March 20, 2007 11:38 AM PDT

House questions 'overreaching' FBI spy powers

WASHINGTON--Widespread abuse of the FBI's authority to secretly obtain Americans' telephone, Internet and financial records drew pointed questioning on Tuesday from a key U.S. House of Representatives panel.

As promised by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), the panel chided U.S. Department of Justice Glenn Fine and FBI General Counsel Valerie Caproni about an internal audit released earlier this month that detailed the FBI's missteps and illegal use of an investigative tool known as national security letters.

"The department has converted this tool into a handy shortcut to illegally gather vast amounts of private information," Conyers said, "while at the same time significantly under-reporting its activities to Congress."

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), one of the chief architects of the 2001 Patriot Act and its subsequent renewal, was among the most outspoken Republican critics at Tuesday's hearing here.

"I just make the observation that one of the things that gets people in this town in big trouble is overreaching," he said. "I think given your report, Mr. Fine, the FBI has had a gross overreach."

The FBI won expanded national security letter powers, which the Bush administration claims aid in terrorism investigations, under the 2001 Patriot Act. The tactic, which does not require court approval, allows investigators to obtain confidential information on Americans from banks, credit card companies, credit bureaus, telephone companies and Internet service providers.

In 2000, the FBI sent about 8,500 such requests. Between 2003 and 2005, that number grew to a total of 143,074 requests--and may be understated because of problems with an FBI database designed to track such requests, agency officials said.

Those numbers elicited alarm from several politicians on the committee. "Do we have that many potential terrorists running around the country?" Sensenbrenner asked. "If so, I'm really worried."

Fine readily acknowledged before the committee Tuesday that his office's review (PDF) "found widespread and serious misuse of the FBI's national security letter authorities," in many cases violating federal law, guidelines set by the attorney general, and internal FBI procedures.

Most troubling to the FBI were more than 700 so-called "exigent letters" that allowed FBI agents to unlawfully obtain customer records directly from telephone companies without going through the appropriate channels, Fine said.

"We believe the misuses and the problems we found were products of mistakes, carelessness, confusion, sloppiness, lack of training, lack of adequate guidance and lack of adequate oversight," Fine said, adding that none of those observations excused what he deemed "serious and unacceptable" failures on the FBI's part.

That description drew a blistering critique from some politicians, including Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), who likened it to "a report about a first- or second-grade class," not FBI personnel with college degrees.

Lungren went on to say that Congress may revoke the FBI's national security letter authority if it doesn't clean up its act.

A number of Democrats challenged Fine's assertion that FBI agents were unaware they were breaking the law. Some pointed to recent news reports that FBI lawyers had concerns about the department's use of the letters as early as 2004 and warned agents in 2005.

"I don't believe they intended to go out and obtain information they knew they could not obtain and said we're going to do it anyway," Fine said. The officials said they are currently undertaking a more detailed evaluation designed to determine more about the motivations of the agents involved.

FBI General Counsel Caproni assured the committee that the agency is implementing a "vigorous, multidisciplinary compliance program" aimed at bolstering the public's confidence in FBI processes. The agency "is acutely aware that the only way we can keep our country safe is if we are trusted by all segments of the American public," she added.

Some Republican committee members took a gentler tack, tempering their disappointment in the report's findings with applause for the Bush administration's promised changes to FBI procedures.

Because the use of national security letters under the Patriot Act is relatively new, "certainly we will have to work out the kinks," said Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), adding that "while the FBI's practices have had their shortcomings, it appears these are problems that can be easily resolved, and that is good news."

The inspector general is scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning for additional questioning about the report's findings.

See more CNET content tagged:
USA PATRIOT Act, agent, authority, request, Rep.

5 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
A fearful, sleeping electorate gets sloppy laws
We're uninformed, swayed by weak arguments, hung up on
celebrity news, and have the memory of fruit flies.

We got what we, in general, were too willing to accept.
Posted by Mark Greene (163 comments )
Reply Link Flag
NO
Um ... I really want to argue with your statements Mr Greene.
Problem is you hit the nail right on the head.

So how do we fix the problem?

1. Impeach and imprison EVERYONE on the Bush administration.
Especially the President himself. If 7 years of lies, an allowed
terrorist strike killing thousands and an indefensible and
inexcusable war aren't reasons enough, then we don't deserve
the freedoms our forefathers bestowed upon us.

2. Repeal and throw out the entire misnamed Patriot Act. There
is nothing patriotic about pissing on our constitution.

THEN we'll discover that Gitmo is not only illegal but totally
unnecessary and we can close that down, plus we'll discover that
we CAN find a way out of Iraq that doesn't involve defeat or an
unending quagmire and we can bring our excellent military
home (or send them to Afghanistan, where the supposed
problem REALLY is, to do the job right this time). On top of that,
we can finally start treating our wounded like the hero's they
are, instead of just tossing them into a degraded wing at Walter
Reed that happens to be infested with rats and mold.

When, oh when will the people of this country finally wake up
from this nightmare? Oh yeah, we have "the memory of fruit
flies."

Sigh. Never before have I wanted so badly to beat the ever loving
crap out of anyone who's stupid enough to utter any single
defense of this corrupted, lying, perverted bastard who's
currently squatting in the White House.
Posted by Dalkorian (3000 comments )
Link Flag
Mission Accomplished!
"We believe the misuses and the problems we found were products of mistakes, carelessness, confusion, sloppiness, lack of training, lack of adequate guidance and lack of adequate oversight," -- so that means it par for the course for a government project right?

140,000? Who would have thought.. the government was just suposta use these powers just to hunt terrorists. but then I guess there were drug dealers.. then spammers.. and little old ladies defrauding the IRS.. and girl scouts avoiding sales taxes.. and people who flashed other people while speeding and committed dual sex crimes / traffic offenses.. I tell ya.. if we force 100% of the laws on people 100% of the time we are going to be a very unhappy populace.
Posted by Solaris_User (267 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MOST WANTED TERRORIST CAPTURED (5/29/04) & RELEASED 1/??/2007 TO SOMALIA
Dear Office of Professional Responsibility,
SENT CERTIFIED 9/13/05
SIGNATURE CONFIRMATION

On 5/27/04,from a newspaper I received the 7 photos from the 5/26/04 PRESS CONF. of U.S.
ATTORNEY GENERAL JOHN ASHCROFT & FBI DIRECTOR MUELLER.On 5/29/04,after 300+miles driven & 9 hours later of being on the lookout & hunting these people down.About 5:30-5:35pm,I noticed a car tailgating me HAD 2 OF THE 7 PEOPLE IN QUESTION,after POSITIVELY IDENTIFYING these 2 as the 2 in the photos,I forced them to pass me,to acquire the vechiles' license plate information.

***(Please refer to 6/21/04 fax sent to Mr.Ashcroft as well as President Bush.)

I called a U.S.COAST GUARD friend,who in turn VERIFIED the captures,as well as family in FEDERAL GOVT.,as well as a Sheriff Dept.Captain,
I've assisted in the past,who is part of a J.T.T.F.- JOINT TERRORIST TASK FORCE TEAM - My friend in the COAST GUARD told me "THAT FEDERAL OFFICIALS WILL TRY TO COVER THIS UP,NO 911 CALL,
I DID NOTHING,TO AVOID PAYING THE REWARD OF $ 25 MILLION - FAZUL ABDULLAH MOHAMMED - HAD ON HIS CAPTURE AT THE TIME" which was changed twice since then - once I was aware MY ACTIONS were going to be denied,I CONTACTED CONGRESSIONAL MEMBERS TO SAFEGUARD THIS,who in turn held some hearings I saw openly & of course CLOSED DOOR HEARINGS.

It did not take long for people to realize,from whom these hearings arose from,I contacted NO PRESS OR ATTORNEYS,I believed I followed proper PROTOCOL,in seeking COMPENSATION FOR MY ACTIONS.
Now it seems someone will not allow the PROPER AUTHORITIES - TO NOMINATE ME FOR THE REWARDS - THROUGH THE REWARDS FOR JUSTICE PROGRAM.Then on 6/8/04,I called MIAMI-FBI WITH INTEL ON 4 VEHICLES,ONE I BELIEVED TO BE AHMED KHALFAN GHAILANI WITH "SPECIFIC DETAILS",only to hear on 7/25/04 he was captured,yet found overseas,A PLOY
I BELIEVE TO DENY PAYING ANOTHER $ 25 MILLION REWARD THEN,which was changed twice after both were CAPTURED,to up to 25 million & now up to 5 million.

Congressional hearings arose after the 3 were captured,& in 11/04 my life turned sour,with a VINDICTIVE VANDETTA TO SILENCE ME & CRIPPLE ME LEGALLY & ECONOMICALLY - I was pulled over 4 times in 4 days,for no apparent reason & let go.
I believe DOJ OR FBI WERE TRYING TO FIND A LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY TO STOP-ARREST & OR DETAIN ME.
Well on 11/21/04,I believe I had a FEDERALLY
FABRICATED MOTOR VEHICLE STOP - performed on me using Aerial Surveillance (BREVARD COUNTY)& LEARNING MY AGENDA BY ILLEGALLY WIRETAPPING MY CELL PHONE,LEARNING MY EVERY MOVE.At 7:15 AM on a Sunday going to work(11/21/04) - I was stopped with a FALSE PROBABLE CAUSE PREMISE - VERY IMPORTANT PAPERS - LETTERS - FAXES - PLUS INTELLIGENCE WAS SEIZED OUT OF MY CAR,& SENT TO THE FBI,AS DEPUTY STATED UNDER OATH IN OPEN COURT.

The evidence in my favor (cars' camera) was suddenly inoperable,I FIRMLY BELIEVE FBI INFLUENCED MANY OF THESE MATTERS - MULTIPLE CIVIL RIGHTS VIOLATIONS - THE COURT PROCEEDINGS & OUTCOME - MY 6 MONTHS LOST OF GAINFUL EMPLOYMENT - A JUDICIAL QUALIFICATION COMMISSIONS' DECISION,PROBATION & EVERYTHING ALONG THE WAY.

(PLUS A HOST OF OTHER CRIMINAL -N- CIVIL VIOLATIONS)

I can say this with CERTAINTY,due to the way a FBI FT.PIERCE FIELD OFFICE AGENT spoke to me,
upon me calling this office in early 6/04 - telling of this 5/29/04 incident,only to be treated with ARROGANCE - IGNORANCE & DISRESPECT & ALL FUTURE CALLS WENT TO MIAMI-FBI - My friend in the COAST GUARD KNEW OF ANY & ALL INFORMATION PRIOR TO & FIRSTHAND BEFORE ANY CALLS TO MIAMI-FBI - SINCE ALL VISUALS I HAD OCCURRED ON SATURDAY OR SUNDAY.

After the 5/29/04 captures of F.A.M.+ A.S., ON 6/5/04 I SPOT 2 MORE - ONE I LOST - YET LOCATED AGAIN ON MY RETURN TRIP & ANOTHER I ACQUIRED ALL RELEVANT VEHICLE INFORMATION - CALL COAST GUARD FRIEND & TELL HIM SPECIFIC INTEL TO FOLLOW UP ON,THEN ON 6/6/04 I SPOT WHO I BELIEVE WAS GHAILANI - CALLED MY COAST GUARD FRIEND & SAID I WAS CALLING MIAMI-FBI ON MONDAY WITH WHAT I ACQUIRED - ON 6/8/04,I CALL MIAMI-FBI & GAVE ALL RELEVANT INFORMATION & I WAS ASKED WHY I AM NOT CALLING CLOSER FIELD OFFICES & I EXPLAINED MYSELF THOROUGHLY.

Unfortunately my carpentry employment took me to Orlando,which totally disrupted me from patrolling the area in which those were spotted at.Now I am PUNISHED BEYOND BELIEF FOR SPEAKING THE TRUTH & POSSIBLY EXPOSING POTENTIAL CORRUPTION - THROUGH DENIAL OF MY ACTIONS - PAYMENT OF THE REWARDS' COMPENSATION & POTENTIAL THEFT OF THE SAME.

I WAS CIVIL - PATIENT - TRYING TO ACQUIRE INFORMATION ONLY TO BE SPUN IN A CIRCLE WHICH FORCED ME TO SAFEGUARD THESE MATTERS - IN - BY & THROUGH CONGRESS.

***ALSO I AM AWARE BOTH INDIVIDUALS (F.A.M.+ A.K.G.) - WERE IN POSSESSION OF LAPTOPS & ONCE HACKED - PROVIDED MANY MORE ARRESTS GLOBALLY - WITH PROBABLE REWARD OR BOUNTY IMPLICATIONS - ONLY TO BE DENIED COMPENSATION ALTOGETHER.

HERE IS HOW MY CIVIL RIGHTS - ARE - HAVE & CONTINUE TO BE VIOLATED.

1ST AMENDMENT - PUNISHED FOR TELLING THE TRUTH - WHILE TRYING TO COLLECT THE REWARDS FOR MY ACTIONS (CALLS MADE) - VAST POTENTIAL FOR CORRUPTION.

4TH AMENDMENT - ILLEGALLY SEIZING PAPERWORK FROM MY CAR - FROM A FBI,DOJ OR A HIGHER COMMAND TO STOP ME ILLEGALLY - IN ORDER TO ACQUIRE (PAPERS)
- TO KNOW WHAT WAS SAID & TO WHOM - LETTERS & FAXES WERE SENT TO THE FBI.

5TH AMENDMENT - SEIZED PROPERTY WITHOUT JUST COMPENSATION - INTELLIGENCE & INFORMATION THAT HAS LED TO ON-GOING ARRESTS & INVESTIGATIONS.

6TH AMENDMENT - JUDGE DENIED MY RIGHT TO A JURY TRIAL - MOST LIKELY FROM INTIMIDATION & OTHER TACTICS.

8TH AMENDMENT - AS I CONTINUE TRYING TO COLLECT COMPENSATION FOR MY ACTIONS WHICH OUTSMARTS DOJ & FBI - WHEN THEY LEARN OR HEAR WHAT I AM DOING -SOMEHOW MY OUTRAGEOUS PROBATION CONDITIONS GET WORSE.

9TH AMENDMENT - A ARRAY OF RIGHTS DENIED - OBVIOUSLY BY COMMAND FROM A HIGHER AUTHORITY.

14TH AMENDMENT - RIGHTS ABRIDGED - DEPRIVED OF PROPERTY - DENIED EQUAL PROTECTION OF THE LAWS BEING A NATURAL BORN AMERICANS CITIZEN.

***WHISTLEBLOWER - IN A NON-CONVENTIONAL WAY - REVEALED TRUTH & POTENTIAL ABUSE - FRAUD & POSSIBLE THEFT OF THE REWARD MONEY.

*** I WROTE DEPUTY DIRECTOR BENJAMIN RENYA - U.S. MARSHAL SERVICE FOR MY "PROTECTION RIGHTS" -GUARANTEED THROUGH THE U.S. STATE DEPTS' -"REWARDS FOR JUSTICE PROGRAM" -(HE RESIGNED SOON THEREAFTER LIKELY CONFRONTING GONZALES & OR BUSH ON THESE MATTERS)

***PATRIOT ACT VIOLATIONS - ILLEGAL ROVING WIRETAP - THAT NO JUDGE WOULD APPROVE OF - UNLESS
SAID IN A WAY TO CONVINCE THE JUDGE OTHERWISE TO APPROVE IT - (IN VIOLATION OF THE F.I.S.A.STATUE)
- 3 PHONE NUMBERS ARE CONSTANTLY MONITORED TO SEE
WHO I CALL - LISTEN WHAT I SAY & THEN CALL THEM BACK & INTIMIDATE THOSE THAT I CALL - INTERCEPTING MY MAIL - ALL MAJOR CRIMINAL FEDERAL OFFENSES.

(TRYING VEHEMENTLY TO STOP ME FROM ACQUIRING A CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY & WILL DO WHATEVER IS POSSIBLE - INCLUDING THE THREAT OF THE DREADED
"NSL" LETTER IS ON THE WAY)

ONE CALL TO REP. MARKEY (MASS) OFFICE IN D.C. WAS
NOT CONNECTED DELIBERATELY - CALLED BACK ON ANOTHER LINE & DOCUMENTED THE EVENT WITH THE MEMBER OF HIS STAFF.

THE REPERCUSSIONS HAVE BEEN GLOBAL - THE WRONGS COMMITTED ON ME - SOMEONE WHO MORE THAN LIKELY STOPPED OUR NEXT 911 - THRU 4 EXPENSIVE HURRICANES - 12/26 TSUNAMI & NOW THE UTTER DESTRUCTION OF A MAJOR CITY/PORT.
Posted by national-security-4-us (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.