WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – After Congress granted the Bush administration unprecedented new powers to snoop on Americans at home through the USA Patriot Act following 9/11, the Justice Department’s Inspector General revealed on Mar. 9 that the FBI “seriously misused” and improperly–and often illegally–abused that broad authority secretly obtaining information about citizens.

In addition, for three years the FBI under-reported to Congress how often it forced businesses to turn over the information, the Inspector General’s audit found.

In many cases, there was no pending investigation associated with the FBI’s use of national security letters, in lieu of court-approved subpoenas, to demand data from credit card companies and banks, Internet service providers and telephone companies the audit concluded.


Of a sample of files reviewed by the Inspector General, 22 percent revealed one or more instances in which information may have been obtained in violation of the law.

“There is no excuse for the mistakes that have been made, and we are going to make things right as quickly as possible,” Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez said in remarks prepared for delivery to a group of privacy officials in Washington Mar. 9.

“To say that I am concerned about what has been revealed in this report would be an enormous understatement,” Mr. Gonzales said. “Failure to adequately protect information privacy is a failure to do our jobs.”

Senators, outraged over the conclusions found in the Inspector General’s audit, signaled they would provide tougher oversight of the FBI–and perhaps limit its power.

“The report indicates abuse of the authority” Congress gave the FBI, said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. “You cannot have people act as free agents on something where they’re going to be delving into your privacy.”

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, the committee’s ranking Republican, said the FBI appears to have “badly misused national security letters,” according to published reports, “This is, regrettably, part of an ongoing process where the federal authorities are not really sensitive to privacy and go far beyond what we have authorized.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) complained that the audit proves Congress must amend the Patriot Act to require judicial approval anytime the FBI wants access to sensitive personal information.

“The Attorney General and the FBI are part of the problem and they cannot be trusted to be part of the solution,” said Anthony D. Romero, the ACLU’s executive director, according to published reports.

The FBI has “been flying under the radar for years,” Louis Wolf, founder of Covert Action Information Bulletin told The Final Call. “They have been using 9/11 as this case demonstrates very clearly as a cover for massive abuses.

In fact, the FBI’s own records of the abuse were so slipshod, according to the audit report, that the agency did not even keep a count of the number of national security letters which were issued.

“I think this latest scandal is indicative of a leadership-kind of culture within the FBI which they claim they dispensed with after [former FBI Director J. Edgar] Hoover, but it still survives very strongly.

“One can only hope there will be lawsuits brought against them, as well as the threats of some in Congress calling for changes in the Patriot Act. That is the bite. That could be the one that could really hurt them if there really were meaningful changes to the Patriot Act.

“I think it should be abolished entirely because of what they’ve used it for,” Mr. Wolf continued, “but that’s another story.”