ACLU Asks Inspector General to Investigate Abuses of FBI Guidelines

September 23, 2008 12:00 am

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Washington, DC — The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will hear testimony today on proposed changes to the attorney general guidelines. The guidelines govern FBI investigations and were adopted in the mid-1970’s after it was discovered that the agency was engaged in widespread abuses and violations of constitutional rights — including politically-motivated spying on figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. FBI Director Robert Mueller also answered questions about the guidelines last week during hearings before both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. The American Civil Liberties Union is asking the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to investigate whether the FBI violated previous guidelines before the new guidelines are put into place.

“These guidelines were originally implemented because the FBI abused its investigative authorities and, frankly, it’s audacious that the bureau would demand more power after so recently being caught abusing its Patriot Act authorities,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The internal oversight at the bureau is notoriously poor. Though the FBI continues its PR campaign to build public trust, given its history of malfeasance and abuse, it cannot possibly believe that the Congress will take the agency at its word.”

Under the revised guidelines, FBI agents no longer need “factual predication” to use paid informers, spy on a person’s activities or engage in other types of intrusive surveillance; all that will be necessary is a hypothetical “threat” that does not need to be connected by any facts to the people or organization under surveillance. The ACLU remains gravely concerned that this controversial change opens the door to racial profiling as someone’s race, religion or ethnic background could be used as a factor in opening an investigation.

The ACLUis formally requesting the OIG investigate current abuses of the attorney general guidelines. During testimony last week, Director Mueller insinuated that the FBI interpreted its authorities under the current guidelines to allow the use of intrusive investigative techniques even without any factual “predication.” A plain reading of the guidelines would not support this interpretation. The OIG investigation should examine whether the FBI has used prohibited investigative techniques to infiltrate groups engaged in non-violent protest activities or political demonstrations without a factual predicate indicating a possible violation of federal law. The investigation should particularly examine the manner in which the FBI uses race, religion, national origin or First Amendment protected activities in determining whether to initiate, expand or continue an investigation.

“What’s the point of revising the guidelines if the FBI isn’t even following the current ones? Since that very well may be the case, we’re asking the Inspector General to investigate what exactly has been going on at the bureau,” continued Fredrickson. “The FBI already has far too much authority — and far too grave a history of abusing that authority — for its investigative powers to have anything but clear, bright and easily understood boundaries.”

To read the ACLU’s letter to DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine, go to:

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