DoJ: FBI misused Patriot act in domestic spying activities

A Justice Department audit released today concludes that the FBI broke the law in its use of the Patriot Act to secretly obtain phone, business, and financial data about people in the US.

The report also found that for three years, the FBI understated to Congress how frequently it forced businesses to hand over that private information.

PDF LINK to a copy of the 199-page report, "A Review of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Use of National Security Letters." IMAGE above, a diagram from page 24: "How the NSA uses National Security Letters."

FBI Director Robert Mueller told reporters today "I am to be held accountable," then added that he has no plans to resign.

Snip from AP story:

At issue are the security letters, a power outlined in the Patriot Act that the Bush administration pushed through Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The letters, or administrative subpoenas, are used in suspected terrorism and espionage cases. They allow the FBI to require telephone companies, Internet service providers, banks, credit bureaus and other businesses to produce highly personal records about their customers or subscribers - without a judge's approval.

About three-fourths of the national security letters were issued for counterterror cases, and the other fourth for spy investigations.
Fine's annual review is required by Congress, over the objections of the Bush administration. The audit released Friday found that the number of national security letters issued by the FBI skyrocketed in the years after the Patriot Act became law.

In 2000, for example, the FBI issued an estimated 8,500 letters. By 2003, however, that number jumped to 39,000. It rose again the next year, to about 56,000 letters in 2004, and dropped to approximately 47,000 in 2005.

Over the entire three-year period, the FBI reported issuing 143,074 national security letters requesting customer data from businesses, the audit found. But that did not include an additional 8,850 requests that were never recorded in the FBI's database, the audit found.

Also, Fine's audit noted, a 2006 report to Congress showing that the FBI delivered only 9,254 national security letters during the previous year - on 3,501 U.S. citizens and legal residents - was only required to report certain types of requests for information. That report did not outline the full scope of the national security letter requests in 2005, nor was it required to, Fine's office said.

Link, here's a related NYT story: Link. Wired's 27B Stroke 6 blog has a related post here.