Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Hi, We're The FBI And We're In Your Network. Whether You Want Us There Or Not

First of all we'd just like to say that we hold the FBI in the highest regard. Furthermore, we will be making a phone call to our sainted mother in approximately an hour in which we will discuss at length how we came to our deep and abiding respect for the men and women of the eavesdropping division. Then we'll be ordering a pizza and if Agent Benson would like to get in on that he'll have to beep twice when we ask for pepperoni.

FBI Director Director Robert Mueller appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee after the Justice Department inspector general revealed abuses in the FBI's use of documents called national security letters to gather such data without approval from a judge. "Well, look, when you say 'without approval, we take that to mean without approval," Mueller said. "How were we supposed to know it still had to be legal?"

Senators were skeptical that the FBI could properly use its Patriot Act blank check to gather telephone, e-mail and financial records of Americans and foreigners while ignoring terrorists. "You were the guy the president thought best suited for the job," said Committee Chairman Senator Patrick Leahy, "So right away we figure you have trouble telling your elbow from a hole in the ground."

Mueller urged the panel not to revise the law. "The statute did not cause the errors," Mueller said. "The fact that no one in the FBI could investigate their way out of a paper bag if one end was open caused the errors."

In a review of headquarters files and a sampling of four of the FBI's 56 field offices, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine found 48 violations of law or presidential directives during 2003-2005. He estimates there may be as many as 3,000 violations throughout the FBI that have not been identified or reported. "That's not bad considering almost everyone in the country is under surveillance," Mueller said. "By the way Senator, those calls to 900 numbers? I'd cut back."

"What I did not do and should have done is put in a compliance program to be sure those procedures were followed," the FBI chief added. "I figured, like, following the law was sufficient. In my defense though, do you know how hard it is to get people to work in an administration as whack as this one? People think they're going to jail just because they heard Karl Rove speak at a staff meeting."

Citing the inspector general report on national security letters and his previous reports criticizing FBI reporting of terrorist cases, of weapons and laptops losses, Senator Arlen Specter said, "Every time we turn around there is another enormous failure by the bureau. And I want you to know that since all this started when I was Chair of this committee, I'm going to do my darnedest to shift the blame to you."

Mueller said he had reduced the problem since learning of it in 2005 but noted that the warrant applications are very long and contain thousands of facts. "See, facts really slow us down. We're like Jack Bauer. Well, except we never catch anyone."

But Republican Senators. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Orrin Hatch of Utah made clear they opposed altering the law to curb FBI authority. "You've acknowledged the problems and pledged to fix them. That's what Congress and the American people need," Hatch said. "More promises to do better next time. I think we're done here."

The committee plans to hear April 17 from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who is struggling to keep his job amid criticism of the NSL abuses and the firings of eight U.S. attorneys. "We don't really think he has anything to add to the discussion," said Leahy, "We just like to say 'dead man walking' every time we see him."

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