Who Could Have Foreseen the FBI's Failure to Oversee Itself?


Members of Congress, including Republicans as well as Democrats, are dismayed that the FBI has failed to adequately supervise itself to prevent misuse of "national security letters" demanding phone, email, and financial records. A recent report from Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine revealed, among other abuses, that the FBI was keeping incomplete records of NSLs and asserting "exigent circumstances" that did not exist. The legislators who voted to give the FBI the authority to unilaterally grab whatever records it thinks might be useful for investigating terrorism are amazed at the lack of proper oversight:

"I just want to convey to you how upset many of us are who have defended this program and have believed it is necessary to the protection of our country," Representative Dan Lungren, Republican of California, told Valerie E. Caproni, the bureau's general counsel….

Representative Darrell Issa, also a California Republican, said he was "shocked" by the bureau's transgressions and suggested that they might have broken the law.

"If what was done was done by a private-sector individual, wouldn't the F.B.I. be arresting them?" Mr. Issa asked. "Wouldn't the U.S. attorneys be prosecuting people who played fast and loose with these rules?"

How to prevent such abuses? I'm just thinking out loud here, but what if someone outside the FBI, maybe even in a different branch of government, reviewed these record demands before businesses were required to comply with them?

Kerry Howley considered the NSL scandal earlier this week.