Sorry About That, Chief (FBI Apology Edition)


From the AP via AOL's news portal:

The FBI says it sometimes gets the wrong number when it intercepts conversations in terrorism investigations, an admission critics say underscores a need to revise wiretap provisions in the Patriot Act.

The FBI would not say how often these mistakes happen. And, though any incriminating evidence mistakenly collected is not legally admissible in a criminal case, there is no way of knowing whether it is used to begin an investigation….

38,514 untranslated hours [of recorded calls noted in a Dept. of Justice inspector general's report] included an undetermined number from what the FBI called "collections of materials from the wrong sources due to technical problems."

Spokesman Ed Cogswell said that language describes instances in which the tap was placed on a telephone number other than the one authorized by a court.

"That's mainly an instance in which the telephone company hooked us up to the wrong number or a clerical error here gives us the wrong number," Cogswell said.

More here. The FBI is required by law to disregard calls tapped in error. And it claims that it always follows the law. So I guess there's nothing to worry about. Right?

NEXT: Police Tricks

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  1. )

    RIP Agent Smart. RIP.

    “So I guess there’s nothing to worry about”

    if you’re innocent, that is.


  2. As long as the FBI acted with ‘good faith’ in securing the wiretap of the wrong number (for example, the phone company screwed up), I’d imagine that anything incriminating they hear the wrong subjects talking about WOULD be admissible, and would certainly be a legitimate basis for securing a new wiretap on that wrong number, or a search warrant of the wrong number’s house.

    For example, they mean to tap 555-555-5555 but the phone company puts the tap on 555-555-5556 by mistake. The FBI hears the subject talking about how he has 2 tons of cocaine hidden in the couch at his home at 233 prairie wind, neilstown, california. It’s at that point that they realize they have inadvertantly tapped the wrong phone. But… they’ve acted in good faith in terms of listening to the wiretap, and assuming assuming they had probable cause to secure the original wiretap on 555-555-5555, I see no reason why the conversation about the 2 tons of cocaine could not be used as the basis for an immediate search warrant of the home at 233 prairie wind… or at the very least a new wiretap on 555-555-5556.

    People assume things taken in violation of their rights are always inadmissible in court and estopped from any use by the government. That’s a dangerous assumption.

    So, be careful what you say on the phone, because the FBI might accidentally be listening.

    Of course, liberals and conservatives will respond with the typical “unless you have something to hide, you have nothing to worry about if the government is listening to your phone calls” bullshit.

  3. Does anybody have any Victory Cigarettes I can bum?

  4. I’m shocked–shocked!!!–that powers intended for fighting terrorism might also be used to fight the drug war.

    Somebody needs to explain to me how this is all perfectly fine. Come on, I know somebody can do it!

  5. Incidentally, the Senate Judiciary Committee has been considering legislation to authorize DOJ wiretaps in antitrust investigations. Given the scope of the Sherman Act–almost any business decision can be deemed “attempted monopolization”–this would vest potentially unlimited spying powers on the feds over private businesses.

  6. How about a grassroots movement to flood the FBI and other agencies with false positives? Every time you get on your cell phone, be sure to casually mention to whomever you’re speaking with that the stash has been buried in a local graveyard and is ready for pick-up. After a few dozen no-yield grave-digging-upping expeditions, you’ll see an anti-FBI backlash.

  7. Bruce,

    No, its not admissable.

  8. After a few dozen no-yield grave-digging-upping expeditions, you’ll see an anti-FBI backlash.

    No, what you’ll likely get is a rash of “oops, sorry, we shot/harrassed/ruined-the-life-of the wrong informant ’cause they pissed us off.” Or they’ll make it a crime to lie about committing a crime. There won’t be a public backlash because “only people who have something to hide would lie about committing a crime.”

    I know you’re just joking but it’s too depressing. Everyone should watch the “Bullshit” bit where they catch people who are supposed to be conducting surveillance vital to national security neglecting their duties in favor of boobies. No better argument against the FBI/CIAcasting wide nets.

  9. So the Police get a warrant on 5567 Trek Street for rape, though they should really be getting 5576. A mistake, that results in them seeing a guy beating his wife. So they arrest him, and then check on 5576. Oh no!, the tragedy.

  10. Jared, how many of these oops-style wiretaps do you think led to the FBI’s being able to save an innocent person’s life by intervening in a violent crime just in the nick of time?

  11. “Or they’ll make it a crime to lie about committing a crime.”

    Will that include making it a crime to lie to someone about NOT committing a crime as well? If so, we’ve got DeLay on about 260 million counts right there. For an exact count, check the most recent national census.

  12. Take take Jared’s post and run with it, how about the FBI inadvertently taps the wrong phone and overhears a conversation between two guys that involves the term “AR15” and “gathering” a lot.

    Figuring its some sort of terrorist shindig, they raid the guy’s house, only to find out that he’s the local match director for NRA sanctioned Service Rifle matches.

    Sorry, Jared, but there are far two many things that when taken out of context sound nefarious and actionable by the po-po.

    Hell, I make jokes about drugs and sex all the time, even though I’m neither a drug abuser or (unfortunately) an oversexed perv.

    Does that mean the feds get to raid me because I made a joke?

  13. Chief this number comes from a deep, deep cover operative within Al Qaeda.

    Would you believe Pakistani intelligence?

    How about it was written on the bathroom wall of a convenience store owned by a guy named Habib?

  14. Hakluyt, rather than ipse dixit, please explain why you believe it’s “inadmissible.”

    By ‘inadmissible’ do you mean not able to be used by law enforcement in an affidavit to support either an independent search warrant of the house or an independent wiretap of the wrongly-tapped phoneline (to make it properly tapped)? I see no reason why not. I hope you don’t think equity has something to do with evidence. It doesn’t.

  15. Bruce,

    Their use as a means to justify further surveillance tactics like wiretaps, etc. would depend on what the judge felt.

    Their use in court would have to overcome some substantial constitutional hurdles (if you know of any specific carve outs for evidence like this do tell me) to be admissable. Of course that’s not really a big deal if the wiretap, etc. revealed equally weighty evidence of wrongdoing.

  16. Is anyone here arguing that wiretaps are always beyond bounds?

    If not, these types of errors are inevitable. What we need is a better way, with checks and balances, to monitor the use of wiretaps, and other extraordinary police capabilities.

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