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The FBI is working with "one hand tied behind its back" because of overly strict federal guidelines on infiltrating political groups with potentially sinister intentions, Sen. Arlen Specter, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, said Friday.

FBI agents complain that they are forbidden to even attend the meetings of groups they would like to keep tabs on because of the guidelines, said the Pennsylvania senator. The guidelines were adopted two decades ago in response to the anger spawned by the FBI's role in infiltrating groups opposed to the Vietnam War."When you have people going out on weekends in military gear, with a lot of firepower and saying there is going to be a rebellion, I think we ought to have somebody there," Specter said at a meeting of Boston Globe editors and writers. He said FBI agents should be able to monitor such groups. "Constitutionally, you can infiltrate just to look and listen. That is legal," he said.

Congress is grappling with ways to respond to the rapid expansion of armed militias because of alleged links between a Michigan militia and one of the suspects in the Oklahoma City bombing. Some militias advocate violence against the federal government, arguing that the government is taking away too many individual liberties, including the right to carry guns.

Efforts to loosen the FBI guidelines are opposed by civil libertarians fearful of granting the government too much investigative latitude.