FBI Misused The Patriot Act? Ehr…A Little.

by John Hawkins | March 9, 2007 2:51 pm

One of the hot stories of the day, it’s at the top of Drudge right now, is that the, “FBI ‘MISUSED PATRIOT ACT’.” Ooooooh, sounds scary doesn’t it? Well, here are the the guts of the story[1],

The audit by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine found that FBI agents sometimes demanded personal data on individuals without proper authorization. The 126-page audit also found the FBI improperly obtained telephone records in non-emergency circumstances.

The audit blames agent error and shoddy record-keeping for the bulk of the problems and did not find any indication of criminal misconduct.

Still, “we believe the improper or illegal uses we found involve serious misuses of national security letter authorities,” the audit concludes.

…In 2000, for example, the FBI issued an estimated 8,500 letters. By however, that number jumped to 39,000. It rose again the next year, to about 56,000 letters in 2004, and dropped to approximately 47,000 in 2005.

Over the entire three-year period, the FBI reported issuing 143,074 national security letters requesting customer data from businesses, the audit found. But that did not include an additional 8,850 requests that were never recorded in the FBI’s database, the audit found.

Also, Fine’s audit noted, a 2006 report to Congress showing that the FBI delivered only 9,254 national security letters during the previous year _ on 3,501 U.S. citizens and legal residents _ was only required to report certain types of requests for information. That report did not outline the full scope of the national security letter requests in nor was it required to, Fine’s office said.

Additionally, the audit found, the FBI identified 26 possible violations in its use of the national security letters, including failing to get proper authorization, making improper requests under the law and unauthorized collection of telephone or Internet e-mail records.

Of the violations, 22 were caused by FBI errors, while the other four were the result of mistakes made by the firms that received the letters.

The FBI also used so-called “exigent letters,” signed by officials at FBI headquarters who were not authorized to sign national security letters, to obtain information. In at least 700 cases, these exigent letters were sent to three telephone companies to get toll billing records and subscriber information.

“In many cases, there was no pending investigation associated with the request at the time the exigent letters were sent,” the audit concluded.

So, they’ve found that there were no bad intentions or criminal conduct involved. Also, as far as the 700 exigent letters go, the “FBI “discontinued the use of exigent letters[2]” in May 2006 when it learned of the problems with them.”

Sure, the FBI should shoot for perfection and do everything possible to reduce the number of mistakes to zero, but if this is all they came up with after an audit, it would seem to be strong evidence that the FBI has handled the powers given to them by the Patriot Act with the sort of high ethical standards that the American people have come to expect.

Now, you won’t hear that from the left, which has always sought to prevent any and all reasonable security measures that would prevent another terrorist attack, but it’s important that the baby isn’t thrown out with the bath water here. One of the reasons that we have not been hit with a major attack since 9/11 is the Patriot Act and some sloppy record keeping and honest mistakes by agents SHOULD BE corrected, but SHOULDN’T BE treated like “criminal misconduct” or an effort by the FBI to subvert the law.

  1. the guts of the story: http://www.breitbart.com/news/2007/03/09/D8NOQV5G2.html
  2. discontinued the use of exigent letters: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/09/AR2007030900539_2.html

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