For four years from 2002 to 2006, the FBI violated its own law related to phone tapping as it illegally collected over 2,000 US telephone call records by invoking terrorism emergencies that did not exist, a media report said on Tuesday.
E-mails obtained by The Washington Post detail how counter-terrorism officials inside FBI headquarters did not follow their own procedures that were put in place to protect civil liberties.
“The stream of urgent requests for phone records also overwhelmed the FBI communications analysis unit with work that ultimately was not connected to imminent threats,” the daily said.
A Justice Department Inspector General’s report due out this month is expected to conclude that the FBI frequently violated the law with its emergency requests, it said.
The records seen by The Post do not reveal the identities of the people whose phone call records were gathered, but FBI officials said they thought that nearly all of the requests involved terrorism investigations, the daily said.
FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni was quoted as saying that the agency technically violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act when agents invoked non-existent emergencies to collect records.
Mr. Caproni said FBI Director Robert S Mueller III did not know about the problems until late 2006 or early 2007, after the Inspector General’s probe began. It was stopped, once the issue came to the notice of Mr. Mueller.
The system “exigent circumstances letter” was developed post 9/11 by the FBI to tap telephone calls citing emergencies on the terrorism front so that they can get information as soon as possible.
One of the e-mails “called this new method of gathering phone records ‘imperative to the continuing efforts by the FBI to protect our nation against future attacks’, even as it acknowledged the phone records of many people not connected to a terrorism investigation were likely to be scooped up,” the paper said.
The Post said a 2003 memo stated that the new method “has the potential of generating an enormous amount of data in short order, much of which may not actually be related to the terrorism activity under investigation.”
“Within a few years, hundreds of emergency requests were completed and a few thousand phone records gathered. But many lacked the follow-up...,” The Post said.