An internal Justice Department investigation found pervasive errors in the FBI’s use of its power to demand telephone, e-mail and financial records in national security cases, reports the Washington Post. An inspector general’s audit found 22 possible breaches of FBI and Justice Department regulations — some of which were potential violations of law — in a sampling of 293 “national security letters.” The letters were used by the FBI to obtain the personal records of U.S. residents or visitors between 2003 and 2005. The FBI identified 26 potential violations in other cases.
The use of national security letters has grown exponentially since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. In 2005, the FBI issued more than 19,000 such letters, amounting to 47,000 separate requests for information. The letters enable an FBI field office to compel the release of private information without the authority of a grand jury or judge. Inspector General Glenn Fine said the possible violations he discovered did not “manifest deliberate attempts to circumvent statutory limitations or departmental policies.” He found that FBI agents used national security letters without citing an authorized investigation, claimed “exigent” circumstances that did not exist in demanding information, and did not have adequate documentation to justify the issuance of letters.