Bush Pledges Swift Action on FBI Reform

By Dan Eggen, John Solomon and Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, March 10, 2007; 12:44 PM

President Bush said today his administration is working to put a halt to law enforcement abuses of new anti-terrorist intelligence-gathering powers, and he expressed continued confidence in the attorney general and FBI director.

"These problems will be addressed as quickly as possible," Bush said at a news conference in Uruguay, his second stop on a six-day Latin America tour.

In his first comments on the matter since the Justice Department released an inspector general report uncovering misuse of laws passed after Sept. 11, 2001, Bush said he was briefed before leaving Washington and demanded that his aides figure out how to stop improper intrusions into privacy.

"My question is: What are you going to do to solve the problem and how fast can you get it solved?" he said.

But Bush defended the need for tools such as national security letters, which are used by the FBI to demand information from businesses and individuals without the court order normally required for a subpoena. Such methods, he said, are "important to the security of the United States" as it tries to track down and capture terrorists.

Yesterday, lawmakers from both parties called for limits on antiterrorism laws in response to the Justice Department report, which said the FBI improperly obtained telephone logs, banking records and other personal information on thousands of Americans.

The audit by the department's inspector general, Glenn A. Fine, detailed widespread abuse of the FBI's authority to seize personal details about tens of thousands of people without court oversight through the use of national security letters.

It also found that the FBI had hatched an agreement with telephone companies allowing the agency to ask for information on more than 3,000 phone numbers -- often without a subpoena, without an emergency or even without an investigative case. In 2006, the FBI then issued blanket letters authorizing many of the requests retroactively, according to agency officials and congressional aides briefed on the effort.

The disclosures prompted a public apology from FBI Director Robert S. Mueller and promises of reform from Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, who was the focus of a new tide of criticism from Democrats and Republicans already angry about his handling of the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

"I am the person responsible," Mueller said in a hastily scheduled news conference yesterday. "I am the person accountable, and I am committed to ensuring that we correct these deficiencies and live up to these responsibilities."

Bush, at his news conference in Uruguay today, praised the inspector general for "good and necessary work" and added he was pleased that Mueller moved quickly to respond.

"He took responsibility as he should have," Bush said. "I've got confidence in Director Mueller, as I do in the attorney general."

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