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Subject: FBI sloppiness
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2002 22:09:16 +0200
FBI memo details pre-9/11 sloppiness
By Ted Bridis - WASHINGTON (AP) - Oct. 9, 2002
FBI agents illegally videotaped suspects, intercepted
e-mails without court permission and recorded the wrong
phone conversations during sensitive terrorism and
espionage investigations, according to an internal
memorandum detailing serious lapses inside the FBI more
than a year before the Sept
The blunders -- roughly 15 over the first three months
of 2000 -- were never made public but garnered the
attention of the ‘‘highest levels of management" inside
FBI, said the memo written by senior bureau lawyers and
obtained by The Associated Press.
Lawmakers reviewing FBI missteps preceding the terror
attacks expressed surprise Wednesday at the extent of
errors detailed in the memo, which focused on sensitive
cases requiring warrants under the Foreign Intelligence
The mistakes extend beyond those criticized in a rare
public decision this summer by the secretive U.S. court
that oversees the surveillance warrants. That court
admonished the FBI for providing inaccurate information
in warrant applications.
The April 2000 memo -- marked ‘‘immediate" and
classified as ‘‘secret" -- describes different problems
from those cited by the court. It describes agents
conducting unauthorized searches, writing warrants with
wrong addresses and allowing ‘‘overruns" of electronic
surveillance operations beyond their legal deadline.
‘‘The level of incompetence here is egregious," said
Rep. William D. Delahunt, D-Mass., a member of the
House Judiciary Committee who obtained the memo from
the FBI and provided it to AP.
Said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy,
D-Vt.: ‘‘Honest mistakes happen in law enforcement, but
the extent, variety and seriousness of the violations
recounted in this FBI memo show again that the secret
FISA process breeds sloppiness unless there's adequate
The FBI's deputy general counsel, whose office approves
requests for national security warrants, acknowledged
Wednesday the mistakes led to broad concern inside his
agency long before Congress began investigating whether
the bureau missed signs of Sept. 11.
‘‘There's always going to be mistakes," said M.E.
‘‘Spike" Bowman. ‘‘We looked at those incidents very,
very hard. We found no common thread. A lot of it was
inattention to detail."
These warrants are among the most powerful tools in the
U.S. antiterrorism arsenal, permitting secret searches
and wiretaps for up to one year without ever notifying
the target of the investigation.
The court approved 1,012 such warrants in 2000.
Bowman said the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility
investigated the problems. No FBI agent lost his or her
job as a result of the internal inquiry, Bowman said,
and the FBI has not had the same number of mistakes
since. It averages now about 10 mistakes a year in such
cases, he said.
The FBI also notified the U.S. court about the warrant
problems, and the response from judges was ‘‘a lot of
head scratching over how this could happen," Bowman
‘‘It's important to understand that government doesn't
abuse these secret authorities we get," Bowman said. The
FBI has never detected an agent intentionally violating
a special surveillance warrant, he added.
Lawmakers approved changes last year under the USA
Patriot Act giving new powers to use these special
terrorism and espionage warrants. But some lawmakers
have since complained they were not adequately informed
of problems under the old rules.
‘‘As the Justice Department pushes the Congress for more
powers, we should first be sure that these problems are
being corrected and that existing laws are being used
responsibly," Leahy said.
Delahunt predicted Congress will press the Bush
administration for explanations about such mistakes
before it is asked to extend new surveillance powers
from the Patriot Act set to expire in December 2005.
The memo cites examples in specific cases ordinarily
kept from public view. It describes the FBI eaves
dropping on conversations long after the subject of one
surveillance gave up a cell phone and its number was
reassigned to an innocent person.
The new owner spoke a different language than the FBI's
target, and an interpreter notified investigators. FBI
agents did nothing ‘‘for a substantial period of time"
and failed to report the problem to headquarters, the
The memo, which was approved by then-FBI Deputy Director
Thomas Pickard and other senior officials, also describes
agents in other cases videotaping a meeting of suspects
and intercepting e-mails without the court's permission.
Bowman said that in one instance, FBI agents searched a
storage locker even though they did not have permission
in the warrant; an earlier, expired warrant had included
permission to search the same locker. He said that in
other cases, telephone recording equipment was not shut
off at the time specified by the warrant.
Another memo from the same period, disclosed months ago
under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, described
the FBI mistakenly intercepting e-mails of innocent
citizens during an investigation in Denver by its
bin Laden Unit and International Terrorism Operations
It indicated the FBI incorrectly used its ‘‘Carnivore"
Internet surveillance software, now called ‘‘DCS-1000,"
and captured too many e-mails. That memo's author wrote
to Bowman that describing an oversight official at the
Justice Department as unhappy about the incident ‘‘would
be an understatement of incredible proportions."
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