FBI counterterrorism officials uses flawed procedures to obtain thousands of U.S. telephone records during a two-year period when its own lawyers and managers expressed escalating concerns about the practice, says the Washington Post. FBI lawyers raised the concerns beginning in late October 2004 but did not closely scrutinize the practice until last year. Under pressure to provide stronger legal footing, agents last year wrote new letters to phone companies demanding information the bureau already possessed. At least one senior FBI official signed these “national security letters” without including the required proof that the letters were linked to FBI counterterrorism or espionage investigations.
The Post says that the flawed procedures involved the use of emergency demands for records, called “exigent circumstance” letters, which contained false or undocumented claims. They also included national security letters that were issued in violation of FBI rules. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) told Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine last week that there should have been “swift and severe consequences” for anyone who knowingly signed a letter containing false statements. FBI director Robert Mueller said he had banned the future use of “exigent circumstance” letters this month, although he defended their value and denied that the agency had intentionally violated the law.