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History > 2008 > USA > FBI (I)




F.B.I. Looks Into 4 Firms

at Center of the Economic Turmoil


September 24, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Federal Bureau of Investigation, under pressure to look at possible criminal activity in the financial markets, is expanding its corporate fraud inquiries in the wake of the tumult in the last 10 days, officials said Tuesday.

The F.B.I. has now opened preliminary investigations into possible fraud involving the four giant corporations at the center of the recent turmoil — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and the American International Group, The Associated Press reported.

A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, said it was “logical to assume” that those four companies would come under investigation because of the many questions surrounding their recent collapse.

F.B.I. officials said Tuesday that the total number of corporate fraud investigations at the bureau was 26, an increase from the 24 open cases cited just a week ago by Robert S. Mueller III, director of the F.B.I. That number stood at 21 as recently as July, but the bureau has not named most of the targets.

Mr. Mueller told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that the major corporate investigations are aimed at companies that “may have engaged in misstatements in the course of what transpired during this financial crisis.”

He added that “the F.B.I. will pursue these cases as far up the corporate chain as is necessary to ensure that those responsible receive the justice they deserve.”

In addition to the major corporate cases, the bureau said it had about 1,400 open investigations into smaller companies and individuals suspected of mortgage fraud.

Nonetheless, the bureau and the Justice Department have come under pressure from some critics who assert that investigators need to take a broader and more comprehensive approach to the financial inquiries. But Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey has rejected calls for the Justice Department to create the type of national task force that it did in 2002 to respond to the collapse of Enron.

Mr. Mukasey said in June that the mortgage crisis was a different “type of phenomena” that was a more localized problem akin to “white-collar street crime.”

Officials at the Justice Department declined to comment on Tuesday on which companies were under investigation by the bureau. “As part of our investigative responsibility, the F.B.I. conducts corporate fraud investigations,” Brian J. Roehrkasse, spokesman for the department, said in a statement. “The number of cases fluctuates over time. However, we do not discuss which companies may or may not be the subject of an investigation.”

In a major case in June, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn brought conspiracy and securities fraud charges against two portfolio managers at Bear Stearns, which nearly collapsed in June before it was bought for a fire-sale price.

When that prosecution was announced, Deputy Attorney General Mark R. Filip acknowledged that the mortgage crisis “includes a wide variety of criminal acts that have proved devastating to American families.”

Still, several senators at last week’s hearing by the judiciary committee made it clear that they wanted to see the F.B.I. take aggressive steps to investigate possible criminal wrongdoing in connection with the crisis.

Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who leads the committee, told Mr. Mueller that “obviously everybody’s concerned where the U.S. government’s on the hook” for up to $1 trillion in bailout costs.

“And if people were cooking the books, manipulating, doing things they were not supposed to do, then I want people held responsible. And I suspect every American taxpayer — I don’t care what their political background is — would like them held responsible,” he said.

    F.B.I. Looks Into 4 Firms at Center of the Economic Turmoil, NYT, 24.9.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/24/business/24inquiry.html






Terror Plan Would Give F.B.I. More Power


September 13, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Justice Department made public on Friday a plan to expand the tools the Federal Bureau of Investigation can use to investigate suspicions of terrorism inside the United States, even without any direct evidence of wrongdoing.

Justice Department officials said the plan, which is likely to be completed by the end of the month despite criticism from civil rights advocates, is intended to allow F.B.I. agents to be more aggressive and pre-emptive in assessing possible threats to national security.

It would allow an agent, for instance, to pursue an anonymous tip about terrorism by conducting an undercover interview or watching someone in a public place. Such steps are now prohibited unless there is more specific evidence of wrongdoing.

The plan is the latest in a series of steps by the Bush administration to extend key aspects of its counterterrorism strategy beyond the end of President Bush’s tenure. An executive order from Mr. Bush in August rewrote the rules for the nation’s 16 spy agencies, and an administration legislative proposal before Congress would reaffirm that the country “remains engaged in an armed conflict with Al Qaeda.”

The proposed guidelines combine several sets of procedures into a single document governing what F.B.I. agents can and cannot do in criminal and national security investigations.

The review of the guidelines generated intense interest and occasional criticism from lawmakers and others over the summer, and the Justice Department took the unusual step on Friday of holding briefings for reporters and for civil rights advocates and showing them the draft plan.

The draft is likely to be made final soon after Robert S. Mueller III, the F.B.I. director, testifies on Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee and on Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Democrats have promised to question him closely about the new guidelines.

After they were shown the plan, civil rights leaders said they were troubled that the new guidelines would allow the F.B.I. to use racial and ethnic factors to focus on Middle Easterners and others. “Racial profiling by any other name is still unconstitutional,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

But Justice Department officials insisted that the new guidelines would not change standards in place since 2003 for the use of race or ethnicity, which can be considered as a factor — but not the sole factor — in terror investigations.

“It is simply not responsible to say that race may never be taken into account when conducting an investigation,” Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the department, said in a statement. “The reality is that a number of criminal and terror groups have very strong ethnic associations (e.g., the I.R.A. was Irish, La Cosa Nostra is Italian; Hezbollah is largely Lebanese).

“If the F.B.I. is charged with knowing whether there are elements of such groups present and operating within the United States, it cannot ignore those ethnic connections, any more than it would ignore the identification of a bank robber as a short white male when trying to solve the bank robbery.”

Under existing guidelines, F.B.I. agents cannot use certain investigative tools in conducting so-called threat assessments as a precursor to a preliminary or full inquiry. The revisions would allow agents to conduct public surveillance of someone, do “pretext” interviews — pose as someone other than an agent or disguise the purpose of the questions — or send in an undercover source to gather information.

Such steps are allowed in standard criminal investigations without specific evidence of wrongdoing, and officials say they want to authorize the same investigative steps in terrorism inquiries as well.

    Terror Plan Would Give F.B.I. More Power, NYT, 13.9.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/13/washington/13justice.html






Seeking Details,

Lawmakers Cite Anthrax Doubts


September 7, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — A month after the F.B.I. declared that an Army scientist was the anthrax killer, leading members of Congress are demanding more information about the seven-year investigation, saying they do not think the bureau has proved its case.

In a letter sent Friday to Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Democratic leaders of the House Judiciary Committee said that “important and lingering questions remain that are crucial for you to address, especially since there will never be a trial to examine the facts of the case.”

The scientist, Bruce E. Ivins, committed suicide in July, and Mr. Mueller is likely to face demands for additional answers about the anthrax case when he appears before the House and Senate Judiciary Committees on Sept. 16 and 17.

“My conclusion at this point is that it’s very much an open matter,” Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Senate committee, said of the strength of the case against Dr. Ivins, a microbiologist at the Army’s biodefense laboratory who worked on anthrax vaccines. “There are some very serious questions that have yet to be answered and need to be made public.”

Bureau officials say they are certain they have solved the nation’s first major bioterrorism attack, in which anthrax-laced letters killed five people, after a long and troubled investigation that by several measures was the most complex in the bureau’s history.

But in interviews last week, two dozen bioterrorism experts, veteran investigators and members of Congress expressed doubts about the bureau’s conclusions. Some called for an independent review of the case to reassure the public and assess policies on the handling of dangerous pathogens like anthrax.

Meanwhile, new details of the investigation, revealed in recent interviews, raised questions about when the bureau focused on Dr. Ivins as the likely perpetrator and how solid its evidence was.

In April 2007, after the mailed anthrax was genetically linked to Dr. Ivins’s laboratory and after he was questioned about late-night work in the laboratory before the letters were mailed, prosecutors sent Dr. Ivins a formal letter saying he was “not a target” of the investigation. And only a week before Dr. Ivins died did agents first take a mouth swab to collect a DNA sample, officials said.

Justice Department officials, who said in early August that the investigation was likely to be closed formally within days or weeks, now say it is likely to remain open for three to six more months. In the meantime, agents are continuing to conduct interviews with acquaintances of Dr. Ivins and are examining computers he used, seeking information that could strengthen the case.

But bureau and Justice Department officials insist that the delay, which they say is necessary to tie up loose ends in a complex investigation, reflects no doubts about their ultimate verdict. “People feel just as strongly as they did a month ago that this was the guy,” said a department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Even the strongest skeptics acknowledged that the bureau had raised troubling questions about Dr. Ivins’s mental health and had made a strong scientific case linking the mailed anthrax to a supply in his laboratory.

But they said the bureau’s piecemeal release of information, in search warrant affidavits and in briefings for reporters and Congress, had left significant gaps in the trail that led to Dr. Ivins and had failed to explain how investigators ruled out at least 100 other people who the bureau acknowledged had access to the same flasks of anthrax.

In interviews, F.B.I. officials said they knew their findings would face intense scrutiny after the bureau admitted that for years it had pursued the wrong man, Steven J. Hatfill, whom the government paid $4.6 million in June to settle a lawsuit that accused the government of leaking information about him to the news media.

Officials also acknowledged that they did not have a single, definitive piece of evidence indisputably proving that Dr. Ivins mailed the letters — no confession, no trace of his DNA on the letters, no security camera recording the mailings in Princeton, N.J.

But they said the case consisted of a powerfully persuasive accumulation of incriminating details. Dr. Vahid Majidi, head of the F.B.I.’s weapons of mass destruction directorate, said the accumulation of evidence against Dr. Ivins was overwhelming: his oversight of the anthrax supply, his night hours, his mental problems and his habit of driving to far-off locations at night to mail anonymous packages.

“Who had the means, motive and opportunity?” said John Miller, assistant F.B.I. director for public affairs. “Some potential suspects may have had one, some had two, but on the cumulative scale, Dr. Ivins had many more of these elements than any other potential suspect.”

Mr. Miller said the bureau ultimately planned to release much more information from its investigative files, including notes of F.B.I. interviews with Dr. Ivins and other suspects and witnesses and surveillance logs detailing his movements and actions. But those disclosures, requiring a detailed review to remove private and classified information, are likely to be months away.

Mr. Mueller, the F.B.I. director, is likely to face tough questions at next week’s scheduled oversight hearings, not just about the case against Dr. Ivins but about the prolonged pursuit of Dr. Hatfill. Senator Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican and frequent critic of the bureau, said he was frustrated by the delay in closing the case and answering questions.

“If the case is solved, why isn’t it solved?” Mr. Grassley asked. “It’s all very suspicious, and you wonder whether or not the F.B.I. doesn’t have something to cover up and that they don’t want to come clean.”

Investigators have not reviewed three boxes of papers left by Dr. Ivins marked for the attention of his lawyer, Paul F. Kemp, because the records must first be reviewed to see whether they should be kept confidential under attorney-client privilege, Mr. Kemp said. A government lawyer not involved in the investigation will soon review the papers with Mr. Kemp, who said some might be given to investigators or made public.

What is clear is that the disclosures have not closed the matter.

“They took their shot,” said Representative Rush D. Holt, a Democrat who holds a doctorate in physics and has followed the case closely because the letters were mailed in his New Jersey district. “They hoped and maybe believed that the case they laid out would persuade everyone. I think they’re probably surprised by the level of skepticism.”

Many scientists who have tracked the case, too, have found the evidence less than decisive.

“For a lot of the scientific community, the word would be agnostic,” said Dr. Thomas V. Inglesby, an expert on bioterrorism at the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “They still don’t feel they have enough information to judge whether the case has been solved.”

Mr. Holt and Dr. Inglesby were among a number of outsiders who said that only an independent review of the investigation and the evidence against Dr. Ivins — either by Congress or a commission like the one that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks — could give the public confidence that the case was over.

Skepticism toward the bureau’s case remains especially pronounced among Dr. Ivins’s former colleagues at the Army laboratory at Fort Detrick, in Maryland.

“Despite the F.B.I.’s scientific and circumstantial evidence, I and many of Dr. Ivins’s former colleagues don’t believe he did it and don’t believe the spore preparations were made at Detrick,” said Dr. Gerry Andrews, a microbiologist who worked at the Army laboratory for nine years and was Dr. Ivins’s boss for part of that time.

Laboratory records obtained by The New York Times show that the anthrax supply labeled RMR-1029, which the F.B.I. linked to the attacks, was stored in 1997 not in Dr. Ivins’s laboratory, in Building 1425, but in the adjacent Building 1412. Former colleagues said that its storage in both buildings at different times from 1997 to 2001 might mean that the bureau’s estimate of 100 people with physical access to it was two or three times too low.

Some microbiologists question the time records documenting Dr. Ivins’s night hours, pointing out that one F.B.I. affidavit said he was in the secure part of the laboratory for exactly 2 hours and 15 minutes three nights in a row — an unlikely coincidence that they said raised questions about the accuracy of the records.

Confusion remains about silicon found in the mailed powder. Some F.B.I. critics say it shows that there was a sophisticated additive that might point away from Fort Detrick as a source, but the bureau concluded that it was merely an accident of the way the anthrax was grown.

Dr. Majidi said many technical details would be cleared up by the papers published by bureau scientists and consultants over the next year or more. “It’s the collective body of evidence that’s really strong,” Dr. Majidi said.

Without witnesses or forensic experts linking the killings directly to Dr. Ivins, the Justice Department’s public case against him relies largely on “opportunity evidence,” said Robert J. Cleary, the lead prosecutor a decade ago in the Unabomber attacks.

“What prosecutors have to do to persuade the public that this was the guy is to show the uniqueness of the strain of anthrax and to eliminate everyone else who had opportunity and access to it.” That, Mr. Cleary said, “is a challenge.”

    Seeking Details, Lawmakers Cite Anthrax Doubts, NYT, 6.9.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/07/washington/07anthrax.html






Anthrax Evidence

Is Said to Be Circumstantial


August 4, 2008
The New York Times


The evidence amassed by F.B.I. investigators against Dr. Bruce E. Ivins, the Army scientist who killed himself last week after learning that he was likely to be charged in the anthrax letter attacks of 2001, was largely circumstantial, and a grand jury in Washington was planning to hear several more weeks of testimony before issuing an indictment, a person who has been briefed on the investigation said on Sunday.

While genetic analysis had linked the anthrax letters to a supply of the deadly bacterium in Dr. Ivins’s laboratory at Fort Detrick, Md., at least 10 people had access to the flask containing that anthrax, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation also have no evidence proving that Dr. Ivins visited New Jersey on the dates in September and October 2001 when investigators believe the letters were sent from a Princeton mailbox, the source said.

The source acknowledged that there might be some elements of the evidence of which he was unaware. And while he characterized what he did know about as “damning,” he said that instead of irrefutable proof, investigators had an array of indirect evidence that they argue strongly implicates Dr. Ivins in the attacks, which killed 5 people and sickened 17 others.

That evidence includes tracing the prestamped envelopes used in the attacks to stock sold in three Maryland post offices, including one in Frederick, frequented by Dr. Ivins, who had long rented a post office box there under an assumed name, the source said. The evidence also includes records of the scientist’s extensive after-hours use of his lab at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases around the time the letters were mailed, the source said.

In an indication that investigators were still trying to strengthen their case, F.B.I. agents took two public computers from the downtown public library in Frederick last week, The Frederick News-Post reported.

One law enforcement official said on Sunday that evidence against Dr. Ivins might be made public as early as Wednesday, if the bureau could persuade a federal judge to unseal the evidence and if agents could brief survivors of the anthrax attacks and family members of those who died.

Paul F. Kemp, a lawyer for Dr. Ivins who maintains his client’s innocence, declined to comment for the record on Sunday on the alleged evidence.

The stakes for the beleaguered F.B.I. and its troubled investigation, now in its seventh year, could hardly be higher.

The bureau, having recently paid off one wrongly singled-out researcher, Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, now stands accused by Dr. Ivins’s lawyer and some of his colleagues of hounding an innocent man to suicide. Only by making public a powerful case that Dr. Ivins was behind the letters can the F.B.I. begin to redeem itself, members of Congress say and some bureau officials admit privately.

Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the former Democratic leader of the Senate and one target of the deadly letters, said on Sunday that he had long had grave doubts about the investigation.

“From the very beginning, I’ve had real concerns about the quality of the investigation,” Mr. Daschle said on Fox News Sunday.

“Given the fact that they already paid somebody else $5 million for the mistakes they must have made gives you some indication of the overall caliber and quality of the investigation,” Mr. Daschle added. He was referring to the government’s settlement in June with Dr. Hatfill, which pays him $2.825 million plus $150,000 a year for life to compensate him for what the F.B.I. now acknowledges was a devastating focus for years on the wrong man.

Mr. Daschle said he did not know whether the new focus on Dr. Ivins was “just another false track.” He added, “We don’t know, and they aren’t telling us.”

John Miller, an F.B.I. assistant director, declined on Sunday to address criticism of the investigation, one of the largest and most costly in bureau history.

“As soon as the legal constraints barring disclosure are removed, we will make public as much information as possible,” Mr. Miller said in a statement. “We will do that at one time, in one place. We will do that after those who were injured and the families of those who died are briefed, which is only appropriate.”

He added, “I don’t believe it will be helpful to respond piecemeal to any judgments made by anyone before they know a fuller set of facts.”

The unsealed evidence would likely include affidavits for search warrants laying out the bureau’s reasons for focusing on Dr. Ivins, including summaries of scientific evidence that investigators consider central to their case. Dr. Ivins’s house near the gates to Fort Detrick was the subject of an extensive search by F.B.I. agents last Nov. 1, and bureau surveillance vehicles openly followed the scientist for about a year, according to people who knew him.

Dr. Ivins, 62, had acted strangely in the weeks before his death, and he was hospitalized from about July 10 to July 23 after associates concluded that he might be a danger to himself or others. Jean C. Duley, a social worker who had treated him in group therapy, sought a restraining order against him. He had said he expected to be charged with “five capital murders,” she said, and had threatened to kill colleagues and himself.

Ms. Duley did not say that Dr. Ivins had confessed to the anthrax attacks, and the scientist left no suicide note, according to an official briefed on the investigation.

Critics say the Hatfill settlement was the culmination of a pattern of blunders in the investigation. The F.B.I. and the United States Postal Inspection Service have thrown a huge amount of resources into the hunt for the anthrax mailer, whose letters dislodged members of Congress and Supreme Court justices from contaminated buildings, which cost hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up.

Yet from the beginning, public glimpses of the investigators’ work prompted serious questions. “What has bothered me is the unscientific, bumbling approach of our investigators,” said Representative Rush D. Holt, a Democrat and physicist whose New Jersey district includes the contaminated Princeton mailbox.

Mr. Holt said in a recent interview that his first doubts came after anthrax was found in his Congressional office in October 2001 but investigators never returned to conduct systematic testing to trace the path of the anthrax spores.

After that, he said, when contamination at a New Jersey postal processing center indicated that the letters had been mailed on one of a limited number of routes, it took investigators seven months to test several hundred mailboxes and identify the source.

“Within two days they could have dispatched 50 people to wipe all those mailboxes,” Mr. Holt said. He wrote to Robert S. Mueller III, the F.B.I. director, on Friday to ask that he testify to Congress about the investigation as soon as it is closed.

When investigators questioned people around the Princeton mailbox about whether they had seen a suspect there, they showed passers-by photos of only Dr. Hatfill, according to local residents who were questioned. Criminologists said that only by showing photos of a number of people could investigators have confidence in an eyewitness identification of Dr. Hatfill or any other suspect.

Some experts also questioned the F.B.I.’s use of bloodhounds from local police departments to try to trace a scent from the recovered letters to suspects’ homes, including that of Dr. Hatfill.

Law enforcement sources at the time said the bloodhounds’ reactions at Dr. Hatfill’s apartment were one reason for the F.B.I.’s intense focus on him. But independent bloodhound handlers said it was highly unlikely that a useful scent could be obtained from letters that might have been handled by the perpetrator with gloves, had rubbed against thousands of other scents in the mail and then were irradiated to kill the dangerous spores.

    Anthrax Evidence Is Said to Be Circumstantial, NYT, 4.8.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/04/us/04anthrax.html






F.B.I. Reports Decline in Crime in ’07


June 9, 2008
Filed at 12:24 p.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Both violent and property crimes declined in 2007 from the previous year, the FBI reported Monday. But one expert warned the figures could mask a growing murder problem among young black men.

In preliminary figures for crimes reported to police, the bureau said the number of violent crimes declined by 1.4 percent from 2006, reversing two years of rising violent crime numbers. Violent crime had climbed 1.9 percent in 2006 and 2.3 percent in 2005, alarming federal and local officials.

Property crimes were down 2.1 percent last year from the previous year, the largest drop in the last four years.

Because the FBI preliminary figures do not contain the detailed breakdowns by age, race and gender of the final report that comes later in the year, one expert, James Alan Fox, said they may unintentionally mask a growing murder rate among black male teenagers and young adults, particularly with guns.

''We shouldn't be fooled into thinking our problems are over,'' said Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University. Fox said that from 2002 to 2006, the rate of murder committed by black male teens rose 52 percent.

''Violence is down among whites of all ages and both genders; it's up among black males, not black females,'' Fox said. ''When you blend all the national numbers together you fail to see this divergence. There are many more whites in the population, so their decline can dwarf the increase among young black males.''

Fox said black males are ''feeling the impact of the economic decline and an increase in gangs and illegal gun markets. Gangs and youth crime are a growing problem despite these rosy statistics.''

FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said, ''One preliminary report does not make a trend, but it's going the way we want it to go.'' Kolko cautioned against putting too much significance on any shift that hasn't lasted at least two years.

Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr called the report ''very encouraging'' though he noted the final report could alter the figures.

''The report suggests that violent crime is decreasing and remains near historic low levels, which is a credit to increased cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement,'' Carr said. ''Some communities, however, continue to face localized violent crime challenges.''

The largest declines were in vehicle theft, down 8.9 percent and in rape, down 4.3 percent and murder, down 2.7 percent.

The crime trends were not uniform. Murders, for instance, were down in cities of more than 250,000, including an enormous 9.8 percent drop in cities of more than a million residents. But murders rose in some small cities -- up 3.7 percent in cities of 50,000 to 100,000, up 1.9 percent in cities of 100,000 to 250,000, and up 1.8 percent in cities under 10,000. Historically, murder trends have begun in the largest cities and moved over several years to smaller ones.

The other violent crimes tracked by FBI statistics -- robbery and aggravated assault -- were both down 1.2 percent.

The other property crimes in the FBI figures also declined, larceny-theft by 1.2 percent and burglary by 0.8 percent.

Arson dropped by 7.0 percent, but it is not included in the FBI's overall property crime figures, because fewer local jurisdictions provide arson statistics.

Violent crimes dropped most in the Northeast, down 5.4 percent with 1.7 percent declines in both the Midwest and West. But it rose 0.7 percent in the South.

Property crimes followed the same pattern: rising only in the South, where they were up 1.1 percent. The West recorded a 4.7 percent decline in property crimes, followed by the Midwest, down 3.6 percent and the Northeast, down 2.9 percent.

The FBI's preliminary crime report each year gives percentage changes rather than crime totals for national figures because not every jurisdiction has completed its reports yet.


On the Net:

FBI crime stats: http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/2007prelim/

    F.B.I. Reports Decline in Crime in ’07, NYT, 9.6.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-FBI-Crime.html







What the F.B.I. Agents Saw


May 22, 2008
The New York Times


Does this sound familiar? Muslim men are stripped in front of female guards and sexually humiliated. A prisoner is made to wear a dog’s collar and leash, another is hooded with women’s underwear. Others are shackled in stress positions for hours, held in isolation for months, and threatened with attack dogs.

You might think we are talking about that one cell block in Abu Ghraib, where President Bush wants the world to believe a few rogue soldiers dreamed up a sadistic nightmare. These atrocities were committed in the interrogation centers in American military prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. And they were not revealed by Red Cross officials, human rights activists, Democrats in Congress or others the administration writes off as soft-on-terror.

They were described in a painful report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, based on the accounts of hundreds of F.B.I. agents who saw American interrogators repeatedly mistreat prisoners in ways that the agents considered violations of American law and the Geneva Conventions. According to the report, some of the agents began keeping a “war crimes file” — until they were ordered to stop.

These were not random acts. It is clear from the inspector general’s report that this was organized behavior by both civilian and military interrogators following the specific orders of top officials. The report shows what happens when an American president, his secretary of defense, his Justice Department and other top officials corrupt American law to rationalize and authorize the abuse, humiliation and torture of prisoners:

— Four F.B.I. agents saw an interrogator cuff two detainees and force water down their throats.

— Prisoners at Guantánamo were shackled hand-to-foot for prolonged periods and subjected to extreme heat and cold.

— At least one detainee at Guantánamo was kept in an isolation cell for at least two months, a practice the military considers to be torture when applied to American soldiers.

The study said F.B.I. agents reported this illegal behavior to Washington. They were told not to take part, but the bureau appears to have done nothing to end the abuse. It certainly never told Congress or the American people. The inspector general said the agents’ concerns were conveyed to the National Security Council, but he found no evidence that it acted on them.

Mr. Bush claims harsh interrogations produced invaluable intelligence, but the F.B.I. agents said the abuse was ineffective. They also predicted, accurately, that it would be impossible to prosecute abused prisoners.

For years, Mr. Bush has refused to tell the truth about his administration’s inhuman policy on prisoners, and the Republican-controlled Congress eagerly acquiesced to his stonewalling. Now, the Democrats in charge of Congress must press for full disclosure.

Representative John Conyers, who leads the House Judiciary Committee, said he would focus on the F.B.I. report at upcoming hearings. Witnesses are to include John C. Yoo, who wrote the infamous torture memos, and the committee has subpoenaed David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. Mr. Conyers also wants to question F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General Michael Mukasey, both of whom should be subpoenaed if they do not come voluntarily.

That is just the first step toward uncovering the extent of President Bush’s disregard for the law and the Geneva Conventions. It will be a painful process to learn how so many people were abused and how America’s most basic values were betrayed. But it is the only way to get this country back to being a defender, not a violator, of human rights.

    What the F.B.I. Agents Saw, NYT, 22.5.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/22/opinion/22thu1.html






More F.B.I. Privacy Breaches Reported


March 5, 2008
Filed at 11:44 a.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The FBI improperly used national security letters in 2006 to obtain personal data on Americans during terror and spy investigations, Director Robert Mueller said Wednesday.

Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the privacy breach by FBI agents and lawyers occurred a year before the bureau enacted sweeping new reforms to prevent future lapses.

Details on the abuses will be outlined in the coming days in a report by the Justice Department's inspector general.

The report is a follow-up to an audit by the inspector general a year ago that found the FBI demanded personal data on people from banks, telephone and Internet providers and credit bureaus without official authorization and in non-emergency circumstances between 2003 and 2005.

Mueller, noting senators' concerns about Americans' civil and privacy rights, said the new report ''will identify issues similar to those in the report issued last March.'' The similarities, he said, are because the time period of the two studies ''predates the reforms we now have in place.''

He added: ''We are committed to ensuring that we not only get this right, but maintain the vital trust of the American people.''

Mueller offered no additional details. Several other Justice Department and FBI officials familiar with this year's findings have said privately the upcoming report will show the letters were wrongly used at a similar rate as during the previous three years.

In contrast to the outrage by Congress and civil liberties groups after last year's report was issued, Mueller's disclosure drew no initial criticism from senators at Wednesday's hearing.

Speaking before the FBI chief, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., urged Mueller to be more vigilant in correcting what he called ''widespread illegal and improper use of national security letters.''

''Everybody wants to stop terrorists. But we also, though, as Americans, we believe in our privacy rights and we want those protected,'' Leahy said. ''There has to be a better chain of command for this. You cannot just have an FBI agent who decides he'd like to obtain Americans' records, bank records or anything else and do it just because they want to.''

National security letters are administrative subpoenas that can be issued under the USA Patriot Act in terror and spy investigations.

    More F.B.I. Privacy Breaches Reported, NYT, 5.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP-Senate-FBI.html






Error Gave F.B.I.

Unauthorized Access to E-Mail


February 17, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — A technical glitch gave the F.B.I. access to the e-mail messages from an entire computer network — perhaps hundreds of accounts or more — instead of simply the lone e-mail address that was approved by a secret intelligence court as part of a national security investigation, according to an internal report of the 2006 episode.

F.B.I. officials blamed an “apparent miscommunication” with the unnamed Internet provider, which mistakenly turned over all the e-mail from a small e-mail domain for which it served as host. The records were ultimately destroyed, officials said.

Bureau officials noticed a “surge” in the e-mail activity they were monitoring and realized that the provider had mistakenly set its filtering equipment to trap far more data than a judge had actually authorized.

The episode is an unusual example of what has become a regular if little-noticed occurrence, as American officials have expanded their technological tools: government officials, or the private companies they rely on for surveillance operations, sometimes foul up their instructions about what they can and cannot collect.

The problem has received no discussion as part of the fierce debate in Congress about whether to expand the government’s wiretapping authorities and give legal immunity to private telecommunications companies that have helped in those operations.

But an intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because surveillance operations are classified, said: “It’s inevitable that these things will happen. It’s not weekly, but it’s common.”

A report in 2006 by the Justice Department inspector general found more than 100 violations of federal wiretap law in the two prior years by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, many of them considered technical and inadvertent.

Bureau officials said they did not have updated public figures but were preparing them as part of a wider-ranging review by the inspector general into misuses of the bureau’s authority to use so-called national security letters in gathering phone records and financial documents in intelligence investigations.

In the warrantless wiretapping program approved by President Bush after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, technical errors led officials at the National Security Agency on some occasions to monitor communications entirely within the United States — in apparent violation of the program’s protocols — because communications problems made it difficult to tell initially whether the targets were in the country or not.

Past violations by the government have also included continuing a wiretap for days or weeks beyond what was authorized by a court, or seeking records beyond what were authorized. The 2006 case appears to be a particularly egregious example of what intelligence officials refer to as “overproduction” — in which a telecommunications provider gives the government more data than it was ordered to provide.

The problem of overproduction is particularly common, F.B.I. officials said. In testimony before Congress in March 2007 regarding abuses of national security letters, Valerie E. Caproni, the bureau’s general counsel, said that in one small sample, 10 out of 20 violations were a result of “third-party error,” in which a private company “provided the F.B.I. information we did not seek.”

The 2006 episode was disclosed as part of a new batch of internal documents that the F.B.I. turned over to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit group in San Francisco that advocates for greater digital privacy protections, as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit the group has brought. The group provided the documents on the 2006 episode to The New York Times.

Marcia Hofmann, a lawyer for the privacy foundation, said the episode raised troubling questions about the technical and policy controls that the F.B.I. had in place to guard against civil liberties abuses.

“How do we know what the F.B.I. does with all these documents when a problem like this comes up?” Ms. Hofmann asked.

In the cyber era, the incident is the equivalent of law enforcement officials getting a subpoena to search a single apartment, but instead having the landlord give them the keys to every apartment in the building. In February 2006, an F.B.I. technical unit noticed “a surge in data being collected” as part of a national security investigation, according to an internal bureau report. An Internet provider was supposed to be providing access to the e-mail of a single target of that investigation, but the F.B.I. soon realized that the filtering controls used by the company “were improperly set and appeared to be collecting data on the entire e-mail domain” used by the individual, according to the report.

The bureau had first gotten authorization from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor the e-mail of the individual target 10 months earlier, in April 2005, according to the internal F.B.I. document. But Michael Kortan, an F.B.I. spokesman, said in an interview that the problem with the unfiltered e-mail went on for just a few days before it was discovered and fixed. “It was unintentional on their part,” he said.

Mr. Kortan would not disclose the name of the Internet provider or the network domain because the national security investigation, which is classified, is continuing. The improperly collected e-mail was first segregated from the court-authorized data and later was destroyed through unspecified means. The individuals whose e-mail was collected apparently were never informed of the problem. Mr. Kortan said he could not say how much e-mail was mistakenly collected as a result of the error, but he said the volume “was enough to get our attention.” Peter Eckersley, a staff technologist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation who reviewed the documents, said it would most likely have taken hundreds or perhaps thousands of extra messages to produce the type of “surge” described in the F.B.I.’s internal reports.

Mr. Kortan said that once the problem was detected the foreign intelligence court was notified, along with the Intelligence Oversight Board, which receives reports of possible wiretapping violations.

“This was a technical glitch in an area of evolving tools and technology and fast-paced investigations,” Mr. Kortan said. “We moved quickly to resolve it and stop it. The system worked exactly the way it’s designed.”

    Error Gave F.B.I. Unauthorized Access to E-Mail, NYT, 17.2.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/17/washington/17fisa.html




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