FBI Practices Need Strict Oversight, ACLU Says

April 23, 2008 12:00 am

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Washington, DC – As FBI Director Robert Mueller appeared before Congress today, the American Civil Liberties Union urged the House Judiciary Committee to ask him the “hard questions.”

“Director Mueller has plenty to answer for,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The FBI’s track record of late has been dismal. Members of the committee should take this opportunity to push for real answers to questions about National Security Letters, delays in the naturalization process and the FBI’s role in torture and anti-terrorism policies set by the administration.”

Last month the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Justice released its second consecutive report outlining the bureau’s rampant misuse of the National Security Letter (NSL) statute, whose authorities were expanded by the USA PATRIOT Act. The report reconfirmed widespread abuse of the statute, which allows for the collection of personal information without court approval and included a provision that allowed them to gag recipients (that provision was later found to be unconstitutional).

This month the ACLU sent a letter to Fine pointing out that the Department of Defense appeared to be using the FBI to improperly issue NSLs on its behalf. Congress deliberately gave the DOD limited NSL authority which did not include the authority to access phone and email communication records. Such authority may only be used by the FBI, and must be in relation to an authorized investigation. The ACLU noted that the DOD’s use of the FBI suggests the department was attempting to circumvent the law and get information it is not entitled to.

The ACLU’s concerns also include FBI policies regarding the interrogations of detainees in Guantanamo Bay and Iraq. It has been widely reported that after detainees were harshly interrogated by the CIA, the FBI would then send in a “clean team” to obtain the evidence that was already beaten out of the witness in a more legally acceptable fashion.

In addition, the FBI has contributed to the extreme delays applicants for the naturalization process have experienced, with specific national origin groups being disproportionately affected. To ensure the vibrancy of our nation, we need to be certain that those who hope to contribute to our society receive equal consideration within a reasonable timeframe.

“Unfortunately, the FBI continues to have consistent and serious mismanagement issues,” said Michael German, ACLU National Security Policy Counsel and former FBI Agent. “Between having wiretaps shut down for truant payments, a terrorist watch list that grows by the minute and the rampant abuse of its NSL authority, it’s clear the bureau remains dysfunctional. With recent reports that the FBI is aiming to build a database to house Americans’ DNA, Congress should reinforce its oversight role before that, too, becomes another opportunity for misconduct.”

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