The Ten Most Disturbing Things You Should Know About the FBI Since 9/11
By ACLU / aclu.org

On September 4, 2013, James Comey became the 7th director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The first change in leadership at the bureau since the 9/11 attacks provides Congress, the president, and the attorney general the opportunity to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the FBI’s post-9/11 policies and programs. Over the last 12 years, the FBI has become a domestic intelligence agency with unprecedented power to peer into the lives of ordinary Americans and secretly amass data about people not suspected of any wrongdoing. That power has inevitably led to persistent and unconstitutional abuses of authority, some of which are highlighted below. For a comprehensive look at how the FBI once again became a domestic spying agency and its impact on civil liberties and privacy, read "Unleashed and Unaccountable: The FBI’s Unchecked Abuse of Authority."

USA Patriot Act Abuse

The recent revelation about the FBI using the Patriot Act's "business records provision" to track all U.S. telephone calls is only the latest in a long line of abuse. Five Justice Department Inspector General audits documented widespread FBI misuse of Patriot Act authorities (1,2,3,4,5), and a federal district court recently struck down the National Security Letter (NSL) statute because of its unconstitutional gag orders. The IG also revealed the FBI's unlawful use of "exigent letters" that claimed false emergencies to get private information without NSLs, but in 2009 the Justice Department secretly re-interpreted the law to allow the FBI to get this information without emergencies or legal process. Congress and the American public need to know the full scope of the FBI's spying on Americans under the Patriot Act and all othersurveillance authorities enacted since 9/11, like the FISA Amendments Act that underlies the PRISM program.

2008 Amendments to the Attorney General's Guidelines

Attorney General Michael Mukasey re-wrote the FBI's rulebook in the final months of the Bush administration, giving FBI agents unfettered authority to investigate people without any factual basis for suspecting wrongdoing. The 2008 Attorney General's Guidelines created a new kind of intrusive investigation called an "assessment," which required no "factual predicate" before FBI agents could search through government or commercial databases, conduct overt or covert FBI interviews, and task informants to gather information about people or infiltrate lawful organizations. 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.

Racial and Ethnic Mapping

The 2008 Attorney General's Guidelines also authorized "domain management assessments" which allow the FBI to map American communities by race and ethnicity based on crass stereotypes about the crimes they are likely to commit. FBI documents obtained by the ACLU show the FBI mapped entire Chinese and Russian communities in San Francisco on the theory that they might commit organized crime, all Latino communities in New Jersey and Alabama because a street gang has Latino members, African Americans in Georgia to find "Black separatists," and Middle-Eastern communities in Detroit for terrorism investigations. The FBI's racial and ethnic mapping program is simply racial and religious profiling of entire communities.

Unrestrained Data Collection and Data Mining

The FBI has claimed the authority to secretly sweep up voluminous amounts of private information from data aggregators for data mining purposes. In 2007 the FBI said it amassed databases containing 1.5 billion records, which were predicted to grow to 6 billion records by 2012, or equal to "20 separate ‘records' for each man, woman and child in the United States." When Congress sought information about one of these programs, the FBI refused to give the Government Accountability Office access. That program was temporarily defunded, but its successor, the FBI Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force,currently has 360 staff members running 40 separate projects. Records show analysts are allowed to use data mining tools to establish "risk scores" for U.S. persons. A 2013 IG audit questioned the task force's effectiveness, concluding it "did not always provide FBI field offices with timely and relevant information."

Suppressing Internal Dissent: The FBI War on Whistleblowers

The FBI is exempt from the Whistleblower Protection Act. Though the law required it to establish internal mechanisms to protect whistleblowers, it has a long history of retaliating against them. As a result, a 2009 IG report found that 28 percent of non-supervisory FBI employees and 22 percent of FBI supervisors at the GS-14 and GS-15 levels "never" reported misconduct they have seen or heard about on the job. The FBI has also aggressively investigated whistleblowers from other agencies, leading to an unprecedented increase in Espionage Act prosecutions under the Obama administration, almost invariably targeting critics of government policies.

Targeting Journalists

The FBI's overzealous pursuit of government whistleblowers has resulted in the inappropriate targeting of journalists for investigation, potentially chilling press freedoms. Recently, the FBIobtained records from 21 telephone lines used by over 100 Associated Press journalists, including the AP's main number in the U.S. House of Representatives' press gallery. And an FBI search warrant affidavitclaimed Fox News reporter James Rosen aided, abetted, or co-conspired in criminal activity because of his news gathering activities, in an apparent attempt to circumvent legal restrictions designed to protect journalists. In 2010, the IG reported that the FBI unlawfully used an "exigent letter" to obtain the telephone records of seven New York Times and Washington Post reporters and researchers during a media leak investigation.

Thwarting Congressional Oversight

The FBI has thwarted congressional oversight by withholding information, limiting or delayingresponses to members' inquiries, or worse, by providing false or misleading information to Congress and the American public. Examples include false information regarding FBI investigations of domestic advocacy groups, misleading information about the FBI's awareness of detainee abuse, and deceptive responses to questions about government surveillance authorities.

Targeting First Amendment Activity

Several ACLU Freedom of Information Act requests have uncovered significant evidence that the FBI has used its expanded authorities to target individuals and organizations because of their participation in First Amendment-protected activities. A 2010 IG report confirmed the FBI conducted inappropriate investigations of domestic advocacy groups engaged in environmental and anti-war activism, and falsified public responses to hide this fact. Other FBI documents showed FBI exploitation ofcommunity outreach programs to secretly collect information about law-abiding citizens, including a mosque outreach program specifically targeting American Muslims. Many of these abuses are likely a result of flawed FBItraining materials and intelligence products that expressed anti-Muslim sentiments and falsely identified religious practices or other First Amendment activities as indicators of terrorism.

Proxy Detentions

The FBI increasingly operates outside the U.S., where its authorities are less clear and its activities much more difficult to monitor. Several troubling cases indicate that during the Bush administration the FBI requested, facilitated, and/or exploited the arrests and detention of U.S. citizens by foreign governments, often without charges, so they could be interrogated, sometimes tortured, then interviewed by FBI agents. The ACLU represents two victims of such activities. Amir Meshal was arrested at the Kenya border by a joint U.S., Kenyan, and Ethiopian task force in 2007, subjected to more than four months of detention, and transferred between three different East African countries without charge, access to counsel, or presentment before a judicial officer, all at the behest of the U.S. government. FBI agents interrogated Meshal more than thirty times during his detention. Similarly, Naji Hamdan, a Lebanese-American businessman, sat for interviews with the FBI several times before moving from Los Angeles to the United Arab Emirates in 2006. In 2008, he was arrested by U.A.E. security forces and held incommunicado for nearly three months, beaten, and tortured. At one point an American participated in his interrogation; Hamdan believed this person to be an FBI agent based on the interrogator's knowledge of previous FBI interviews. Another case in 2010, involving anAmerican teenager jailed in Kuwait, may indicate this activity has continued into the Obama administration.

Use of No Fly List to Pressure Americans Abroad to Become Informants

The number of U.S. persons on the No Fly List has more than doubled since 2009, and people mistakenly on the list are denied their due process rights to meaningfully challenge their inclusion. In many cases Americans only find out they are on the list while they are traveling abroad, which all but forces them to interact with the U.S. government from a position of extreme vulnerability, and often without easy access to counsel. Many of those prevented from flying home have been subjected to FBI interviews while they sought assistance from U.S. Embassies to return. In those interviews, FBI agents sometimes offer to take people off the No Fly List if they agree to become an FBI informant. In 2010 the ACLU and its affiliates filed a lawsuit on behalf of 10 American citizens and permanent residents, including several U.S. military veterans, seven of whom were prevented from returning home until the suit was filed. We argue that barring them from flying without due process was unconstitutional. There are now 13 plaintiffs; none have been charged with a crime, told why they are barred from flying, or given an opportunity to challenge their inclusion on the No Fly List.

 

 

3.5 ·
1
What's Next
Trending Today
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 8,720 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
The Problem with Hating Our Enemies
Charles Eisenstein · 8,548 views today · He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if thou gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into thee. —Nietzsche
Van Jones: Only a 'Love Army' Will Conquer Trump
Tim Dickinson · 8,244 views today · Though it's important to fight Trump's policies, "it's at the values level that we need to do a reset," says Jones
Have You Heard of The Great Forgetting? It Happened 10,000 Years Ago & Completely Affects Your Life
Daniel Quinn · 7,271 views today · (Excerpted from the book, The Story of B) With every audience and every individual, I have to begin by making them see that the cultural self-awareness we inherit from our...
How to Expose Trump's Dastardly Bait-And-Switch
Robert Borosage · 6,476 views today · Trump is not an economic populist, he’s just playing one on TV.
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 5,085 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
The Myth of Positivity: Why Your Pain Holds a Mighty Purpose
umair haque · 5,061 views today · Of all the great myths of contemporary life, one of the most toxic is positivity. It says: there are negative and positive emotions, and only the positive ones are worth...
10 Stunning Images from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award
Natural History Museum · 3,918 views today · These incredible images are a selection from of the 25 shortlisted by The Natural History Museum for the People's Choice Award from this year's Wildlife Photographer of the...
This Polish Ad Will Give You The Feels, For Reals
3 min · 3,283 views today · This is an ad for Allegro, a Polish company similar to eBay, and it's heartwarmingly lovely.
Why You Should Stop Apologizing for Doing All That You Can
Kelly Hayes · 3,060 views today · I’ve noticed lately that a lot of allies and accomplices I talk to about NoDAPL and other struggles will name what they are trying to contribute to the cause, and then promptly...
David Graeber: We Need a Revolution in the Way We Think about "Work"
4 min · 2,961 views today · David Graeber on the Value of Work. Does the world really need neuroadvertisers, PR researchers and branding consultants? Renowned academic and coiner of the ‘we are the 99%’...
Trump: The Illusion of Change
Helena Norberg-Hodge · 2,002 views today · “Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed.” — Wendell Berry
A New History for Humanity - the Human Era
8 min · 1,960 views today · It is time to reframe how we think about our past. We need a new year 0 for humanity. But which one should we choose and why?
Black on Black Crime Isn't a Myth
Donyae Coles · 1,622 views today · Let’s talk about Black on Black crime. Maybe you’ve heard about it on the news, specifically likely in regards to Black people murdered by other Black people. Perhaps you’ve...
15 Easy Things You Can Do to Help When You Feel Like Shit
Maritsa Patrinos · 1,521 views today · You don’t have to tackle it all at once.
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 1,342 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Seven Must-Have Skills for the 21st Century
Tommy Lehe · 1,334 views today · We live in a world that moves faster than we do. Trying to keep up can be an overwhelming task that at times feels hopeless, like we are falling further and further behind—but...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,257 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
It's The Damn Police
Walter Fields · 1,253 views today · From an early age Blacks are socialized to live defensively and to absorb the mental body blows that come from the day-to-day indignities that are hoisted upon us by the very...
Swanage Protectors Camp - Campaigning to Stop New Oil and Gas Exploration in Dorset, UK
7 min · 1,096 views today · The planning permission for an exploratory oil rig near Swanage ran out on 3rd December 2016. A good day all round for those campaigning against the fossil fuel industry. Hear...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
The Ten Most Disturbing Things You Should Know About the FBI Since 9/11