference and that he "absolutely" plans on playing a role in defending the Cox-Wyden bill. The freshman congressman, however, is seen mostly as a lightweight legislator.

On the positive side, it appears that Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) will be closely participating in the conference, though not a member himself. Gingrich is on record saying the Exon amendment is "probably unconstitutional." Also, Representatives Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Jack Fields (D-Texas), who also is chairman of the House Telecom Subcommittee, are on the conference committee and each spoke in favor of the Cox-Wyden amendment during debate on the bill.

Prognosis: a toss up. All the conferees want to get the bill out of committee by Thanksgiving. To do that, they have to deal with several contentious issues. If the indecency issue is left to the end, the lawmakers may not have a lot of fight in them and the deal could go either way.

ACLU Seeks Net Sex Writer

In anticipation of the worst case scenario - that the Exon amendment language becomes law - the first ever cyberspace protest movement is being planned.

The American Civil Liberties Union is already lining up potential plaintiffs to challenge the amendment's language. These folks would be willing to subject themselves to litigation by willingly violating the new indecency laws. The ACLU, of course, picks up the tab, you get lots of ink, a possible trip to the US Supreme Court, and hopefully, no jail time.

The ACLU's Ann Beeson said the organization is looking for plaintiffs who "use online networks to discuss or distribute works or art, literary classics, sex education, gay and lesbian literature, human rights reporting, abortion information, rape counseling, controversial political speech, or any other material that could be deemed "indecent" and therefore illegal under the proposed law."

Groups that have already volunteered include academic researchers of human sexuality, distributors of gay and lesbian resources, student groups with controversial Web pages, human rights groups, and prisoners' rights groups. The ACLU itself will be a plaintiff, because of its Constitution Hall space on American Online. The ACLU maintains a bulletin board on the site titled "Masturbation," which sprang up when Jocelyn Elders was fired but has since taken on a life of its own.

The ACLU is still looking for a few good plaintiffs to join the fight. If the conference committee gets twisted and actually allows this fucked up Exon language to stand, the next few years could make DC - not to mention the Net - a real war zone.

Somehow I doubt we'll have to draft any ground troops.

Meeks out....


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