Senior FBI officials repeatedly approved the use of “blanket” records demands to justify the improper collection of thousands of phone records, reports the New York Times. The bureau appears to have used the blanket records demands at least 11 times in 2006 alone as a quick way to clean up mistakes made over several years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said a letter provided to Congress by a lawyer for an FBI agent who witnessed the missteps.
The FBI has come under fire for its use of so-called national security letters to gather records inappropriately on Americans in terrorism investigations, but details have not previously been disclosed about its use of “blanket” warrants, a one-step operation used to justify the collection of hundreds of phone and e-mail records at a time. Under the USA Patriot Act, the FBI got broadened authority to issue the national security letters on its own authority – without the approval of a judge – to gather records like phone bills or e-mail transactions that might be considered relevant to a particular terrorism investigation. Last year, the Justice Department inspector general found that the FBI had routinely violated the standards for using the letters and that officials often cited “exigent” or emergency situations that did not really exist in issuing them to phone providers and other private companies.