10 Most Shocking Things the FBI Has Done Since 9/11
A crest of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seen inside the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington, DC, on August 3, 2007.
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
As Congress considers the nomination of James B. Comey to lead the FBI for the next ten years, lawmakers should examine measures to rein in a bureau that has undermined civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism. This is a false trade off: we can be both safe and free.
The recent revelation about the FBI using the Patriot Act's "business records provision" to track all U.S. telephone calls is only the latest in a long line of abuse. Five Justice Department Inspector General audits documented widespread FBI misuse of Patriot Act authorities ( 1,2,3,4,5), and a federal district court recently struck down the National Security Letter (NSL) statute because of its unconstitutional gag orders. The IG also revealed the FBI's unlawful use of " exigent letters" that claimed false emergencies to get private information without NSLs, but in 2009 the Justice Department secretly re-interpreted the law to allow the FBI to get this information without emergencies or legal process. Congress and the American public need to know the full scope of the FBI's spying on Americans under the Patriot Act and all other surveillance authorities enacted since 9/11, like the FISA Amendments Act that underlies the PRISM program.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey re-wrote the FBI's rulebook in the final months of the Bush administration, giving FBI agents unfettered authority to investigate people without any factual basis for suspecting wrongdoing. The 2008 Attorney General's Guidelines created a new kind of intrusive investigation called an "assessment," which required no "factual predicate" before FBI agents could search through government or commercial databases, conduct overt or covert FBI interviews, and task informants to gather information about people or infiltrate lawful organizations. In a two-year period from 2009 to 2011, the FBI opened over 82,000 "assessments" of individuals or organizations, less than 3,500 of which discovered information justifying further investigation.
The 2008 Attorney General's Guidelines also authorized "domain management assessments" which allow the FBI to map American communities by race and ethnicity based on crass stereotypes about the crimes they are likely to commit. FBI documents obtained by the ACLU show the FBI mapped entire Chinese and Russian communities in San Francisco on the theory that they might commit organized crime, all Latino communities in New Jersey and Alabama because a street gang has Latino members, African Americans in Georgia to find "Black separatists," and Middle-Eastern communities in Detroit for terrorism investigations. The FBI's racial and ethnic mapping program is simply racial and religious profiling of entire communities.
The FBI has claimed the authority to secretly sweep up voluminous amounts of private information from data aggregators for data mining purposes. In 2007 the FBI said it amassed databases containing 1.5 billion records, which were predicted to grow to 6 billion records by 2012, or equal to "20 separate ‘records' for each man, woman and child in the United States." When Congress sought information about one of these programs, the FBI refused to give the Government Accountability Office access. That program was temporarily defunded, but its successor, the FBI Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force, currently has 360 staff members running 40 separate projects. Records show analysts are allowed to use data mining tools to establish "risk scores" for U.S. persons. A 2013 IG audit questioned the task force's effectiveness, concluding it "did not always provide FBI field offices with timely and relevant information."