Daily Archives: March 27, 2007

The FBI and NSLs 4: Not Operating in a Vacuum

The FBI is still pretending that their use of National Security Letters (NSLs) to obtain information unconnected in any way with national security was a matter of sloppy paperwork and/or “haste”, excuses that don’t even begin to explain either the high numbers of “mistakes” or the constant lies.

FBI agents repeatedly provided inaccurate information to win secret court approval of surveillance warrants in terrorism and espionage cases, prompting officials to tighten controls on the way the bureau uses that powerful anti-terrorism tool, according to Justice Department and FBI officials.

The errors were pervasive enough that the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, wrote the Justice Department in December 2005 to complain. She raised the possibility of requiring counterterrorism agents to swear in her courtroom that the information they were providing was accurate, a procedure that could have slowed such investigations drastically.

Forced to acknowledge the extent of the abuses (as many as 10% of the warrants contained inaccuracies, and possibly a lot more – exact numbers aren’t yet available although IG Fine estimates that as many as 3000 violations may have occurred over the last 3 years), the FBI’s management has moved from minimizing the problem to blaming poor supervision.

In the use of both national security letters and the FISA warrant applications, officials acknowledged that the problems resulted from agents’ haste or sloppiness — or both — and that there was inadequate supervision.”We’ve oftentimes been better at setting the rules than we have been at establishing the internal controls and audits necessary to enforce them,” FBI Assistant Director John Miller said.

But they didn’t “set the rules”, that’s the whole point. What we have here is a process that ignored the rules to get what it wanted. The very same “mistakes” were made on surveillance warrants as were made on NSLs, so the argument that the NSLs got screwed up because agents weren’t used to using them is bullshit.

And what can you say about the idea that after 50 years FBI agents still don’t know how to fill out a surveillance request correctly without supervision?

As disturbing as the lies and weak excuses are, what’s even more disturbing are the way and the reasons they were used. Continue reading