Bush Scandals List

98. FBI National Security Letters (overuse and abuse)

Massive and illegal abuse by FBI of National Security Letters (administrative warrants) or NSLs. A report by DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine of March 2007 estimated that 143,000 NSLs had been issued between 2003 and 2005. An exact number was not possible because recordkeeping was so bad that an unknown number were never properly recorded. In response to the IG’s findings, Alberto Gonzales stated that he was unaware of abuses in the program although he had begun receiving reports about them beginning in 2005. On June 15, 2007, DC federal district court judge John Bates ordered the FBI to begin producing documents related to NSL abuse pursuant to a FOIA request by the Electronic Frontier Foundation by July 5. On July 13, 2007, Attorney General Gonzales and FBI Director Mueller announced that a new office would be formed within DOJ’s National Security Division to oversee the program and prevent abuses. Of course, these were the same people who promised that there would be no abuses in the first place.

On March 13, 2008, a follow up IG report on the FBI’s use of NSLs came out. It found that the abuse of NSLs continued through 2006. According to its data, the FBI issued 39,346 NSLs in 2003; 56,507 in 2004; 47,221 in 2005; and 49,425 in 2006 for a total of 192,499 over 4 years. The fraction of US citizens involved in NSL requests increased from 39% in 2003 to 51% in 2004 to 52% in 2005 to 57% in 2006. Although actual percents were redacted out, sampling figures indicate that for 2006, 64.8% of NSLs requested concerned counterterrorism cases, 33.9% counterintelligence, and 1.3% cyber attacks. The report also found that the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division had issued 11 follow up “blanket” NSLs to cover information previously obtained by the Communications Analysis Unit “in response to exigent letters or other informal requests.” In all, the 11 requests involved billing records for 3,860 which turned out to be for 2,196 unique telephone numbers. Put bluntly these blanket NSLs were patently illegal and senior FBI officials who signed off on them should have known this. The core problem with NSLs remains. Because they have to pass only bureaucratic and not judicial review, the standards that govern them are inherently less rigorous and open to misuse and abuse.

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