I read this today at work and I've been thinking about it all day long. The one paragraph in bold is particulary worrisome to me.
Am I overreacting here?
Are they testing the waters for ANOTHER freaking branch? What about Homeland Security... aren't they bad enough? What's next, the "Ministry of Information"? A solution to the overruse of power by the FBI is justification enough to create ANOTHER domestic spy agency? How many more people do we need collecting intelligence on Americans?WASHINGTON - FBI Director Robert Mueller labored Tuesday to persuade skeptical senators that the FBI can properly use its terrorism-era authority to gather telephone, e-mail and financial records of Americans and foreigners while pursuing terrorists.
He appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee after the Justice Department inspector general revealed abuses in the FBIâ€™s use of documents called national security letters to gather such data without approval from a judge.
â€œWeâ€™re going to be re-examining the broad authorities we granted the FBI in the Patriot Act,â€ Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told Mueller.
Mueller urged the panel not to revise the law.
â€œThe statute did not cause the errors,â€ Mueller said. â€œThe FBIâ€™s implementation did.â€
He said he instituted procedures to police the use of these letters. â€œWhat I did not do and should have done is put in a compliance program to be sure those procedures were followed,â€ the FBI chief added.
He said he has now begun to do that, has ordered an audit to determine the full extent of the problem and to determine if any agents should be disciplined.
â€œWe are committed to demonstrating to committee, the Congress and the American people that we will correct the deficiencies,â€ Mueller said.
â€œI still have very serious qualms,â€ Leahy replied.
Specter cites â€˜failure by the bureauâ€™
Citing the inspector general report on national security letters and his previous reports criticizing FBI reporting of terrorist cases, of weapons and laptops losses, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said, â€œEvery time we turn around there is another enormous failure by the bureau.â€
â€œThereâ€™s another headline virtually on a daily basis,â€ Specter added, citing a Washington Post report Tuesday that agents had submitted inaccurate data to a court that issues warrants for foreign intelligence surveillance.
â€œThe question arises as to whether any director can handle this job and whether the bureau itself can handle the job,â€ Specter said, proposing that the panel give serious consideration to establishing a separate domestic intelligence agency like Britainâ€™s MI-5.
Mueller said he had reduced the problem since learning of it in 2005 but noted that the warrant applications are very long and contain thousands of facts.
â€œIâ€™m not impressed with your assertion that there are thousands of facts,â€ Specter said. â€œThatâ€™s your job. You asked for these powers; we gave you them. If these applications are wrong, youâ€™re subjecting people to an invasion of privacy that ought not to be issued.â€
But Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Orrin Hatch of Utah made clear they opposed altering the law to curb FBI authority. â€œYouâ€™ve acknowledged the problems and pledged to fix them. Thatâ€™s what Congress and the American people need,â€ Hatch said.
Gonzales to appear April 17
The committee plans to hear April 17 from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who is struggling to keep his job amid criticism of the NSL abuses and the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.
â€œLast year the administration sought new powers in the Patriot Act to appoint U.S. Attorneys without Senate confirmation and to more freely use National Security Letters,â€ Leahy said in opening remarks. â€œThe administration got these powers, and they have badly bungled both.â€
In a review of headquarters files and a sampling of four of the FBIâ€™s 56 field offices, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine found 48 violations of law or presidential directives during 2003-2005. He estimates there may be as many as 3,000 violations throughout the FBI that have not been identified or reported.
When Fine testified before the Senate panel last week, Leahy said, â€œIn light of this report, we need to consider whether Congress went too farâ€ in the Patriot Act in removing restrictions on FBI use of national security letters.
In a House Judiciary Committee hearing with Fine, Republicans and Democrats warned the FBI could lose that broad power.
If the FBI doesnâ€™t move swiftly to correct the mistakes and problems, â€œyou probably wonâ€™t have NSL authority,â€ said Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., a supporter of the power.
In 1986, Congress first authorized FBI agents to obtain electronic records without approval from a judge, using national security letters.
The letters can be used to acquire e-mails, telephone, travel records and financial information, like credit and bank transactions. They can be sent to telephone and Internet access companies, universities, public interest organizations, nearly all libraries, financial and credit companies.
In 2001, the Patriot Act eliminated any requirement that the records belong to someone under suspicion. Now an innocent personâ€™s records can be obtained if FBI field agents consider them relevant to an ongoing terrorism or spying investigation.
Am I overreacting here?