The Islamic Republic of Iran

The Act

The USA PATRIOT Act [PDF] was passed in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The Act itself approved without amendment and little opposition in the House and Senate, included a provision for a counter-terrorism fund, fortified and amended existing government surveillance activities, altered the process for prosecuting certain terroristic activities and changed the substantive and procedural rights of non-US citizen aliens.

The USA PATRIOT Act expanded the scope of the federal government's surveillance activities in records searches, secret searches and intelligence searches. Beyond this, the USA PATRIOT Act contained several provisions that affected the responsibilities of financial institutions in regards to due diligence monitoring and reporting of suspicious activities to prevent the domestic financing of terrorist operations.

A principal result of the surveillance overhaul, beyond the financial sector, was the relaxed reliance on previous forms of surveillance, which usually involved a more robust system of checks against overreaching authority. Roving wiretaps were one such method made obsolete by the USA PATRIOT Act; this type of wiretap permitted law enforcement to investigate suspected criminals for crimes such as racketeering by targeting their direct lines of communication. This focused surveillance was only permissible, however, after the law enforcement body had obtained prior approval from a federal court based on both jurisdiction and mode of communication. This type of accountability system was designed to favor personal liberty by encouraging strong proof of probable cause before the courts would authorize any type of surveillance. From a practical standpoint, this created obstacles that government officials and law enforcement were compelled to clear before they could justify infringing the liberty of an individual or group by invading their privacy. To some degree, the USA PATRIOT Act allowed law enforcement to circumvent this traditional procedural safeguard, which arguably opened an avenue for governmental abuse of discretion. Government actors under the Act could institute surveillance based on an activity as innocuous as internet preferences. A principal concern, given such wide latitude for surveillance, was the infringement of fundamental rights protected by the First and Fourth Amendments.

From another perspective, however, the broad justification for increasing surveillance activities enabled law enforcement and government officials to pursue potential terroristic activity without jeopardizing the lives of citizens by wasting time seeking judicial approval. This far-reaching feature of the Act, its proponents urged, was necessary to combat terrorist cells and operations that would be otherwise difficult or impossible to track with the nation's outdated surveillance infrastructure. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the latter of these two rationales, which contemplated proactive efficiency over deliberative reactivity, prevailed in Congress' passage of the Act.

The Patriot Act was espoused as an Act that would expedite the process of countering terroristic threats; Title V of the Act straightforwardly summarized this objective: "Removing Obstacles to Investigating Terrorism." The Act's broad authorization to carry out its counter-terrorism mandate, however, resulted in the collection of data from third party sources, including metadata from phone companies, which led to a multi-agency report released in 2009 condemning the federal wiretapping program as warrantless and eventually culminated in the well-publicized declassification of NSA documents by Edward Snowden in 2013.

History and Inception of the USA PATRIOT Act

The USA PATRIOT Act [text] was passed by the Senate 98-1 and 357-66 by the House, and signed into law by President George W. Bush [official biography] on October 26, 2001. This act was in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks [JURIST backgrounder] and was introduced to Congress in an effort to combat terrorist activity [JURIST report].

In the wake of 9/11, President Bush declared [speech, text] a War on Terror. Soon after this declaration, a series of anti-terrorism bills became a large part of this effort and were being introduced into Congress. The goal of the new legislation was to provide better tools and increased power to law enforcement in order to better investigate and prevent future terrorist attacks. The draft of the USA PATRIOT Act was entitled "the Anti Terrorism Act" of 2001. It was drafted by Republican Senators Orrin Hatch [official biography] and Arlen Specter [official biography], along with Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy [official biography]. This draft bill evolved into the USA Act/PATRIOT Act which then became the foundation for the now known USA PATRIOT Act.

The original legislation contained 10 titles authorizing the government to conduct a wide range of activities aimed at preventing future terror attacks. In May 2011, Congress extended the Act for another four years [JURIST Report]. Since its inception, the PATRIOT Act has led to significant controversy over the balance of civil liberties and national security [JURIST backgrounder].

Challenges to the Act & Its Reauthorizations

Following a debate in Congress over the reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act, three sections were allowed to expire on June 1, 2015. Earlier, the House of Representative had passed the USA Freedom Act. Despite this Sunday night session of Congress in which some members attempted to extend sections of the USA PATRIOT Act, it was ultimately unsuccessful.

Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, led the challenge of the USA PATRIOT Act. The Senator had called for more privacy and had filibustered earlier in May so that the three sections of the USA PATRIOT Act would expire. Section 215, the controversial authorization to collect telephone data on Americans, was one of the provisions that expired after midnight on June 1. The successor to the USA PATRIOT Act, the USA Freedom Act, most notably addresses Section 215. It does not, however, modify the other two expired provisions. The sections that deal with roving wiretapping suspected terrorists, and the section on the legality of using security tools on single individuals not affiliated with larger terrorist groups would be reauthorized in the USA Freedom Act if it passes through the Senate.

This is not the first time that the USA PATRIOT Act has reached an expiration date. In 2011, President Obama extended the Act just before it would have lapsed. Senator Rand Paul had filibustered during that debate as well. Although it had always been controversial, in the past, the Senate had voted to expand the act's time limit.

History of Iran

The modern state of Iran was established in 1925 when Reza Shah Pahlavi was crowned, marking the end of the Qajar Dynasty. Prior to this, Iran was part of the Persian Empire, which lasted from 550 BC until it became the current nation-state following World War I. Reza Shah notably propelled Iran into industrialization and generally adopted a policy of western development. This included the construction of the Trans-Iranian railroad and an eventual policy of compulsory education. Iran also has historically controlled large amounts of oil and natural resources that has kept it within British and other Western national interests. Because of this, Reza Shah enjoyed support from the British throughout his tenure, until his relationship with the Germans during World War II became a concern for the Allied -- most prominently Britain. As a result, the British and Soviet-led Allied Powers essentially forced Reza Shah to abdicate the throne to his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Mohammad Mossadegh gained popularity in the late 1940s in response to the influence that Western Powers continually exercised over Iran and its resources. One of the primary goals of Mossadegh and his National Front Party was to nationalize Iranian Oil, the basis for this strong foreign interest. Mossadegh was eventually elected prime minister in 1950 with wide popular support and followed through with his plan to nationalize the oil industry weeks after his election. Failed attempts between Mossadegh and the West to come to an agreement surrounding oil rights led to the Shah fleeing the country and upset Britain and other Western powers. Classified documents released in 2013 confirm that the CIA and MI-6 led a successful coup to overthrow Mossadegh in 1953 in response to his nationalization of oil. The coup harbored a period of unrest and economic downturn that destabilized the country.

Mohammad Reza Shah was reinstated following the Western-backed coup. Many scholars attribute his low popularity in part to his connections to Western powers, and explain that the funding and support he enjoyed from the West made much of the populace perceive him as a pawn of the West's influence. His links to the West combined with his increasingly dictatorial reign ultimately led to unrest and opposition, which many scholars explain laid the groundwork for the 1979 Revolution. The American and British participation in the 1953 coup to overthrow Mossadegh is also attributed to the widespread anti-Western sentiment in Iran leading to the Revolution and into today.

Iranian Revolution of 1979

After years of prevailing social, political and economic difficulties, the people of Iran deposed their king, elevated a clerical exile to the seat of power and ushered in a new era: this was the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The king, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, was the figurehead for the country's monarchy, a government supported by the West, which had replaced the pro-Axis monarchy under the Shah's father. International oil interests dating back to 1908 had led to the Western intervention in Iranian politics that was responsible for the Shah's ascension to power. Under his reign, he assured his Western allies that the country's oil industry would not be nationalized, as had been attempted by the country's prime minister in April 1951. The Shah's policy of promoting modernization and bolstering infrastructure (referred to as the "White Revolution"), though reigning in some prosperity, did not ultimately yield the promised reforms.

National discontent swelled with the Shah's changing policies. Primarily nonviolent demonstrations by different classes of Iranian society, from intellectuals to clerics to laborers, characterized the resulting popular movement. The demonstrations, combined with labor strikes involving up to nine million Iranians at any one time, crippled the country's economy and eventually led to the Shah's abdication in November 1979. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, once-exiled for his opposition to the Shah's alignment with the West, returned as the monarchy crumbled, and assumed control of the country. Following a referendum that earned the overwhelming support of the country's citizens, Iran officially became the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979. Islamic students, influenced by the revolutionary rhetoric, seized the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held American hostages in what was to be a crucial showdown between the newly born Republic and the country's former ally under the Shah: the United States. Khomeini, recognizing the potential political and international leverage to be gained, condoned the detainment of the hostages until Ronald Reagan took office in 1981.

When compared with other Western revolutions, the Iranian Revolution stands in stark contrast for the fact that its social upheaval was not characterized by a dichotomy between the rich and the poor or the privileged and the oppressed; it was instead religion that catalyzed the revolution in Iran, and this theological unifier brought the disparate classes together with a common purpose. Understanding the Iranian Revolution from a Western perspective may run the risk, as one source puts it, of oversimplifying a complex historical transformation that does not easily fit the Western understanding of revolution. Further setting the Iranian Revolution apart from analogous movements during the era is that the crucible of conflict produced not a liberal democracy, as it had in other regions of the world (like Nicaragua), but rather birthed another authoritarian regime. This regime, spearheaded by religious elites, altered the very fabric of Iranian society to create what is today the modern state of Iran.

Iran Hostage Crisis

The Iran Hostage Crisis, which began on November 4, 1979, lasted for 444 days. It began just after the arrival of the Iranian Shah in America, and ended on the day of the inauguration of US President Ronald Reagan. 52 American citizens were held hostage by members of the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line as part of the Iranian Revolution for the entire 444 days, with a few Americans released earlier in the crisis.

The student revolutionaries, who supported the Iranian Revolution to overthrow the contemporary Iranian government, stormed the US Embassy in Tehran. They declared that they would hold the Americans until the US government returned the Shah to Iran for trial. The Shah was in the US at the time, having been admitted for humanitarian reasons related to his cancer treatment. The student group used the hostage situation to express their outrage at the US for taking the Shah into the country. The students, as well as the other revolutionaries, wanted the Shah to be tried for crimes against Iranians. At first, the hostages were kept in the Embassy, but after a rescue mission ("Operation Eagle Claw") failed, the hostages were moved to various locations in order to prevent further attempts to free them.

Ayatollah Khomeini, the religious leader in Iran in 1979, publicly supported the students in their hostage-taking, and also supported the demand that the US force the Shah to return to Iran. The Iranian government described the hostages as "guests" of Iran, and while none of the hostages were injured, their actions were severely limited and they were "blindfolded and paraded in front of TV cameras and jeering crowds" as well as being subjected to "mock executions" in which the hostages believed that they were going to be shot while blindfolded.

The Iran Hostage Crisis was a major news story, and it dramatically affected President Carter's 1980 re-election campaign. Negotiations for the release of the hostages began in September 1980, but ultimately the hostages were not released until Ronald Reagan took the oath of office on January 20, 1981. The hostages were then taken into US custody and flown out of Iran. As a result of the Iran Hostage Crisis, there have been no diplomatic relations between the US and Iran since, and neither maintains an embassy in the other's country.


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