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Friday, March 09, 2007

FBI Fumbles on Patriot Act

To listen to Ted Kennedy and Pat Leahy howl, you'd think the FBI had hit every house in the country with a national security letter, not misdocumented some (5-20% depending on how you read the report) of the letters they used.

When I heard the story on the news the first time this afternoon, the newies had the numbers backwards, claiming only 1 in 15 letters was correctly authorized. The Justice Department IG report actually found that the FBI had requested over 156,000 letters, and they (the AG) found 8800 cases of letters being used with no request being on file for them.

They also found some extigent letters used to gain access to phone records, but gain, a fairly small number based on the total number filed correctly.

They also found that there seemed to be no intentional criminal acts involved in the letters; just mismanagment and lack of understanding on the scope of use of such letters.

Does my tone mean I'm blowing it off as meaningless? No, I think the FBI needs to hold a lot of training, and tighten up it's own record keeping on such letters. However, when you are talking about a huge load of such letters, mistakes are going to happen.

The folks who hate the Patriot Act will scream this shows how bad it is. The truth is, it more likely highlights how operational loads at the FBI have made proper training a tough chore. Having spent 20 years in a government operation, I can say from first hand experience that training seems to be the first thing cut when the operational load goes up.

Hopefully the AG, and FBI director will get things straightened out, so that the letters are used for the intended purpose, and in the correct manner.

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