- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 9, 2002

Yet another FBI mishap, this one involving the controversial Carnivore Internet surveillance system, is raising serious questions about the bureau's competence to fight the war on terror. Carnivore is supposedly limited to use against specific targets of criminal investigations, where law enforcement has sufficient probable cause to justify a court order allowing an electronic search. However, it was recently revealed that, for all its vaunted prowess, supposed "technical flaws" in Carnivore caused it to "mistakenly capture information (the FBI) was not entitled to have," Jerry Seper of The Washington Times reported.
When it works properly, supporters say, Carnivore permits agents to scan e-mail messages for certain addresses (such as the locations of suspected al Qaeda operatives) through an Internet service-provider network. But documents made public by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a public-interest group which is sharply critical of Carnivore, show that something went terribly wrong in March 2000, when an FBI terrorism team responsible for investigating suspected al Qaeda operations in this country accidentally picked up e-mails of people who were not targets of a terrorism probe.
According to an internal FBI memorandum obtained by EPIC under the Freedom of Information Act, an FBI "technical person" who saw the e-mails "was apparently so upset that he destroyed all the E-mail take," including mail from the target of the investigation, apparently a suspected member of Osama bin Laden's terror network in the Denver area. An FBI spokesman subsequently claimed in an interview with The Washington Post that the memorandum was incorrect, and that the e-mails obtained in the operation were kept and remained under seal in federal court.
The Carnivore memo raises serious questions about the competence of the FBI to spearhead a domestic campaign against terrorism. The Denver case involved an FBI team known as the Usama bin Laden unit, or UBL the same unit that has come under fire in recent weeks for ignoring a July 2001 memo from the agency's Phoenix bureau, which indicated that al Qaeda members were infiltrating U.S. flight schools.
The memo could not have come at a worse time for embattled FBI Director Robert Mueller and other senior officials with the bureau, who are already under fire for blocking a warrant to search the computer hard drive of suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui last August. Congressional committees need to take a careful look at the FBI's use of Carnivore. If the Denver case is any indication, the system is more successful at depriving innocent Americans of their privacy than keeping terrorists from preying on us.


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