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From: Otis Willie
Subject: Congress Eases Scrutiny of FBI Abuses
Organization: The American War Library
NNTP-Posting-Date: Mon, 09 Sep 2002 16:39:52 EDT
Date: Mon, 09 Sep 2002 20:39:52 GMT
Congress Eases Scrutiny of FBI Abuses
(EXCERPT) Sun Sep 8,11:36 AM ET, by Alan Elsner, National
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Since the attacks of last Sept. 11,
congressional oversight of the FBI ( news - web sites) has slackened
considerably, allowing the agency to use aggressive tactics that may
skirt the rights of suspects, liberal and conservative civil liberties
"Pressure on the FBI from oversight bodies has relaxed since the
attacks. A lot of people on Capitol Hill have concluded this is not a
good time to put pressure on the FBI to behave itself," said Timothy
Lynch, director of a project on criminal justice at the conservative
Elisa Massimino, Washington director of Lawyers for Human Rights, said
the lack of congressional scrutiny of FBI activities came at precisely
the wrong time. Law enforcement agencies, she said, would always be
tempted to trample individual rights in the name of national security
when the country seemed threatened and people felt unsafe.
"Before 9/11, there was a growing consensus in Congress that the FBI
needed more oversight and needed reform. All of that went away after
9/11 when arguably it ought to have increased," she said.
One victim of the FBI's newfound freedom may be Steven Hatfill, a
former researcher at an infectious disease laboratory, suspected of
sending letters laced with anthrax through the mail last year and
killing five people.
Attorney General John Ashcroft ( news - web sites) coined a new
quasi-legalistic phrase to define Hatfill's status in the anthrax
investigation, calling him a "person of interest."
Although he has not been charged and Americans are supposed to be
innocent until proven guilty, Hatfill's life has been effectively
ruined, he said, since he was identified in leaks to The New York
Times and then to other media.
Television crews were tipped off in advance when the FBI searched his
home. Agents also searched and allegedly "trashed" his girlfriend's
apartment, confiscated his passport and personal documents.
Last week, Hatfill lost his job at Louisiana State University after
the Justice Department ( news - web sites) told the school it could
not use him on projects funded by government grants.
"My life has been completely and utterly destroyed by John Ashcroft
and the FBI," Hatfill said. "My professional reputation is in tatters.
All I have left are my savings and they will be exhausted soon because
of my legal bills."
The FBI has declined to comment about the Hatfill case other than to
say he is one of several scientists they are looking at in connection
with the anthrax investigation.
Gene Guerroro, an analyst with the Open Society Institute which
monitors human rights, said such behavior by the FBI was not unusual
and could be expected more often after Sept. 11.
"There's a real problem with the misuse of federal law enforcement
authority. Things like trashing the girlfriend's apartment is a
standard technique when you want to put pressure on a witness. It
happens with great regularity," he said.
An FBI official would not discuss the agency's investigative methods
and said it stays within the law.
In a rare public rebuke, the secret court that supervises the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act recently criticized the Justice
Department and FBI officials for supplying what it said was erroneous
information to the court in more than 75 applications from search
warrants and wiretaps.
Kris Kolesnik, who served as an aide to Iowa Republican Sen. Charles
Grassley for 18 years and is now with the National Whistleblowers
Center, said the FBI used the media as a tool to blacken the
reputations of suspects when the agency had insufficient evidence to
"Rumor and innuendo is second nature to the FBI. If they think you are
a suspect, they try to break you any way they can and they definitely
feel they have more freedom since 9/11 to behave in this kind of way,"
"It's a simple abuse of authority. They do it all the time and they do
it with impunity," he said.
Hatfill is not the first victim of such tactics. His case recalls that
of Richard Jewell, the security guard who was branded as the chief
suspect of an investigation into a deadly bombing during the 1996
Olympic Games ( news - web sites) in Atlanta.
Jewell was ultimately cleared but not before he endured months of
media persecution and FBI surveillance. He later won substantial
monetary settlements from two TV networks.
"In their mad rush to fulfill their own personal agendas, the FBI and
the media almost destroyed me," Jewell said after being formally
Then there was the case of former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee (
news - web sites) who spent nine months in solitary confinement under
suspicion of passing secrets to China before being released with an
apology from the presiding judge in 2000.
One of the few lawmakers keeping up the pressure on the FBI has been
Indiana Republican Rep. Dan Burton who chairs the House Government
Reform Committee ( news - web sites).
Burton held hearings this year into how the FBI knowingly used false
testimony from Mafia informants in Boston to jail four men for a 1968
murder it knew they did not commit.
Anxious to protect itself and its sources, the FBI maintained its
cover-up for decades. Two of the four died in prison. The other two
were released after spending over 30 years behind bars.
At a hearing in February, Burton said: "A lot of people in this
country, myself included, grew up revering the FBI... It's been very
sobering to hear about some of these terrible abuses going on in an
agency I've always revered.
"It shows what happens when the government uses an ends justifies the
means approach to law enforcement," he said.
-- DEA Watch
The Voice of the Drug Enforcement Agent
The Voice of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Agent
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