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Justice Department Audit Reveals FBI Misused Patriot Act

A Justice Department audit released Friday said that the FBI used the Patriot Act improperly and unlawfully to gain information about people in the United States. Two members of the House Judiciary Committee debate the audit's conclusions.

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    FBI Director Robert Mueller's news conference followed this morning's release of a Justice Department audit revealing the bureau's abuse of the USA Patriot Act.


    I'm particularly concerned about the findings in the report that indicate that we did not have appropriate policies in place. And in other areas where we did have appropriate policies, we did not adhere to them in using this important tool.


    The tool at issue is the national security letter. It's been used for more than three decades by the FBI to obtain sensitive information about businesses and individuals.

    Approved by Congress after the 9/11 attacks, the USA Patriot Act extended the bureau's access to telephone, e-mail, library and financial records in suspected terrorism investigations without court approval. More than 150,000 national security letters have been issued over the last three years, compared with just 8,000 the year before 9/11.

    Today, Director Mueller underscored how important the Patriot Act and the national security letters in particular can be to the war on terror.


    As a reminder, national security letters enable us, the FBI, to obtain certain types of transactional information, not content of conversations, but items such as telephone toll records, subscriber information, and the like. I'll say that these pieces of information are absolutely essential, and they're critical building blocks in our counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations.


    The inspector general's 126-page audit found: the FBI underreported to Congress the number of national security letters issued over the past three years by some 20 percent; the bureau failed to accurately report misuse of its authority and failed to properly destroy any unauthorized information collected; and the FBI improperly obtained telephone records using a tactic called "exigent letters," claiming an emergency in non-emergency situations.

    Director Mueller said the bureau had already taken steps to correct the mistakes made, but added…


    The inspector general indicated that his review did not reveal intentional violations of national security letter authorities, A.G. guidelines, or internal FBI policy.


    On Capitol Hill, however, members of Congress from both parties promised to investigate the matter themselves. New York Democrat Chuck Schumer, a member the Senate Judiciary Committee that oversees the bureau, called the reported findings "a profoundly disturbing breach of public trust."

    SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), New York: The number of letters that were used is way beyond what anyone imagined. They didn't comply with the most meager and rudimentary reporting requirements.


    The committee's top Republican, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, was disturbed by the report, as well.

    SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), Pennsylvania: There had to be checks, and the FBI has not followed its own rules.