FBI: Too Busy to Follow its Own Rules?

The Washington Times reported Tuesday on the still-being-investigated case of the FBI collecting the phone records of four reporters working for The New York Times and Washington Post's Indonesia bureaus. Earlier this month, FBI Director Robert Mueller apologized to the papers' editors for collecting its reporters' phone records.

The Washington Times reports:

While it is not known why the agent in [Communications Analysis Unit (CAU)] sent the [exigent letter demanding the phone records], [FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni] suggested the agent in CAU may have been trying to be helpful. She also noted CAU is on the front lines of the fight against terrorism and that the unit was busy at the time.

Now, everyone's pretty used to hearing officials play the "terrorism" card as an excuse for lack of oversight and abuse, but this is pretty weak excuse. Even if we took Caproni at her word, she's basically saying that the CAU agent was too busy to get Justice Department permission and a grand jury subpoena—what's officially required when seeking information from journalists—to properly ask for the information sought by the FBI.

This kind of abuse doesn’t surprise ACLU Policy Counsel Mike German, who tells the Washington Times, "It's clear the FBI wants to minimize this as a mistake and not abuse…The facts are, there was a ridiculous amount of misuse and abuse." And Mike should know, as he was an FBI agent for 16 years before coming to the ACLU.

This is only the latest in a string of abuses that the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has found with the FBI's abuse of both exigent letters and National Security Letters. (Both letters lack any requirement of judicial oversight.) Another report, specifically on the use of exigent letters, from the OIG is due out this fall. Something tells us we won't be surprised when we learn of even more abuse of these letters.

Add a comment (2)
Read the Terms of Use

blog responder

On a related note--is the ACLU doing anything to help protestors and journalists in Minneapolis being raided by the FBI in "pre-emptive" SWAT-type raids anticipating the 2008 RNC? A search for "Minneapolis" on the ACLU website shows nothing so far. C'mon, ACLU, get to work on this!

Glenn Greenwald
Sunday Aug. 31, 2008 11:46 EDT
Federal government involved in raids on protesters

Glenn Greenwald
Saturday Aug. 30, 2008 12:44 EDT
Massive police raids on suspected protestors in Minneapolis


First I would like to say thank you,To the ACLU,your system of check and balance for the ones that have no one to stand up for them. I have noticed in the state of Maryland laws have been changed to allow any neighbor to call the police and tell them anything .The police go to the other neighbor and tell them no charges are being filled Spending two hours with dumb questions and it keeps happening(no charges).They have no proper time for showing up at your home and tell you they have the right to come and ask questions any hour of the day or night if they want to.Please keep in mind the wife has 40% lung function and the husband has had open heart surgery and cancer surgery. I know this sounds like Russia but it's going on in Maryland. All you have to do is call the police and tell them I had a flat tire after a vacation in Florida,go talk to so sand so about it,and they admit they don't like that person and the police show up everytime and ask what do you know about this flat(9PM).Like we all don't have flats and our own problems. Knowing of the health conditions and problems of stress they keep comming,no charges just keep comming. TOO BUSY TO SHOW CONCERN FOR SICK PEOPLE AND NOT ABLE TO REALIZE A TROUBLE MAKER WHEN THEY KEEP CALLING. I DO THINK THE ACLU IS WORTH GIVING MONEY TO,INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS ARE AT A LOW IN THIS COUNTRY WHEN THINGS LIKE THIS KEEPS GOING.IT"S AS IF THEIR TRYING TO KILL YOU WITH STRESS. THe people are home owners,no police record and excellent military service. NO CHARGES FILLED GIVES THEM THE RIGHT TO KEEP COMMING TO YOUR HOME ALL HOURS OF DAY OR NIGHT.

Sign Up for Breaking News