- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2007

The FBI improperly or illegally obtained telephone, financial and other records in terrorism and espionage investigations, the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General said yesterday.

The department’s findings prompted FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to call the abuses “unacceptable” and order corrective measures.

“The inspector general conducted a fair and objective review … and his finding of deficiencies in our processes is unacceptable,” Mr. Mueller said. “We strive to exercise our authorities consistent with the privacy protections and civil liberties that we are sworn to uphold. Anything less will not be tolerated.”

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales called the FBI’s failure to adequately protect information privacy a “failure to do our jobs,” adding that the errors were due to questionable judgment or lack of attention, not intentional wrongdoing.

But, he said, “there is no excuse for the mistakes that have been made, and we are going to make things right as quickly as possible.”

In a 126-page report, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine identified 26 potential intelligence violations involving the FBI’s use of national security letters to obtain records without a court order. In reviewing 77 investigative files in FBI field offices, he also found 17 containing one or more potential violations not identified by the field office or reported to FBI headquarters.

The report also identified “many instances” in which the FBI improperly obtained telephone toll billing records and subscriber information from three telephone companies. It said the FBI’s acquisition of the information “circumvented the requirements” of the national security letters statute and violated the attorney general’s guidelines for FBI national security investigations, foreign intelligence collection and internal FBI policy.

“We believe the improper or illegal uses we found involve serious misuses of national security letter authorities,” Mr. Fine said.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the FBI, said the government expects Americans to follow the law, but the American people also have a right to expect that the government does the same.

“I intend for the Senate Judiciary Committee to conduct extensive hearings on these findings, their significance and possible remedies in our ongoing oversight efforts, including at a hearing with the FBI director later this month,” he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union called on Congress to repeal a provision of the USA Patriot Act giving the FBI expanded powers to obtain sensitive personal information without judicial supervision through the use of national security letters.

“The inspector general’s report should come as no surprise,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “And it should come as no surprise that Attorney General Gonzales is eager to blame the FBI, or that the FBI engaged in these abuses. The attorney general and the FBI are part of the problem and they cannot be trusted to be part of the solution.”

Mr. Mueller said that while the report found no intentional misuse of authorities, it identified several areas of inadequate auditing and oversight, as well as inappropriate processes. He said the findings were of “significant concern” and the FBI will implement reforms designed to correct the deficiencies, including the strengthening of internal controls, a change in procedures to improve oversight and expedited inspection.

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