More Information Sought on FBI Spying

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A Washington advocacy group filed a lawsuit yesterday seeking more information about the FBI's use of clandestine surveillance, arguing that the agency has not been forthcoming about possible cases of misconduct since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has obtained a series of heavily censored documents in recent months showing dozens of cases in which the FBI wrongly monitored e-mail or telephone calls as part of secret intelligence operations in the United States.

The latest documents, released by EPIC in recent days, include cases in which FBI agents listened to the wrong person's telephone calls, collected information they were not authorized to collect or let eavesdropping continue after a warrant had expired. File numbers included in the documents indicate that several hundred possible violations were reported from 2002 to 2004.

But the documents have been heavily censored, and EPIC alleges that the Justice Department and the FBI have violated the Freedom of Information Act by not producing complete records more quickly. U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler said in November that the government had been "unnecessarily slow and inefficient" in responding to the center's previous requests.

"The public has no idea of how these matters have been resolved or how the government has dealt with these apparent instances of misconduct," Marcia Hofmann, head of the EPIC's open government program, said yesterday.

FBI spokesman Michael Kortan said that he could not discuss ongoing litigation but that the bureau was working on the request for documents.

Most of the documents provided so far consist of FBI reports filed with the Intelligence Oversight Board, a secretive presidential panel that reviews possible violations of legal restrictions on domestic surveillance. The board does not issue public reports about its activities and considers its work to be classified, officials have said.

All of the cases involve surveillance authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret panel that oversees clandestine spying in the United States. The intelligence court has been the focus of recent news reports about the National Security Agency, which was authorized by President Bush to conduct warrantless surveillance on U.S. citizens or residents after the Sept. 11 attacks.

-- Dan Eggen

© 2006 The Washington Post Company