Glenn Fine rips FBI for 'serious misuse' of Patriot Act
March 9, 2007
Washington, D.C. - The FBI is guilty of "serious misuse" of the power to secretly obtain private information under the Patriot Act, a government audit said Friday.
The Justice Department's inspector general looked at the FBI's use of national security letters (NSLs), which agents send to third parties demanding personal and business information about individuals -- such as financial, phone, and Internet records -- without court orders. Civil libertarians have slammed the practice.
"While national security letters are an important investigative tool, the FBI needs to ensure that it uses this authority in full accord with the national security letter statutes, attorney general guidelines, and FBI policies," said Inspector General Glenn A. Fine in the report.
"We concluded that many of the problems we identified constituted serious misuse of the FBI's national security letter authorities."
The review examined whether there were "improper" or "illegal" uses of NSLs, and identified "26 possible intelligence violations" that occurred between 2003 and 2005, 19 of which the FBI reported to the president's Intelligence Oversight Board, the audit says. Of the 26, "22 were the result of FBI errors, while four were caused by mistakes made by recipients of the NSLs," it said.
The FBI responds to the Inspector General's report: - In the post-9/11 world, the National Security Letter (NSL) remains an indispensable investigative tool. NSLs contribute significantly to the FBI's ability to carry out its national security responsibilities by directly supporting its counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and intelligence missions. NSLs also allow the FBI to obtain information to eliminate concerns about individuals and close down investigations with a high degree of confidence there is no terrorism or adverse intelligence-gathering threat. We are pleased the Inspector General concurs with the FBI concerning the value of the NSL tool.
"The Inspector General conducted a fair and objective review of the FBI's use of a proven and useful investigative tool," said Director Robert S. Mueller, III, "and his finding of deficiencies in our processes is unacceptable. We strive to exercise our authorities consistent with the privacy protections and civil liberties that we are sworn to uphold. Anything less will not be tolerated. While we've already taken some steps to address these shortcomings, I am ordering additional corrective measures to be taken immediately," Mueller said.
Importantly, the OIG found no deliberate or intentional misuse of authorities, whether NSL statutes or Attorney General Guidelines. Nevertheless, the OIG review identified several areas of inadequate auditing and oversight of these vital investigative tools, as well as inappropriate processes, and these are findings of significant concern.
As a result, Director Mueller is implementing reforms to the process designed to correct those deficiencies identified - with accountability. Those steps include strengthening internal controls, changing policies and procedures to improve oversight of the NSL approval process, barring certain practices identified in the Inspector General's report, and ordering an expedited inspection.
The FBI will work together with DOJ's National Security Division and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Office to implement these reforms. Throughout this process, the FBI will continue to work closely with the OIG to gauge progress and consider any additional reforms.
In its review, the OIG took into consideration the environment in which the Bureau has functioned over the last five years. Since September 11, 2001, as the report noted, the FBI has undergone major reorganization. The men and women of the Bureau's Counterterrorism Division, in particular, have carried an extraordinary workload, transforming operations while working at a breakneck pace protect Americans. The OIG also recognized the importance of NSLs, citing a number of instances in which they have been used by the FBI to gather the basic building blocks of its counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations.
The deficiencies identified, however, require the FBI to redouble its efforts to ensure we do not repeat the mistakes in the use of these authorities, however lacking in intent. Any report of possible violations of legal authorities will continue to be carefully reviewed, and, if warranted, referred to the appropriate entities. If we determine that we obtained any information to which we were not legally entitled, whether due to FBI or third-party error, that information will be sealed, sequestered, and where appropriate, destroyed. In addition, employee conduct related to these violations will be reviewed and, if appropriate, employees will be disciplined.
The OIG report made ten recommendations in response to its findings, designed to provide both the necessary controls over the issuance of NSLs and the creation and maintenance of accurate records. Director Mueller assured the Inspector General, in a detailed response included in the report, that the FBI fully supports each recommendation.
The FBI concurs with the Inspector General that, when implemented, these reforms can improve the accuracy of the reporting of the use of NSLs and ensure compliance with the requirements governing their use. Along with those already put in place, these reforms will ensure full compliance with both the letter and the spirit of the authorities entrusted to the Bureau, and will strengthen the process, alleviate concerns, and ensure the confidence of the Congress and the American public, while allowing the FBI to continue to protect the nation from those who would do us harm.
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