Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Rope We Give Them

The FBI was a few years back given the authority to issue national security letters, which demand that communications firms, libraries and so on cough up info on whom you're communicating with, what books you're checking out, and so on, without all that bother about the subject actually having to be under suspicion of a crime, Recipients of such lettesr are forbidden under penaty of law from disclosing that they have received one. According to its own inspector general, the Bureau has managed to issue far more of them than originally claimed in its own reports, and seriously misused the authority Congress gave itin the wake of 9/11. But apparently, it's just a glitch, don'cha know:

An "employee is responsible for taking every (national security letter) lead that is sent to OGC and manually entering the pertinent information into the OGC database," Mueller said in his testimony on Tuesday, referring to the FBI's Office of General Counsel. "Nearly a dozen fields must be manually entered, including the file number of the case in which the (letter) was issued, typically 15 digits and alphanumeric identifiers."

That, combined with other problems, led Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine to conclude that official reports to Congress "significantly understated" the actual number of national security letters. "We were unable to fully determine the extent of the inaccuracies because an unknown amount of data relevant to the period covered by our review was lost from the OGC database when it malfunctioned," his report said.

No big thing, FBI director Robert Mueller assured a Senate committee in testimony the other day. "What I did not do and should have done is put in a compliance program to be sure those procedures were followed," he assured the committee. "The statute did not cause the errors. The FBI's implementation did." And that was plenty good enough for at least one Senator, Orrin Hatch of Utah, to cloyingly assure the Director that "You've acknowledged the problems and pledged to fix them," Hatch said. "That's what Congress and the American people need."

It's funny how the "errors" always seem to multiply to fill whatever free space the current "statutes" make available. Those in government will quickly take whatever power we give them. Since they're the ones with the wiretaps, the search warrants, the prisons, etc., it behooves us to ration that power carefully. Some senators are surprised at the FBI's malfeasance, but some of us told you so.



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