Audits Show FBI Abused Intelligence-Gathering Privileges

By Laura Spadanuta, Assistant Editor

Reports released yesterday find that the FBI misused national security letters to obtain personal information from U.S. citizens, according to The Washington Post. The FBI has defended itself by stating that the audits looked at the requests made through 2006, which was before the FBI instituted corrective measures. 

A report from the Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine found that the FBI tried to work around the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court by issuing national security letters when its requests to the court were rejected.  National security letters allow FBI investigators to obtain Internet, phone, and other records without going first to a judge.

In total, Fine said, the FBI issued almost 200,000 national security letters from 2003 through 2006, and they were used in a third of all FBI national security and computer probes during that time. Fine said his investigators have identified hundreds of possible violations of laws or internal guidelines in the use of the letters, including cases in which FBI agents made improper requests, collected more data than they were allowed to, or did not have proper authorization to proceed with the case.

Fine also pointed to the FBI's "troubling" use of the letters to obtain vast quantities of telephone numbers or other records with a single request. Investigators identified 11 such cases, involving information related to about 4,000 phone numbers, that did not comply with USA Patriot Act requirements or that violated FBI guidelines.

 The FBI released a response letter yesterday that stated the following:

Not surprisingly, the errors discovered by the IG in connection with NSLs served during 2006 are similar to those discovered during the 2003-2005 review period. The FBI’s extensive corrective actions began after the Inspector General brought these issues to our attention in the report published in 2007.

“After last year’s OIG report, we conducted an extensive, nationwide internal review of our use of National Security Letters to better determine the scope and nature of our compliance problems. We also began to implement a comprehensive series of actions designed to ensure that the compliance problems the IG had identified and we had confirmed would not recur.

Some of the corrective measures that the FBI implemented are increased training regarding NSLs for FBI employees, having NSLs reviewed by an attorney, and installing a new automated system to minimize errors. 




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