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Congress Threatens FBI Tracking Of Terrorists

From those defenders of (terrorists’) privacy at the Associated Press:

FBI Director Robert Mueller speaks at FBI headquarters in Washington on March 9, 2007.

Lawmakers threaten FBI over spy powers

By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON – Republicans and Democrats sternly warned the FBI on Tuesday that it could lose its broad power to collect telephone, e-mail and financial records to hunt terrorists if the agency doesn’t quickly address widespread abuses of the authority detailed in a recent internal investigation.

Their threats came as the Justice Department’s chief watchdog, Glenn A. Fine, told a House panel that the FBI engaged in widespread and serious misuse of its authority in illegally collecting the information from Americans and foreigners through so-called national security letters.

If the FBI doesn’t move swiftly to correct the mistakes and problems revealed last week in Fine’s 130-page report, “you probably won’t have NSL authority,” said Rep. Dan Lungren , R-Calif., a supporter of the power, referring to the data requests by their initials.

“I hope that this would be a lesson to the FBI that they can’t get away with this and expect to maintain public support,” said Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the House Judiciary Committee’s former Republican chairman. “Let this be a warning.”

The FBI’s failure to establish sufficient controls or oversight for collecting the information constituted “serious and unacceptable” failures, Fine told the committee.

Democrats called Fine’s findings an example of how the Justice Department has used broad counterterrorism authorities Congress granted in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks to trample on privacy rights.

“This was a serious breach of trust,” said Rep. John Conyers , D-Mich., the Judiciary chairman. “The department had converted this tool into a handy shortcut to illegally gather vast amounts of private information while at the same time significantly underreporting its activities to Congress.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler , D-N.Y., said Congress should revise the USA Patriot Act, which substantially loosened controls over the letters.

“We do not trust government always to be run by angels, especially not this administration,” Nadler said. “It is not enough to mandate that the FBI fix internal management problems and recordkeeping, because the statute itself authorizes the unchecked collection of information on innocent Americans.”

Some Republicans, however, said the FBI’s expanded spying powers were vital to tracking terrorists.

“The problem is enforcement of the law, not the law itself,” said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the panel’s senior GOP member. “We need to be vigilant to make sure these problems are fixed.”

Fine said he did not believe the problems were intentional, although he acknowledged he could not rule that out.

“We believe the misuses and the problems we found generally were the product of mistakes, carelessness, confusion, sloppiness lack of training, lack of adequate guidance and lack of adequate oversight,” Fine said.

“It really was unacceptable and inexcusable what happened here,” he added under questioning.

Valerie Caproni, the FBI’s general counsel, said she took responsibility for the abuses and believed they could be fixed in a matter of months.

“We’re going to have to work to get the trust of this committee back, and we know that’s what we have to do, and we’re going to do it,” she said.

In a review of headquarters files and a sampling of just four of the FBI’s 56 field offices, Fine found 48 violations of law or presidential directives during between 2003 and 2005, including failure to get proper authorization, making improper requests and unauthorized collection of telephone or Internet e-mail records. He estimated that “a significant number of … violations throughout the FBI have not been identified or reported.”

The bureau has launched an audit of all 56 field offices to determine the full extent of the problem. The Senate Judiciary Committee is to hear Wednesday from Fine and FBI Director Robert Mueller on the same topic…

We predicted that all of this would happen if the Democrats won control of Congress last November.

And it is happening in spades.

This article was posted by Steve on Tuesday, March 20th, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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