Police state : FBI’s Secret Scrutiny


Richard Moore


The FBI's Secret Scrutiny 
In Hunt for Terrorists, Bureau Examines Records of
Ordinary Americans

By Barton Gellman 
Washington Post Staff Writer 
Sunday, November 6, 2005; A01 

The FBI came calling in Windsor, Conn., this summer with a
document marked for delivery by hand. On Matianuk Avenue,
across from the tennis courts, two special agents found
their man. They gave George Christian the letter, which
warned him to tell no one, ever, what it said.

Under the shield and stars of the FBI crest, the letter
directed Christian to surrender "all subscriber
information, billing information and access logs of any
person" who used a specific computer at a library branch
some distance away. Christian, who manages digital records
for three dozen Connecticut libraries, said in an
affidavit that he configures his system for privacy. But
the vendors of the software he operates said their
databases can reveal the Web sites that visitors browse,
the e-mail accounts they open and the books they borrow.

Christian refused to hand over those records, and his
employer, Library Connection Inc., filed suit for the
right to protest the FBI demand in public. The Washington
Post established their identities -- still under seal in
the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit -- by
comparing unsealed portions of the file with public
records and information gleaned from people who had no
knowledge of the FBI demand.

The Connecticut case affords a rare glimpse of an
exponentially growing practice of domestic surveillance
under the USA Patriot Act, which marked its fourth
anniversary on Oct. 26. "National security letters,"
created in the 1970s for espionage and terrorism
investigations, originated as narrow exceptions in
consumer privacy law, enabling the FBI to review in secret
the customer records of suspected foreign agents. The
Patriot Act, and Bush administration guidelines for its
use, transformed those letters by permitting clandestine
scrutiny of U.S. residents and visitors who are not
alleged to be terrorists or spies.

The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security
letters a year, according to government sources, a
hundredfold increase over historic norms. The letters --
one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many
people -- are extending the bureau's reach as never before
into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial
lives of ordinary Americans.

Issued by FBI field supervisors, national security letters
do not need the imprimatur of a prosecutor, grand jury or
judge. They receive no review after the fact by the
Justice Department or Congress. The executive branch
maintains only statistics, which are incomplete and
confined to classified reports. The Bush administration
defeated legislation and a lawsuit to require a public
accounting, and has offered no example in which the use of
a national security letter helped disrupt a terrorist

The burgeoning use of national security letters coincides
with an unannounced decision to deposit all the
information they yield into government data banks -- and
to share those private records widely, in the federal
government and beyond. In late 2003, the Bush
administration reversed a long-standing policy requiring
agents to destroy their files on innocent American
citizens, companies and residents when investigations
closed. Late last month, President Bush signed Executive
Order 13388, expanding access to those files for "state,
local and tribal" governments and for "appropriate private
sector entities," which are not defined.

National security letters offer a case study of the impact
of the Patriot Act outside the spotlight of political
debate. Drafted in haste after the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks, the law's 132 pages wrought scores of changes in
the landscape of intelligence and law enforcement. Many
received far more attention than the amendments to a
seemingly pedestrian power to review "transactional
records." But few if any other provisions touch as many
ordinary Americans without their knowledge.

Senior FBI officials acknowledged in interviews that the
proliferation of national security letters results
primarily from the bureau's new authority to collect
intimate facts about people who are not suspected of any
wrongdoing. Criticized for failure to detect the Sept. 11
plot, the bureau now casts a much wider net, using
national security letters to generate leads as well as to
pursue them. Casual or unwitting contact with a suspect --
a single telephone call, for example -- may attract the
attention of investigators and subject a person to
scrutiny about which he never learns.

A national security letter cannot be used to authorize
eavesdropping or to read the contents of e-mail. But it
does permit investigators to trace revealing paths through
the private affairs of a modern digital citizen. The
records it yields describe where a person makes and spends
money, with whom he lives and lived before, how much he
gambles, what he buys online, what he pawns and borrows,
where he travels, how he invests, what he searches for and
reads on the Web, and who telephones or e-mails him at
home and at work.

As it wrote the Patriot Act four years ago, Congress
bought time and leverage for oversight by placing an
expiration date on 16 provisions. The changes involving
national security letters were not among them. In fact, as
the Dec. 31 deadline approaches and Congress prepares to
renew or make permanent the expiring provisions, House and
Senate conferees are poised again to amplify the FBI's
power to compel the secret surrender of private records.

The House and Senate have voted to make noncompliance with
a national security letter a criminal offense. The House
would also impose a prison term for breach of secrecy.

Like many Patriot Act provisions, the ones involving
national security letters have been debated in largely
abstract terms. The Justice Department has offered
Congress no concrete information, even in classified form,
save for a partial count of the number of letters
delivered. The statistics do not cover all forms of
national security letters or all U.S. agencies making use
of them.

"The beef with the NSLs is that they don't have even a
pretense of judicial or impartial scrutiny," said former
representative Robert L. Barr Jr. (Ga.), who finds himself
allied with the American Civil Liberties Union after a
career as prosecutor, CIA analyst and conservative GOP
stalwart. "There's no checks and balances whatever on
them. It is simply some bureaucrat's decision that they
want information, and they can basically just go and get

'A Routine Tool'

Career investigators and Bush administration officials
emphasized, in congressional testimony and interviews for
this story, that national security letters are for hunting
terrorists, not fishing through the private lives of the
innocent. The distinction is not as clear in practice.

Under the old legal test, the FBI had to have "specific
and articulable" reasons to believe the records it
gathered in secret belonged to a terrorist or a spy. Now
the bureau needs only to certify that the records are
"sought for" or "relevant to" an investigation "to protect
against international terrorism or clandestine
intelligence activities."

That standard enables investigators to look for
conspirators by sifting the records of nearly anyone who
crosses a suspect's path.

"If you have a list of, say, 20 telephone numbers that
have come up . . . on a bad guy's telephone," said Valerie
E. Caproni, the FBI's general counsel, "you want to find
out who he's in contact with." Investigators will say, "
'Okay, phone company, give us subscriber information and
toll records on these 20 telephone numbers,' and that can
easily be 100."

Bush administration officials compare national security
letters to grand jury subpoenas, which are also based on
"relevance" to an inquiry. There are differences. Grand
juries tend to have a narrower focus because they
investigate past conduct, not the speculative threat of
unknown future attacks. Recipients of grand jury subpoenas
are generally free to discuss the subpoenas publicly. And
there are strict limits on sharing grand jury information
with government agencies.

Since the Patriot Act, the FBI has dispersed the authority
to sign national security letters to more than five dozen
supervisors -- the special agents in charge of field
offices, the deputies in New York, Los Angeles and
Washington, and a few senior headquarters officials. FBI
rules established after the Patriot Act allow the letters
to be issued long before a case is judged substantial
enough for a "full field investigation." Agents commonly
use the letters now in "preliminary investigations" and in
the "threat assessments" that precede a decision whether
to launch an investigation.

"Congress has given us this tool to obtain basic telephone
data, basic banking data, basic credit reports," said
Caproni, who is among the officials with signature
authority. "The fact that a national security letter is a
routine tool used, that doesn't bother me."

If agents had to wait for grounds to suspect a person of
ill intent, said Joseph Billy Jr., the FBI's deputy
assistant director for counterterrorism, they would
already know what they want to find out with a national
security letter. "It's all chicken and egg," he said.
"We're trying to determine if someone warrants scrutiny or

Billy said he understands that "merely being in a
government or FBI database . . . gives everybody, you
know, neck hair standing up." Innocent Americans, he said,
"should take comfort at least knowing that it is done
under a great deal of investigative care, oversight,
within the parameters of the law."

He added: "That's not going to satisfy a majority of
people, but . . . I've had people say, you know, 'Hey, I
don't care, I've done nothing to be concerned about. You
can have me in your files and that's that.' Some people
take that approach."

'Don't Go Overboard'

In Room 7975 of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, around two
corners from the director's suite, the chief of the FBI's
national security law unit sat down at his keyboard about
a month after the Patriot Act became law. Michael J. Woods
had helped devise the FBI wish list for surveillance
powers. Now he offered a caution.

"NSLs are powerful investigative tools, in that they can
compel the production of substantial amounts of relevant
information," he wrote in a Nov. 28, 2001, "electronic
communication" to the FBI's 56 field offices. "However,
they must be used judiciously." Standing guidelines, he
wrote, "require that the FBI accomplish its investigations
through the 'least intrusive' means. . . . The greater
availability of NSLs does not mean that they should be
used in every case."

Woods, who left government service in 2002, added a
practical consideration. Legislators granted the new
authority and could as easily take it back. When making
that decision, he wrote, "Congress certainly will examine
the manner in which the FBI exercised it."

Looking back last month, Woods was struck by how starkly
he misjudged the climate. The FBI disregarded his warning,
and no one noticed.

"This is not something that should be automatically done
because it's easy," he said. "We need to be sure . . . we
don't go overboard."

One thing Woods did not anticipate was then-Attorney
General John D. Ashcroft's revision of Justice Department
guidelines. On May 30, 2002, and Oct. 31, 2003, Ashcroft
rewrote the playbooks for investigations of terrorist
crimes and national security threats. He gave overriding
priority to preventing attacks by any means available.

Ashcroft remained bound by Executive Order 12333, which
requires the use of the "least intrusive means" in
domestic intelligence investigations. But his new
interpretation came close to upending the mandate. Three
times in the new guidelines, Ashcroft wrote that the FBI
"should consider . . . less intrusive means" but "should
not hesitate to use any lawful techniques . . . even if
intrusive" when investigators believe them to be more
timely. "This point," he added, "is to be particularly
observed in investigations relating to terrorist

'Why Do You Want to Know?'

As the Justice Department prepared congressional testimony
this year, FBI headquarters searched for examples that
would show how expanded surveillance powers made a
difference. Michael Mason, who runs the Washington field
office and has the rank of assistant FBI director, found
no ready answer.

"I'd love to have a made-for-Hollywood story, but I don't
have one," Mason said. "I am not even sure such an example

What national security letters give his agents, Mason
said, is speed.

"I have 675 terrorism cases," he said. "Every one of these
is a potential threat. And anything I can do to get to the
bottom of any one of them more quickly gets me closer to
neutralizing a potential threat."

Because recipients are permanently barred from disclosing
the letters, outsiders can make no assessment of their
relevance to Mason's task.

Woods, the former FBI lawyer, said secrecy is essential
when an investigation begins because "it would defeat the
whole purpose" to tip off a suspected terrorist or spy,
but national security seldom requires that the secret be
kept forever. Even mobster "John Gotti finds out
eventually that he was wiretapped" in a criminal probe,
said Peter Swire, the federal government's chief privacy
counselor until 2001. "Anyone caught up in an NSL
investigation never gets notice."

To establish the "relevance" of the information they seek,
agents face a test so basic it is hard to come up with a
plausible way to fail. A model request for a supervisor's
signature, according to internal FBI guidelines, offers
this one-sentence suggestion: "This subscriber information
is being requested to determine the individuals or
entities that the subject has been in contact with during
the past six months."

Edward L. Williams, the chief division counsel in Mason's
office, said that supervisors, in practice, "aren't afraid
to ask . . . 'Why do you want to know?' " He would not say
how many requests, if any, are rejected.

'The Abuse Is in the Power Itself'

Those who favor the new rules maintain -- as Sen. Pat
Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee
on Intelligence, put it in a prepared statement -- that
"there has not been one substantiated allegation of abuse
of these lawful intelligence tools."

What the Bush administration means by abuse is
unauthorized use of surveillance data -- for example, to
blackmail an enemy or track an estranged spouse. Critics
are focused elsewhere. What troubles them is not
unofficial abuse but the official and routine intrusion
into private lives.

To Jeffrey Breinholt, deputy chief of the Justice
Department's counterterrorism section, the civil liberties
objections "are eccentric." Data collection on the
innocent, he said, does no harm unless "someone [decides]
to act on the information, put you on a no-fly list or
something." Only a serious error, he said, could lead the
government, based on nothing more than someone's bank or
phone records, "to freeze your assets or go after you
criminally and you suffer consequences that are
irreparable." He added: "It's a pretty small chance."

"I don't necessarily want somebody knowing what videos I
rent or the fact that I like cartoons," said Mason, the
Washington field office chief. But if those records "are
never used against a person, if they're never used to put
him in jail, or deprive him of a vote, et cetera, then
what is the argument?"

Barr, the former congressman, said that "the abuse is in
the power itself."

"As a conservative," he said, "I really resent an
administration that calls itself conservative taking the
position that the burden is on the citizen to show the
government has abused power, and otherwise shut up and

At the ACLU, staff attorney Jameel Jaffer spoke of "the
profound chilling effect" of this kind of surveillance:
"If the government monitors the Web sites that people
visit and the books that they read, people will stop
visiting disfavored Web sites and stop reading disfavored
books. The FBI should not have unchecked authority to keep
track of who visits [al-Jazeera's Web site] or who visits
the Web site of the Federalist Society."

Links in a Chain

Ready access to national security letters allows
investigators to employ them routinely for "contact

"Starting with your bad guy and his telephone number and
looking at who he's calling, and [then] who they're
calling," the number of people surveilled "goes up
exponentially," acknowledged Caproni, the FBI's general

But Caproni said it would not be rational for the bureau
to follow the chain too far. "Everybody's connected" if
investigators keep tracing calls "far enough away from
your targeted bad guy," she said. "What's the point of

One point is to fill government data banks for another
investigative technique. That one is called "link
analysis," a practice Caproni would neither confirm nor

Two years ago, Ashcroft rescinded a 1995 guideline
directing that information obtained through a national
security letter about a U.S. citizen or resident "shall be
destroyed by the FBI and not further disseminated" if it
proves "not relevant to the purposes for which it was
collected." Ashcroft's new order was that "the FBI shall
retain" all records it collects and "may disseminate" them
freely among federal agencies.

The same order directed the FBI to develop "data mining"
technology to probe for hidden links among the people in
its growing cache of electronic files. According to an FBI
status report, the bureau's office of intelligence began
operating in January 2004 a new Investigative Data
Warehouse, based on the same Oracle technology used by the
CIA. The CIA is generally forbidden to keep such files on

Data mining intensifies the impact of national security
letters, because anyone's personal files can be
scrutinized again and again without a fresh need to
establish relevance.

"The composite picture of a person which emerges from
transactional information is more telling than the direct
content of your speech," said Woods, the former FBI
lawyer. "That's certainly not been lost on the
intelligence community and the FBI."

Ashcroft's new guidelines allowed the FBI for the first
time to add to government files consumer data from
commercial providers such as LexisNexis and ChoicePoint
Inc. Previous attorneys general had decided that such a
move would violate the Privacy Act. In many field offices,
agents said, they now have access to ChoicePoint in their
squad rooms.

What national security letters add to government data
banks is information that no commercial service can
lawfully possess. Strict privacy laws, for example, govern
financial and communications records. National security
letters -- along with the more powerful but much less
frequently used secret subpoenas from the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Court -- override them.

'What Happens in Vegas'

The bureau displayed its ambition for data mining in an
emergency operation at the end of 2003.

The Department of Homeland Security declared an orange
alert on Dec. 21 of that year, in part because of
intelligence that hinted at a New Year's Eve attack in Las
Vegas. The identities of the plotters were unknown.

The FBI sent Gurvais Grigg, chief of the bureau's
little-known Proactive Data Exploitation Unit, in an
audacious effort to assemble a real-time census of every
visitor in the nation's most-visited city. An average of
about 300,000 tourists a day stayed an average of four
days each, presenting Grigg's team with close to a million
potential suspects in the ensuing two weeks.

A former stockbroker with a degree in biochemistry, Grigg
declined to be interviewed. Government and private sector
sources who followed the operation described epic efforts
to vacuum up information.

An interagency task force began pulling together the
records of every hotel guest, everyone who rented a car or
truck, every lease on a storage space, and every airplane
passenger who landed in the city. Grigg's unit filtered
that population for leads. Any link to the known terrorist
universe -- a shared address or utility account, a check
deposited, a telephone call -- could give investigators a

"It was basically a manhunt, and in circumstances where
there is a manhunt, the most effective way of doing that
was to scoop up a lot of third party data and compare it
to other data we were getting," Breinholt said.

Investigators began with emergency requests for help from
the city's sprawling hospitality industry. "A lot of it
was done voluntary at first," said Billy, the deputy
assistant FBI director.

According to others directly involved, investigators
turned to national security letters and grand jury
subpoenas when friendly persuasion did not work.

Early in the operation, according to participants, the FBI
gathered casino executives and asked for guest lists. The
MGM Mirage company, followed by others, balked.

"Some casinos were saying no to consent [and said], 'You
have to produce a piece of paper,' " said Jeff Jonas,
chief scientist at IBM Entity Analytics, who previously
built data management systems for casino surveillance.
"They don't just market 'What happens in Vegas stays in
Vegas.' They want it to be true."

The operation remained secret for about a week. Then
casino sources told Rod Smith, gaming editor of the Las
Vegas Review-Journal, that the FBI had served national
security letters on them. In an interview for this
article, one former casino executive confirmed the use of
a national security letter. Details remain elusive. Some
law enforcement officials, speaking on the condition of
anonymity because they had not been authorized to divulge
particulars, said they relied primarily on grand jury
subpoenas. One said in an interview that national security
letters may eventually have been withdrawn. Agents
encouraged voluntary disclosures, he said, by raising the
prospect that the FBI would use the letters to gather
something more sensitive: the gambling profiles of casino
guests. Caproni declined to confirm or deny that account.

What happened in Vegas stayed in federal data banks. Under
Ashcroft's revised policy, none of the information has
been purged. For every visitor, Breinholt said, "the
record of the Las Vegas hotel room would still exist."

Grigg's operation found no suspect, and the orange alert
ended on Jan. 10, 2004."The whole thing washed out," one
participant said.

'Of Interest to President Bush'

At around the time the FBI found George Christian in
Connecticut, agents from the bureau's Charlotte field
office paid an urgent call on the chemical engineering
department at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
They were looking for information about a former student
named Magdy Nashar, then suspected in the July 7 London
subway bombing but since cleared of suspicion.

University officials said in interviews late last month
that the FBI tried to use a national security letter to
demand much more information than the law allows.

David T. Drooz, the university's senior associate counsel,
said special authority is required for the surrender of
records protected by educational and medical privacy. The
FBI's first request, a July 14 grand jury subpoena, did
not appear to supply that authority, Drooz said, and the
university did not honor it. Referring to notes he took
that day, Drooz said Eric Davis, the FBI's top lawyer in
Charlotte, "was focused very much on the urgency" and "he
even indicated the case was of interest to President

The next day, July 15, FBI agents arrived with a national
security letter. Drooz said it demanded all records of
Nashar's admission, housing, emergency contacts, use of
health services and extracurricular activities. University
lawyers "looked up what law we could on the fly," he said.
They discovered that the FBI was demanding files that
national security letters have no power to obtain. The
statute the FBI cited that day covers only telephone and
Internet records.

"We're very eager to comply with the authorities in this
regard, but we needed to have what we felt was a legally
valid procedure," said Larry A. Neilsen, the university

Soon afterward, the FBI returned with a new subpoena. It
was the same as the first one, Drooz said, and the
university still had doubts about its legal sufficiency.
This time, however, it came from New York and summoned
Drooz to appear personally. The tactic was "a bit
heavy-handed," Drooz said, "the implication being you're
subject to contempt of court." Drooz surrendered the

The FBI's Charlotte office referred questions to
headquarters. A high-ranking FBI official, who spoke on
the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that the field
office erred in attempting to use a national security
letter. Investigators, he said, "were in a big hurry for
obvious reasons" and did not approach the university "in
the exact right way."

'Unreasonable' or 'Oppressive'

The electronic docket in the Connecticut case, as the New
York Times first reported, briefly titled the lawsuit
Library Connection Inc. v. Gonzales . Because identifying
details were not supposed to be left in the public file,
the court soon replaced the plaintiff's name with "John

George Christian, Library Connection's executive director,
is identified in his affidavit as "John Doe 2." In that
sworn statement, he said people often come to libraries
for information that is "highly sensitive, embarrassing or
personal." He wanted to fight the FBI but feared calling a
lawyer because the letter said he could not disclose its
existence to "any person." He consulted Peter Chase, vice
president of Library Connection and chairman of a state
intellectual freedom committee. Chase -- "John Doe 1" in
his affidavit -- advised Christian to call the ACLU.
Reached by telephone at their homes, both men declined to
be interviewed.

U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall ruled in September that
the FBI gag order violates Christian's, and Library
Connection's, First Amendment rights. A three-judge panel
heard oral argument on Wednesday in the government's

The central facts remain opaque, even to the judges,
because the FBI is not obliged to describe what it is
looking for, or why. During oral argument in open court on
Aug. 31, Hall said one government explanation was so vague
that "if I were to say it out loud, I would get quite a
laugh here." After the government elaborated in a
classified brief delivered for her eyes only, she wrote in
her decision that it offered "nothing specific."

The Justice Department tried to conceal the existence of
the first and only other known lawsuit against a national
security letter, also brought by the ACLU's Jaffer and Ann
Beeson. Government lawyers opposed its entry into the
public docket of a New York federal judge. They have since
tried to censor nearly all the contents of the exhibits
and briefs. They asked the judge, for example, to black
out every line of the affidavit that describes the
delivery of the national security letter to a New York
Internet company, including, "I am a Special Agent of the
Federal Bureau of Investigation ('FBI')."

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero, in a ruling that is
under appeal, held that the law authorizing national
security letters violates the First and Fourth Amendments.

Resistance to national security letters is rare. Most of
them are served on large companies in highly regulated
industries, with business interests that favor
cooperation. The in-house lawyers who handle such cases,
said Jim Dempsey, executive director of the Center for
Democracy and Technology, "are often former prosecutors --
instinctively pro-government but also instinctively
by-the-books." National security letters give them a
shield against liability to their customers.

Kenneth M. Breen, a partner at the New York law firm
Fulbright & Jaworski, held a seminar for corporate lawyers
one recent evening to explain the "significant risks for
the non-compliant" in government counterterrorism
investigations. A former federal prosecutor, Breen said
failure to provide the required information could create
"the perception that your company didn't live up to its
duty to fight terrorism" and could invite class-action
lawsuits from the families of terrorism victims. In
extreme cases, he said, a business could face criminal
prosecution, "a 'death sentence' for certain kinds of

The volume of government information demands, even so, has
provoked a backlash. Several major business groups,
including the National Association of Manufacturers and
the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, complained in an Oct. 4
letter to senators that customer records can "too easily
be obtained and disseminated" around the government.
National security letters, they wrote, have begun to
impose an "expensive and time-consuming burden" on

The House and Senate bills renewing the Patriot Act do not
tighten privacy protections, but they offer a concession
to business interests. In both bills, a judge may modify a
national security letter if it imposes an "unreasonable"
or "oppressive" burden on the company that is asked for

'A Legitimate Question'

As national security letters have grown in number and
importance, oversight has not kept up. In each house of
Congress, jurisdiction is divided between the judiciary
and intelligence committees. None of the four Republican
chairmen agreed to be interviewed.

Roberts, the Senate intelligence chairman, said in a
statement issued through his staff that "the committee is
well aware of the intelligence value of the information
that is lawfully collected under these national security
letter authorities," which he described as "non-intrusive"
and "crucial to tracking terrorist networks and detecting
clandestine intelligence activities." Senators receive
"valuable reporting by the FBI," he said, in "semi-annual
reports [that] provide the committee with the information
necessary to conduct effective oversight."

Roberts was referring to the Justice Department's
classified statistics, which in fact have been delivered
three times in four years. They include the following
information: how many times the FBI issued national
security letters; whether the letters sought financial,
credit or communications records; and how many of the
targets were "U.S. persons." The statistics omit one whole
category of FBI national security letters and also do not
count letters issued by the Defense Department and other

Committee members have occasionally asked to see a
sampling of national security letters, a description of
their fruits or examples of their contribution to a
particular case. The Justice Department has not obliged.

In 2004, the conference report attached to the
intelligence authorization bill asked the attorney general
to "include in his next semiannual report" a description
of "the scope of such letters" and the "process and
standards for approving" them. More than a year has passed
without a Justice Department reply.

"The committee chairman has the power to issue subpoenas"
for information from the executive branch, said Rep. Zoe
Lofgren (D-Calif.), a House Judiciary Committee member.
"The minority has no power to compel, and . . .
Republicans are not going to push for oversight of the
Republicans. That's the story of this Congress."

In the executive branch, no FBI or Justice Department
official audits the use of national security letters to
assess whether they are appropriately targeted, lawfully
applied or contribute important facts to an investigation.

Justice Department officials noted frequently this year
that Inspector General Glenn A. Fine reports twice a year
on abuses of the Patriot Act and has yet to substantiate
any complaint. (One investigation is pending.) Fine
advertises his role, but there is a puzzle built into the
mandate. Under what scenario could a person protest a
search of his personal records if he is never notified?

"We do rely upon complaints coming in," Fine said in House
testimony in May. He added: "To the extent that people do
not know of anything happening to them, there is an issue
about whether they can complain. So, I think that's a
legitimate question."

Asked more recently whether Fine's office has conducted an
independent examination of national security letters,
Deputy Inspector General Paul K. Martin said in an
interview: "We have not initiated a broad-based review
that examines the use of specific provisions of the
Patriot Act."

At the FBI, senior officials said the most important check
on their power is that Congress is watching.

"People have to depend on their elected representatives to
do the job of oversight they were elected to do," Caproni
said. "And we think they do a fine job of it."

Researcher Julie Tate and research editor Lucy Shackelford
contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company 


"Apocalypse Now and the Brave New World"

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