The FBI and NSLs 5: Don’t Trust Mueller (Updated)

FBI Dir Robert Mueller wants the Congress to let him keep the power given him by the PATRIOT Act to use NSLs despite his total failure to supervise that use by his agents.

Mueller expressed concern about any modifications to the USA Patriot Act that might “handcuff us” in terrorism investigations, but he also said that the FBI would be willing to jettison its authority to use national security letters if it is granted the power to use administrative subpoenas to collect the same information.

This is a very bad idea. During his tenure, Mueller has made any number of promises to Congress – including a promise made during the hearings on re-authorization of the Act that he would not allow abuse of the power he now admits his agency abused – and somebody’s going to have to point me toward a single one of them he’s actually kept because I can’t find it. Dianne Feinstein rightly complained that there’s no excuse for the lack of supervision Mueller now takes responsibility for.

“This was a very controversial addition to the Patriot Act,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said about the FBI’s authority to use the national security letters. “There were many members that had deep concerns about this. The language was negotiated. We were very specifically trying to put in checks and balances. And then it appears they all just melted into oblivion with sloppy administration.”

Again, Sen Feinstein, it was NOT “sloppy”. It was deliberate. The danger of the incompetence defense is the possibility that the Congress will see this abuse as some sort of clerical misunderstanding that can be fixed by a more diligent administration. In the short term, the problem may go away because Mueller and the rest of the FBI are now fully aware that they are being watched, but when the klieg lights are turned off and Congress has moved on to one of the other plethora of scandals that still need to be investigated, Mueller’s FBI will go right back to misusing the NSLs because they make things easier.

In police dept after police dept, that is the pattern: change what the pols and the papers are watching closely and when they stop looking over your shoulder, go back to what you were doing before. The word “handcuff” is a big clue to what’s going on in Mueller’s mind. Losing the NSL power will NOT “handcuff” anybody, least of all the FBI. All it will do is remove an investigatory short-cut, and if Mueller is that desperate to keep it, it means he fully intends to go right on using it. Why does that mean so much to him? If his agency is going to use the NSLs properly, they’re are going to apply only to a very small number of FBI investigations if at all, and none of them would be stymied without the NSLs. At worst, they’d simply be slowed down slightly by the necessity of a warrant.

The law was written/negotiated for a very specific purpose, a purpose so narrow that it would be appropriate only in very specific circumstance in a very specific type of investigation. Here’s the problem:

Of the dozens of putative “terrorist” investigation carried out by the Justice Dept that we have been able to track through news reports, only ONE, that of KSM, can be shown to have any validity. The rest were empty shells, investigations (Mahar Arar, Jimmy Yee, hundreds of Gitmo detainees) that could not prove there was any substance in the original accusations. An Ashcroft investigation where a German court opened the file found that it had nothing more in it than raw data – uncorroborated gossip. In the Padillo case, the JD outright lied, and even though they now admit there was nothing to the charges, he remains locked up.

The Justice Dept and the FBI (which is part of the JD, remember, and responsible to it) CAN’T BE TRUSTED. They’ve proved that over and over again. Their investigations have been more than sloppy or inept, they’ve been deliberately falsified. That’s not conjecture any more, it is a fact. To trust the unsupported word of Robert Mueller is like trusting the con man who’s already ripped off your life savings and now wants to do a deal for your house.


If you do, we’ll see more somewhere down the line of what we’ve seen so much of already this year: abuses perpetrated by the same people who promised three times under oath not to commit abuses. Haven’t we had enough of that?

Update: TChris at Talk Left agrees.

FBI Director Robert Mueller’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee amounts to this: Yes, we abused our Patriot Act authority by spying on Americans who weren’t suspected of terrorism, even though we promised that we wouldn’t, but now that we’ve been caught, we really really promise not to abuse that authority again, so please don’t take it away.

(Link via Avedon Carol)

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