Saturday, June 16, 2007

The FBI Is Watching

Two new reports ought to make us all feel more secure. Or something. The FBI is watching. It's really watching.

The first report is from ABC News:
A terrorist watch list compiled by the FBI has apparently swelled to include more than half a million names.

Privacy and civil liberties advocates say the list is growing uncontrollably, threatening its usefulness in the war on terror.

The bureau says the number of names on its terrorist watch list is classified.
Half a million names? Here's a clue: if they need to watch a half a million people, they're probably not doing a very good job of figuring out who to watch. Either that, or we're pretty much all suspect; and if that's the case, someone's probably just a little too mentally unstable to be running a national security agency. And they say Kennedy Assassination conspiracy theorists are nuts!

The second report is from the Washington Post:
An internal FBI audit has found that the bureau potentially violated the law or agency rules more than 1,000 times while collecting data about domestic phone calls, e-mails and financial transactions in recent years, far more than was documented in a Justice Department report in March that ignited bipartisan congressional criticism.

The new audit covers just 10 percent of the bureau's national security investigations since 2002, and so the mistakes in the FBI's domestic surveillance efforts probably number several thousand, bureau officials said in interviews. The earlier report found 22 violations in a much smaller sampling.
Several thousand mistakes? And I'm assuming those don't include the monitoring of those half a million people that the FBI seems to think should be monitored. So, it's probably not a stretch to presume that that half a million figure should be revised. Upward.

Just as interesting, is this part of the Post article:
The vast majority of the new violations were instances in which telephone companies and Internet providers gave agents phone and e-mail records the agents did not request and were not authorized to collect. The agents retained the information anyway in their files, which mostly concerned suspected terrorist or espionage activities.
Isn't that reassuring? While the FBI is out of control, spying on more than a half a million people, breaking laws and their own rules, telephone conpanies and internet providers are handing over private data that no one even asked for! Might this not be worth a Congressional investigation? Wouldn't it be nice to know if your phone company or internet provider is so blithely dismissive of your privacy rights?

Meanwhile, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III knows how to spend your tax dollars. As the Washington Post reported on Tuesday:
When the FBI asked Congress this spring to provide $3.6 million in the war spending bill for its Gulfstream V jet, it said the money was needed to ensure that the aircraft, packed with state-of-the-art security and communications gear, could continue to fly counterterrorism agents on "crucial missions" into Iraq.

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the bureau has made similar annual requests to maintain and fuel the $40 million jet on grounds that it had a "tremendous impact" on combating terrorism by rapidly deploying FBI agents to "fast-moving investigations and crisis situations" in places such as Afghanistan.

But the jet that the FBI originally sold to lawmakers in the late 1990s as an essential tool for battling terrorism is now routinely used to ferry FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to speeches, public appearances and field office visits.
Not that anyone in the Bush Administration would ever politicize federal agencies of intelligence or justice.

Time for yet another in a seemingly endless series of rhetorical questions: what do the words "High Crimes and Misdemeanors" mean?

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