Civil Liberties

FBI Spooks

Infiltrating and informing



The National Security Agency isn't the only arm of the government in the surveillance business. According to a September report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), "every 90 days for the past seven years the FBI has obtained secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court orders compelling telecommunications companies to provide the government with the toll billing records of every American's telephone calls, domestic and international, on an ongoing daily basis."

Until recently, the FBI was subject to tight controls because of a history of targeting immigrants, minorities, and political dissidents. But after 9/11, those restrictions were loosened. In 2008, for example, then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey gave agents free rein to "assess" people not even suspected of wrongdoing. According to the ACLU, "In a two-year period from 2009 to 2011, the FBI opened over 82,000 'assessments' of individuals or organizations, less than 3,500 of which discovered information justifying further investigation."

With regard to high-profile arrests accomplished with infiltrators and informants, the ACLU offers the following caution: "In many cases the government agent provides all the instrumentalities of the crime, chooses the target, designs the plot, and provides the gullible subjects financial support or other incentives to carry out the plot."