Government by, of and for the people means that if innocents are convicted – by mistake or malice – government should stand for them, not on them.
The FBI is entrusted to investigate public corruption that affects trial outcomes. They’re no-shows, although in-the-know on names of the publicly corrupt that serially convict innocents.
Sen. Patrick Leahy’s years-old press release that indicates that my years-old consternation with the FBI’s “learning curve” isn’t an anomaly. It deserves a thorough reading.
U.S. SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY
CONTACT: Office of Senator Leahy, 202-224-4242 VERMONT
Senate Panel Holds FBI Oversight Hearing
Director Mueller Faces Questions On Troubling IG Report Showing FBI’s Improper Use Of National Security Letters
WASHINGTON (Tuesday, March 27) – The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing, “Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation” on Tuesday with FBI Director Robert Mueller.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Committee, questioned Mueller on several issues including recent reports that the FBI submitted inaccurate information to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to obtain secret warrants in terrorism and espionage cases, as well as the troubling findings of a recent audit by the Justice Department’s Inspector General’s that found the FBI had improperly and illegally used National Security Letters (NSLs).
“From the FBI’s illegal and improper use of NSLs, to the Bureau’s failure to be accountable for and secure its own computers and weapons, to the politically motivated dismissal of eight of the Nation’s U.S. Attorneys, there are growing concerns about the competence of the FBI and the independence of the Department of Justice,” said Leahy. “This pattern of abuse of authority and mismanagement causes me, and many others on both sides of the aisle, to wonder whether the FBI and Department of Justice have been faithful trustees of the great trust that the Congress and American people have placed in them to keep our Nation safe, while respecting the privacy rights and civil liberties of all Americans.”
Chairman Leahy’s hearing statement, as prepared, is below. His statement and witness testimony can be accessed at http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearing.cfm?id=2569.
The Committee today continues its crucial oversight role of the Department of Justice with this hearing to examine the FBI’s effectiveness in carrying out its domestic intelligence and law enforcement mission. I thank the FBI Director for appearing before us today. I look forward to hearing his views on the Bureau’s problems and progress. I also thank the hard-working men and women of the FBI, who have been working long hours, day after day, week after week, year after year, to help keep our citizens and communities safe.
Almost six years after the September 11th attacks, it troubles all of us that the FBI has not yet lived up to its promise to be the world-class domestic intelligence agency that the American people expect and need it to be. This morning, we learned from a report in The Washington Post that the FBI has repeatedly submitted inaccurate information to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (“FISC”) in its efforts to obtain secret warrants in terrorism and espionage cases — severely undermining the Government’s credibility in the eyes of the Chief Judge of that Court.
This failure compounds the serious concerns raised in recent months about the management and priorities of this Department of Justice. From the FBI’s illegal and improper use of National Security Letters (NSLs), to the Bureau’s failure to be accountable for and secure its own computers and weapons, to the politically motivated dismissal of eight of the Nation’s U.S. Attorneys, there are growing concerns about the competence of the FBI and the independence of the Department of Justice. This pattern of abuse of authority and mismanagement causes me, and many others on both sides of the aisle, to wonder whether the FBI and Department of Justice have been faithful trustees of the great trust that the Congress and American people have placed in them to keep our Nation safe, while respecting the privacy rights and civil liberties of all Americans.
And it is more than just the FBI that deserves scrutiny for the abuses and lack of competence that have come to light just in recent weeks. Last year the Administration sought new powers in the PATRIOT Act to appoint U.S. Attorneys without Senate confirmation, and to more freely use National Security Letters. The Administration got these powers, and they have badly bungled both.
National Security Letters
One of my priorities in the first PATRIOT Act was to improve oversight and accountability. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and I insisted on, and succeeded, in adding sunset provisions to the PATRIOT Act, which is why Congress had to review and reauthorize several of the Act’s most sweeping powers. In the recent reauthorization of the Act, one of my priorities – working especially with then-Chairman Specter — was to retain sunset provisions and to supplement them with new “sunshine” provisions, to require the Justice Department to report to the Congress and to the American people on how several of the Act’s powers are being used. The Inspector General’s audit and report on National Security Letters was one of these new requirements we added to the law, and the troubling findings of that audit are why we are here today.
I am deeply disturbed by the Justice Department Inspector General’s report finding widespread illegal and improper use of NSLs to obtain Americans’ phone and financial records. The Inspector General found 22 separate instances where the FBI improperly abused NSLs in his office’s review of just 77 FBI files. Not a single one of these violations had been reported by the FBI. [emphasis added]
Even more troubling is that the violations the Inspector General uncovered are probably just the tip of the iceberg. When he appeared before Congress last week, Inspector General Glenn Fine testified that there could be thousands of additional violations among the tens of thousands of NSLs that the FBI is now using each year. [emphasis added]
The Inspector General also found widespread use by the FBI of so-called “exigent letters.” These letters, which are not authorized by any statute, were issued at least 739 times to obtain Americans’ phone records when there was often no emergency and never a follow-up subpoena, as promised in the letters. [emphasis added] Despite these extensive abuses, the top leadership at the FBI sat idly by for years, doing nothing to stop this practice. In fact, The Washington Post recently reported that FBI counterterrorism officials continued to use the “exigent letters,” even though FBI lawyers and managers expressed reservations about this practice as early as 2004.
These abuses are unacceptable. I look forward to Director Mueller’s explanation of how they occurred and what the FBI is doing — now that our oversight required a public report of these failures – to ensure that these abuses and violations never happen again.
Lack of Accountability — Lost Laptops and Weapons
The pattern of incompetence and lack of accountability within the Department and at the Bureau is also on display with the FBI’s treatment of its own equipment and weapons.
Another recent report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General found that the FBI cannot account for 160 laptop computers and an equal number of weapons that were lost or stolen over a three-and a-half year period. [emphasis added] This finding comes four years after the Inspector General recommended that the FBI take steps to ensure the security of this equipment. Even more troubling, Inspector General Fine found that in many cases, the FBI could not even determine whether its lost or stolen computers contained classified or sensitive information, putting Bureau employees and other individuals at risk of becoming victims of identity theft and potentially compromising national security information. [emphasis added]
Counterterrorism and Sentinel
These reports make it clear that the FBI is still not as strong and as equipped as it must be to fulfill its counterterrorism mission. The FBI still lags far behind where it needs to be when it comes to the number of agents that it has who are proficient in Arabic. Last month, the Office of Inspector General also found that the FBI did not accurately report its terrorism-related convictions and other terrorism statistics in 2004.
In addition, years after 9/11, the FBI still does not have the information technology that it needs to function efficiently in the Information Age. [emphasis added] Inspector General Fine found that the database that the FBI used to track NSLs malfunctioned, making it impossible to keep track of these letters. And, just recently, we learned a familiar piece of news regarding the FBI’s project to upgrade its computer system. Apparently there will be delays in the deployment of Phase I of the FBI’s Sentinel computer upgrade program – possibly jeopardizing the schedule for this much-needed computer system. This latest setback is one of a string of costly delays in the FBI’s efforts to upgrade its computers. The Sentinel project was supposed to be different. Sentinel was launched after watching the FBI waste five years and millions of taxpayer dollars on the failed Trilogy program. I remain seriously concerned about this project.
The FBI is again at a crossroads. Because of these, and other, shortcomings, some are calling on Congress to take away the FBI’s domestic intelligence functions altogether and to create a separate domestic intelligence agency like Britain’s MI5. Last week the leading Republican on this oversight Committee questioned whether Director Mueller is up to the job. [emphasis added]
Acknowledging shortcomings is well and good — and Director Mueller now says that he takes responsibility for the egregious violations that occurred regarding the handling of NSLs, as he should. But the Bureau — and the Department as a whole — must also learn from its mistakes if progress is to be made. The time has come for demonstrable progress by the Bureau on a learning curve that has gone on and on for far too long.
Much work remains to be done and this Committee intends to fulfill its obligation to the American people to carefully examine all of these issues. Not having answers to our questions from our last oversight hearing three months ago is not the way to make progress. As I said to Director Mueller in my letter to him several weeks ago, I want the FBI to be the best that it can be, and oversight is part of the formula that is needed for achieving the improvements we need.
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Update 12/27/18: Below is an image of how the March 27, 2007 press release above originally appeared when I downloaded it. It seems that everyone who was anyone knew that the very last thing that the FBI should have been doing was pestering Aaron Swartz (may he rest in peace) … it should have been cleaning house, 24/7.