Thursday, March 13, 2008
WASHINGTON - The FBI used "improper" methods to obtain personal information
on Americans involved in terrorism investigations in 2006, the Department of
Justice's inspector general reported Thursday, but corrective actions are
underway and should be measurable next year.
Fulfilling the prediction laid about by FBI Director Robert Mueller last
week, Inspector General Glenn Fine reported that National Security Letters
(NSLs), also referred to as administrative subpoenas, were issued 49,425
times in 2006, up by nearly 5 percent over the previous year. A statistical
sampling of those NSLs showed that 9.43 percent violated federal laws on
getting and using the information.
"The report identified various intelligence violations by the FBI in NSL
usage in 2006, such as issuance of NSLs without proper authorization,
improper requests and unauthorized collection of telephone or Internet
e-mail records due to FBI errors or mistakes made by the NSL recipients,"
reads an executive summary from Fine's office.
NSLs are issued by the FBI and other investigative organizations to entities
such as banks and telephone companies, compelling them to provide certain
information about a specific individual. They are issued in the course of
criminal, financial, counter-terror or counter-intelligence investigations.
NSLs are to be kept secret by the person or organization to whom they have
been issued, and someone revealing he or she is the recipient of an NSL can
A similar inspector general report last year covered calendar years
2003-2005, but the 2006 number of abuses was "significantly higher than the
number of reported violations in prior years." The report noted that in
2006, FBI personnel self-reported 84 possible violations to headquarters.
That compared to 48 violations found in Fine's initial audit.
The errors included issuing national security letters without proper
authorization, improper requests and unauthorized collection of telephone or
Internet e-mail records.
The report noted that the majority of violations were the fault of the FBI,
but a fair number were also committed by the companies and individuals that
responded to the letters. Fine said the problems were compounded because
agents failed to recognize that the companies had turned over too much
information and went ahead and used or loaded into bureau computers the
inappropriately obtained information.
Since 2003, U.S. citizens and foreigners legally in this country have
increasingly been the targets of the letters, rising from 39 percent of
requests in 2003 to 60 percent in 2006, Fine reported.
FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress last week that corrective actions
have been implemented in the past year to make sure the FBI did not repeat
the errors in issuing NSLs. Department officials say they believe the next
report, covering 2007, will show marked improvement.
Among the 17 new recommendations offered by Fine to help the FBI's use and
policing of the letters were added guidance and training for agents and
regular monitoring of the handling of the letters.
Assistant FBI Director John Miller said new rules require that an attorney
review the letters before they are sent, a new automated system was put in
place to reduce errors and improve the accuracy of reports to Congress, and
agents are getting more training about national security letters.
"We are committed to using them in ways that maximize their national
security value while providing the highest level of privacy and protection
of the civil liberties of those we are sworn to protect," Miller said.
Fine said the FBI and Justice Department had made significant progress in
implementing revised procedures since last year but some measures still are
not fully in use or tested. He reserved judgment on whether corrective
actions under way will work.
"It is too early to tell whether these measures will eliminate fully the
problems," he wrote in the 200-page report.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers acknowledged that "the FBI
has taken important steps to repair" the problems but said, "I remain
Conyers, D-Mitch., said his committee would question FBI Director Robert
Mueller about the inspector general's report at a hearing next month.
Conyers' Republican counterpart, Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, commended the FBI
for its progress.
"I am pleased with the efforts of the FBI and the Department of Justice to
ensure that Americans' civil liberties are protected," Smith said. "Since
last year's report, the FBI has implemented additional levels of review ...
These additional steps are helping the FBI protect the privacy of the
American people without interfering with national security investigations."
Fine also commended the FBI for devoting "significant time, energy and
resources to ensuring that its employees understand the seriousness of the
FBI's shortcomings." He emphasized that "continual attention, vigilance and
reinforcement by the FBI and the department" will be required.
But he did criticize one of the Justice Department's reform efforts - an
August 2007 proposal by a working group under Justice's chief privacy
officer to come up with a system to "label or tag NSL-derived information or
to minimize the retention and dissemination of such information."
FOX News' Ian McCaleb and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
"10,000 B.C." is getting universally panned. Which, as we all know, is due
to the fact that the earth is only 6,000 years old. Silly Roland Emmerich