The Justice Department contends that a recent Washington Post report on the FBI’s expanded power to collect the private records of ordinary Americans during terrorism and espionage investigations was misleading and inaccurate, the Post says. The Nov. 6 article, which was digested in Crime & Justice News, detailed a dramatic increase in the use of “national security letters,” a three-decade-old investigative tool that was given new life with the passage of the USA Patriot Act in 2001. The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. National security letters allow investigators secretly to scrutinize some records of U.S. residents and visitors who are not alleged to be terrorists or spies.
In a 10-page letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees, Assistant Attorney General William Moschella said that the report contained “distortions and factual errors.” Moschella said the article incorrectly implied that the recipient of a letter cannot consult an attorney about it. Leonard Downie Jr., executive editor of The Post, said the “Justice Department letter does not document any inaccuracies in our story on national security letters, which revealed the widespread use and limited oversight of this investigative tool. The letter relies on words like ‘implies’ and ‘insinuates’ to assert claims the story does not make. The story speaks for itself.”