FBI Director Robert Mueller misstated a key provision of the USA Patriot Act last week when he appealed to Congress for new authority that was actually granted last year, reports the Associated Press. The gaffe came during a high-stakes moment for the FBI. Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine found 48 violations of law or rules during 2003-2005 in the bureau’s use of documents known as national security letters to acquire people’s telephone, e-mail, and financial records without a judge’s approval.
At the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mueller spoke in favor of administrative subpoenas rather than the controversial national security levels, for which he said, “We do not have an enforcement mechanism.” The reauthorization of the Patriot Act a year ago provided just such an mechanism. “He misspoke,” said FBI spokesman John Miller. James Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology, wants prior judicial approval for the letters. “The FBI director doesn’t know the law that he’s enforcing,” Dempsey said. The inspector general and Mueller are arguing that this is a problem of poorly trained lower level agents, “and the guy responsible for implementing the law and the inspector general’s recommendations still doesn’t understand the law.”