The Justice Department’s inspector general told angry House members yesterday that the FBI may have violated the law or policies as many as 3,000 times since 2003 as agents secretly collected the telephone, bank, and credit card records of U.S. citizens and foreign nationals residing here, reports the Washington Post. Inspector General Glenn Fine said that by the FBI’s own estimate, 600 of these could be “cases of serious misconduct” involving the improper use of “national security letters” to compel telephone companies, banks, and credit firms to produce records.
National security letters are comparable to subpoenas but are issued directly by the bureau without court review. FBI General Counsel Valerie Caproni attributed the shortcomings to poor controls instead of deliberate misconduct and offered profuse apologies. She attributed the “F report card” from Fine partly to the bureau’s inexperience in conducting its national security work in secrecy, away from a judicial system that threatens to expose any flaws. Fine called the problem “incredibly sloppy practice that was unacceptable.”