DOJ review criticizes FBI underreporting of national security letters

DOJ review criticizes FBI underreporting of national security letters

[JURIST] A US Department of Justice review of the FBI's use of so-called national security letters (NSLs) [FAS backgrounder; example, PDF] and ex parte orders for business records criticizes the Bureau for ineffective management, monitoring and reporting of the programs. The DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) conducted the review under the terms of the 2005 Patriot Act renewal legislation, and found according to officials interviewed by AP that the Bureau had under-reported usage by some 20 percent due to improper record-keeping procedures. The full report is being delivered to Congress; a redacted unclassified version is expected to be made public as early as Friday.

Some 20,000 national security letters are issued by the FBI each year, authorizing agents to seize telephone, business and financial records without prior judicial approval. Alleged abuses and overreaching with the letters spurred provisions in the 2005 Patriot Act renewal to provide for greater Congressional oversight of the practice. AP has more.

11:55 AM ET – The unclassified version of the full report [PDF] – 199 pages including appendices – is now available online. It concludes that mostly as a result of poor-record keeping and mistakes by agents, the "FBI used NSLs in violation of applicable NSL standards, Attorney General Guidelines, and internal FBI policies."

1:45 PM ET – The FBI has issued a press release responding to the OIG report:

In the post-9/11 world, the National Security Letter (NSL) remains an indispensable investigative tool. NSLs contribute significantly to the FBI’s ability to carry out its national security responsibilities by directly supporting its counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and intelligence missions. NSLs also allow the FBI to obtain information to eliminate concerns about individuals and close down investigations with a high degree of confidence there is no terrorism or adverse intelligence-gathering threat. We are pleased the Inspector General concurs with the FBI concerning the value of the NSL tool.

“The Inspector General conducted a fair and objective review of the FBI’s use of a proven and useful investigative tool,” said Director Robert S. Mueller, III, “and his finding of deficiencies in our processes is unacceptable. We strive to exercise our authorities consistent with the privacy protections and civil liberties that we are sworn to uphold. Anything less will not be tolerated. While we’ve already taken some steps to address these shortcomings, I am ordering additional corrective measures to be taken immediately,” Mueller said.

Read the full text of the FBI press release.