Some FBI agents have been frustrated by what they see as the Justice Department’s reluctance to let them demand records and use other far-ranging investigative measures in terrorism cases, reports the New York Times. Publicly, the debate over the USA Patriot Act has focused on concerns from civil rights advocates that the FBI has gained too much power to use expanded investigative tools to go on what could amount to fishing expeditions. Newly disclosed e-mail messages show that privately, some agents have felt hamstrung by their inability to get approval for using new powers under the law.
One internal message, sent in October 2003, criticized the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review at the Justice Department, which reviews and approves terrorist warrants, as regularly blocking agent requests to use a section of the antiterrorism law that gave the bureau broader authority to demand records from institutions like banks, Internet, providers and libraries. “While radical militant librarians kick us around, true terrorists benefit from OIPR’s failure to let us use the tools given to us,” read the e-mail message, which was sent by an unidentified F.B.I. official. “This should be an OIPR priority!!!” The bureau turned the e-mail messages over to the Electronic Privacy Information Center as part of a lawsuit brought by the group under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking material on the FBI’s use of anti-terrorism powers. Congress is expected to vote this week on a final plan for reauthorizing most parts of the law.