March 9, 2007 12:21 PM PST

Report: FBI's snooping did not follow rules

The FBI has repeatedly misused the Patriot Act's extraordinary surveillance powers by obtaining information on Americans unlawfully, the Justice Department's inspector general said Friday in a report that already has drawn promises of a congressional investigation.

The 199-page report, which found "serious misuse" of the surveillance power (PDF), says that FBI field agents unlawfully accessed telephone companies' internal databases showing calling records, and repeatedly sought and obtained information that federal law does not permit to be disclosed without a judge's approval.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine oversaw the creation of the report, which reviewed the FBI's use of national security letters. The 2001 Patriot Act expanded the FBI's ability to use those letters--which do not require court approval--to obtain confidential information on Americans from banks, credit card companies, credit bureaus, telephone companies and Internet service providers.

Fine said, however, that there was no evidence that the FBI agents' unlawful activities "constituted criminal misconduct." Unlike conducting an unlawful wiretap, which is a federal felony, unlawful use of national security letters carries no criminal penalties.

Friday's disclosure of the FBI's slipshod use of the secret investigative technique (recipients are not permitted to disclose the letter's existence) reverberated quickly and loudly on Capitol Hill and inside the Bush administration.

FBI Director Robert Mueller called a news conference in Washington during which he took responsibility for the wrongdoing. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sent a letter to Inspector General Fine saying that "the problems identified in your review are serious and must be addressed immediately." Neither disputed the report's conclusions.

Among members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats said they would try to find out what led to widespread abuse of the national security letter process.

Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, said he would press for "quick Senate reforms" to stop abuses and said he expected the Judiciary and Intelligence committees would conduct full and prompt investigations.

Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, said that the Judiciary Committee will have to "undertake comprehensive oversight on this important matter and perhaps act to limit the FBI's power by revising the Patriot Act."

Among the report's findings:

• A review of a representative sample of 77 FBI investigative files showed that 17 of them--22 percent--contained "one or more possible violations relating to national security letters that were not identified by the FBI."

• The FBI underreported its use of national security letters to Congress. A spot check of four FBI field offices showed that requests made by the secret letters were underreported by 22 percent.

• The FBI's use of national security letters has "grown dramatically since the enactment of the Patriot Act." In 2000, the last full calendar year before the September 11 attacks, the FBI sent about 8,500 requests. During the following three-year period ending in 2005, the FBI sent a total of 143,074 requests.

• An increasing number of U.S. citizens and residents have been targeted during that three-year period. About 39 percent of national security letters related to U.S. citizens and residents in 2003; two years later it had climbed to about 53 percent of requests.

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19 comments

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What a surprise.
What the Patriot Act really needs is to implement severe criminal penalties for the individuals who misuse it.
Posted by larryc92039 (41 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Is this a joke?
From the article:
Fine said, however, that there was no evidence that the FBI agents' unlawful activities "constituted criminal misconduct." Unlike conducting an unlawful wiretap, which is a federal felony, unlawful use of national security letters carries no criminal penalties

Oh I get it. It's a joke. It's not criminal conduct because it's not against the law.

Did I read that right?

You mean it's not against the law? So they can spy on us whenever they want at the drop of hat for total ******** made up , or worse- - "she was cute and I wonder where she lives and is she married?"
reasons and it's NOT against the law?

As in "I hate what that guy said online and I am gong to ruin his life" reasons?

As in "That company is my brother-in-law's company's competitor and I need to ruin them" reasons?

As in "Our little group has taken upon itself to make life *really* hard for the opposing political party members and I need to know who they are" reasons?

As in "It's for the good of the country that we destroy the personal lives of these key individuals; history will prove we were right, probably" reasons?

Is this a joke?
Posted by asdf (241 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Welcome to the Patriot Act
I've only read part of the Act (required for my job), but that was enough. It's a nightmare on wheels and should Not have been passed in any country that calls itself free.
What's worse, it was intended as a temporary measure, but then became permanent as Version 2.
Posted by Marcus Westrup (630 comments )
Link Flag
They can spy but they can't use what they find in court.
"she was cute and I wonder where she lives and is she married?"

That would lead to administrative punishment.

I hate what that guy said online and I am gong to ruin his life" reasons?

Illegal, with possible civil penalties.

That company is my brother-in-law's company's competitor and I need to ruin them" reasons?

Possible hard jail time.

Our little group has taken upon itself to make life *really* hard for the opposing political party members and I need to know who they are" reasons?

Quite common, and people go to jail for it.

"It's for the good of the country that we destroy the personal lives of these key individuals; history will prove we were right, probably" reasons?

Padded cell would be the preferred solution.

When law enforcement breaks the law, many possible outcomes can take place. Evidence obtained illegally can't be used against you in court. Law enforcement officers can be reprimanded, causing them not to be promoted, and in extreme cases the agents can go to jail.
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
Link Flag
Law breaking but no jail time? No suprise.
Funny how Republican appointees never prosecute their own errand boys. "Oh yes the law was broken, but it was all due to ignorance or incompetance. Ignorance and incompetence, the Republican "get out of jail free" cards.
Posted by Xenu7-214951314497503184010868 (153 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why not 2 three year periods?
One the one hand, there is year 2000. Then, the other information is from three years ending in 2005. I want the same length of time for real evidence. I'm not endorsing this, I just want a sample of the same size, otherwise this stuff is rather random.
Posted by ben::zen (127 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Fears
Yep, it's what a lot of us have feared...

"He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither" - Ben Franklin.
Posted by hairbautt (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not Surprising
The FBI has a history of abuse when it comes to their power to conduct surveillance. So it's really no surprise that they did so again when congress gave them what was a essentially a blank check with NTLs and zero judicial oversight in the Patriot Act.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A couple of questions...
Quote: "...repeatedly sought and obtained information that
federal law does not permit to be disclosed without a judge's
approval."

What Federal law?

Isn't a law with no penalty usually called a suggestion?

Quote: "Fine said, however, that there was no evidence that the
FBI agents' unlawful activities "constituted criminal misconduct."

I'm pretty sure "unlawful activities" make them criminals, but
this "misconduct" is a puzzler. is "criminal misconduct" getting
caught, or failing to behave like a criminal?

Quote: "A review of a representative sample of 77 FBI
investigative files showed that 17 of them--22 percent--
contained "one or more possible violations..."
AND THEN
"...requests made by the secret letters were underreported by 22
percent."

Coincidence? Or is it proof they knew they were breaking the
"suggestion"?

Finally,
Quote: "...Republicans and Democrats said they would try to find
out what led to widespread abuse..."

illegal breaches of federal law by law enforcement. Penalty? A
paycheck, information not held by the public, possible
promotion.

One last question: Are they that dumb, or do they think we are?

Lampie
Posted by lampietheclown (73 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not many answers
Lampietheclown ended with this thought:

"Are they that dumb, or do they think we are?"

They think we are. Hell, we elected them, didn't we? Maybe they're
not so wrong about that ...
Posted by Dalkorian (3000 comments )
Link Flag
Govt. JUST STARTED the Patriot Act, and they're ALREADY violating it?
Unbelievable. And people wonder why so many are against
unconditional powers for the government. They can't even control
themselves during the FIRST FEW YEARS. What do you think will
happen in a decade?
Posted by zmonster (272 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Patriot Act II -- Police state here we come
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/" target="_newWindow">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/</a>
Domestic_Security_Enhancement_Act_of_2003
Posted by Mark Greene (163 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This was predicted
Even Michael Moore said it, and he was laughed at by the majority. The primary contributor to the erosion of personal freedom is indifference, followed by apathy. People need to wake up and fight to keep their freedoms or you government will continue to take them away.
Posted by ozidigga (77 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So get rid of it!
What was predicted now has come true so what we need to do is to get rid of this Patriot Act cause obviously it was designed to erode the personal freedoms of Americans.

The whole War on Terror and the laws that have popped up because of it is coming to be seen as a a joke on the American people! Nobody is being held accountable for starting this tragedy. They say it was Osama Bin Laden and he was not caught, yet we were able to destroy Iraq and find Saddam Hussein in a hole. Bush lied to get us into the Iraq War and nothing has been done about that. The real facts about 9/11 are still extremely controversial and no one is doing anything about that. The Vice President exposed the identity of a covert CIA agent and nothing happened. Our borders are still as porous as they ever were, and on top of all that(the outcome) is that we now have a law that gives OUR government the uncontrolled ability to spy on its own citizens.

Instead of dealing with the issue of an out of control government we end up giving them more control over our lives, to the extent that many of us would rather have another terrorist attack then to have our freedoms stripped with these badly unconstitutional laws!

If we are really concerned and patriotic citizens then we would just demand that this Patriot Act be removed from the books and seriously have a look at the jobs of all those politicians who voted for it. I will speak for myself and say that if you supported this Patriot Act and any other acts like it, you are not getting my vote the next time your job comes up for the citizens review.
Posted by tetsuyo (50 comments )
Link Flag
doesnt mean a thing to me
this govt is notorious for breaking its own laws. the problem is that no one will suffer the consequences for these actions. we've just finished wasting time with scooter libby. by the time we get around to these other govt criminals, they'll be long dead or exonerated by some other govt criminal who has yet to be caught.
Posted by tonenyc (30 comments )
Reply Link Flag
FBI snooping (?)
Do no evil-fear no evil. The FBI is trying to protect you.
Posted by huppler (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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