- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 29, 2002

An FBI investigation targeting Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network fell victim in March 2000 to technical flaws in the bureau's Carnivore Internet surveillance system, a public interest research group in Washington said yesterday.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) said the FBI destroyed evidence gathered by a terrorism task force in Denver after the system, now known as DCS1000, mistakenly captured information the agency was not entitled to have.
The system, which has been described by the bureau as an essential crime-fighting tool, allows FBI agents armed with a court order to target those suspected of using the Internet for illegal activities. The system lets the agents scan e-mail messages for certain addresses as they travel through an Internet service-provider network.
The FBI can install a DCS1000 unit at the provider's network station and configure it to capture e-mail to or from someone under investigation.
According to EPIC, the system in the Denver probe "picked up e-mails on non-covered targets," according to a March 2000 FBI memo to the bureau's headquarters in Washington.
"The FBI technical person was apparently so upset that he destroyed all the e-mail take, including the take" on the suspect, the memo said.
The documents were made public through a Freedom of Information Act request filed by EPIC.
In the Denver probe, the suspect's name and other information identifying details of the investigation were deleted. A written report describes the incident as part of a "pattern" indicating "an inability on the part of the FBI to manage" its foreign intelligence activities.
FBI officials yesterday declined to comment on the FBI memo or the investigation to which it referred. They did, however, say that the bin Laden unit at FBI headquarters handles only investigations involving al Qaeda.
EPIC said the FBI memo, dated April 5, 2000, recounts how the Carnivore "software was turned on and did not work correctly."
EPIC said that when an official at the Justice Department's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review became aware of the problem, to say she was unhappy "would be an understatement of incredible proportions."
The public interest group said two FBI documents written a week later discuss Carnivore's tendency to cause "the improper capture of data" and said that that "not only can violate a citizen's privacy but can also seriously 'contaminate' ongoing investigations." The memos described the activity as illegal.
An FBI lawyer wrote in one memo that those within the bureau must "go out of our way to avoid tripping over innocent third party communications."

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