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Saturday, March 10th 2007

A Stunner On The Hill?

News that the FBI misused National Security Letters allowed them under the Patriot Act is certainly not a surprise. (Wikipedia: National Security Letters)

Bipartisan outrage erupted on Friday on Capitol Hill as Robert S. Mueller III, the F.B.I. director, conceded that the bureau had improperly used the USA Patriot Act to obtain information about people and businesses.

The report found many instances when national security letters, which allow the bureau to obtain records from telephone companies, Internet service providers, banks, credit companies and other businesses without a judge’s approval, were improperly, and sometimes illegally, used.

Moreover, record keeping was so slipshod, the report found, that the actual number of national security letters exercised was often understated when the bureau reported on them to Congress, as required.

My question is if this is an intentional concession by the administration.

The Carpetbagger Report points out,

Keep in mind, more than 20,000 NSLs are issued each year, and the inspector general’s report was based on a small random sampling. The WaPo reported that officials believe that the known problems “may be the tip of the iceberg in an internal oversight system that one of them described as ’shoddy.’”

Just what Bush’s Justice Department needed — another controversy in which officials may have broken the law.

Keep in mind, since 9/11, the standards for obtaining secret information about Americans have been extremely low. As the WaPo explained today, the FBI needs only to certify that the records are “sought for” or “relevant to” an investigation “to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.” But DoJ officials, as often as 20% of the time, apparently weren’t even meeting this insubstantial threshold.

Even though you may see what seem deem ‘major’ consequences for this report (which I would jump up and down for), I have to in my naive cynicism wonder if this is merely a concession by the administration. I understand the inspector general of the justice department is ostensibly independent. I know this report from the OIG wasn’t simply a scheduled one. Was it commissioned at the behest of the Inspector General himself, the Attorney General, or can Congress request such audits?

How did this come up is a major question…which I can’t seem to find anywhere. Slate has more of the blogospehere’s response to the news.