FBI Underreported Use of USA Patriot Act
Friday, March 9, 2007; 2:44 AM
WASHINGTON -- The FBI underreported its use of the USA Patriot Act to force businesses to turn over customer information in suspected terrorism cases, according to a Justice Department audit.
One government official familiar with the report said shoddy bookkeeping and records management led to the problems. The FBI agents appeared to be overwhelmed by the volume of demands for information over a two-year period, the official said.
"They lost track," said the official who like others interviewed late Thursday spoke on condition of anonymity because the report was not being released until Friday.
The FBI in 2005 reported to Congress that its agents had delivered a total of 9,254 national security letters seeking e-mail, telephone or financial information on 3,501 U.S. citizens and legal residents over the previous two years.
Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine's report says that number was underreported by 20 percent, according to the officials.
Fine conducted the audit as required by Congress and over the objections of the Bush administration.
It was unclear late Thursday whether the omissions could be considered a criminal offense. One government official who read the report said it concluded the problems appeared to be unintentional and that FBI agents would probably face administrative sanctions instead of criminal charges.
The FBI has taken steps to correct some of the problems, the official said.
The Justice Department, already facing congressional criticism over its firing of eight U.S. attorneys, began notifying lawmakers of the audit's damning contents late Thursday. Spokesmen at the Justice Department and FBI declined to comment on the findings.
Sen. Charles Schumer, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that oversees the FBI, called the reported findings "a profoundly disturbing breach of public trust."
"Somebody has a lot of explaining to do," said Schumer, D-N.Y.
Fine's audit also says the FBI failed to send follow-up subpoenas to telecommunications companies that were told to expect them, the officials said.