The Washington Post is reporting the Federal Bureau of Investigation invoked non-existent terrorism emergencies to illegally collect more than 2,000 U.S. telephone call records between 2002 and 2006, and issued retroactive approvals to justify its actions.
While the improper phone record collection has been known publicly since 2008, the Post obtained internal Bureau emails that shed light on the behind-the-scenes skirmishing over them.
A Justice Department inspector general report slated for release later this month “is expected to conclude” the FBI frequently broke the law by invoking emergencies, the Post said.
FBI director Robert Mueller did not know about the problem until they came to light in an inspector general investigation that began in mid-2006, according to the Post.
“What this turned out to be was a self-inflicted wound,” FBI General Counsel Valerie Caproni told the newspaper. She also acknowledged that the Bureau “technically violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act when agents invoked nonexistent emergencies to collect records,” the Post reported.
According to the Post, among those who raised concerns internally was FBI Special Agent Bassem Youssef, supervisor of the communications analysis unit that dealt with the records. Youssef brought the matter to the attention of his superiors in 2005, after he received complaints from phone companies about the FBI’s failure to provide documentation showing the searches were legal, the newspaper said.
Youssef earlier had “fallen out of favor with FBI management” because he filed a whistleblower claim alleging he had been denied promotion and retaliated against because of his ethnicity, the Post reported.
The documentation sought by the phone companies were so-called national security letters, which were controversial in their own right because they allowed the FBI to obtain records without obtaining a formal court-approved search warrant.
Read the full Post report here. It was written by former Washington Post reporter John Solomon, who recently resigned as top editor of the Washington Times amid major staff cuts and management turmoil, and Washington Post staff writer Carrie Johnson.
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Senate Democrats joined their House counterparts today in questioning the Obama administration’s broad support of three expiring Patriot Act provisions that expand the government’s powers in counter-terrorism investigations.
Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats pushed National Security Division Assistant Attorney General David Kris to comment today on proposed legislation that puts stipulations on the reauthorization of Patriot Act powers that sunset at the end of the year, The Associated Press reported. Panel Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced legislation yesterday that reapproves the provisions, but allows Congress and the public to better monitor the use of the powers.
Kris said the Justice Department does not have an official position on the bill beyond the administration’s support of reauthorizing the expiring provisions, according to The AP. The Assistant Attorney General said in his written testimony that the Justice Department is “ready and willing to work with members … to craft legislation that both provides effective investigative authorities and protects privacy and civil liberties.” National Security Division Deputy Assistant Attorney General Todd Hinnen also refused to take a position on possible changes to the provisions, which frustrated Democrats at a House Judiciary Constitution, civil rights and civil liberties subcommittee meeting yesterday.
Here’s a summary of the provisions:
- Lone wolf: Allows government to track a target without any discernible affiliation to a foreign power, such as an international terrorist group. The provision only applies only to non-U.S. persons. It has never been used in a FISA application.
- Business records: Allows investigators to compel third parties, including financial services and travel and telephone companies, to provide them access to a suspect’s records without the suspect’s knowledge. From 2004 to 2007, the FISA court issued about 220 orders to produce business records.
- Roving wiretaps: Allows the government to monitor phone lines or Internet accounts that a terrorism suspect may be using, whether or not others who are not suspects also regularly use them. The government must provide the FISA court with specific information showing the suspect is purposely switching means of communication to evade detection. The government has applied for roving wiretaps an average of 22 times a year since 2001.
Leahy said, according to The AP, that the administration’s position keeps “the cards … rather stacked” in favor of the government.
Kris responded, according to the news wire, “We’re willing to look to see if these tools can be sharpened.”
Like the House Republicans, Senate Republicans supported the Justice Department’s position on the provisions. Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said there is no indication that “there have been any abuses to date,” according to The AP.
Democrats have long been skeptical of whether the Bush administration abused the Patriot Act powers and national security letters, which the FBI uses to obtain evidence without a court order. The Leahy bill and legislation introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) would put more restrictions on the letters.
DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine said in his written testimony to the committee today that the Office of Inspector General found the FBI initially did not “take seriously enough its responsibility to ensure that these letters were used in accord with the law, Attorney General Guidelines, or FBI policies.” But the FBI has taken steps to correct it use of the letters, he said.
“We … believe that as Congress considers reauthorizing provisions of the Patriot Act, it must ensure through continual and aggressive oversight that the FBI uses these important and intrusive investigative authorities appropriately,” Fine wrote in his testimony.
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